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New International, September-October 1934

 

Prospects for a New Party in America

From New International, Vol.1 No.3, September-October 1934, pp.65-67.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

 

IN contradistinction to the year 1848, wrote Karl Kautsky in 1902,

“not only have the Slavs entered the ranks of the revolutionary peoples, but the center of gravity of revolutionary thought and revolutionary action is moving farther and farther to the Slavs. The revolutionary center is moving from the West to the East. In the first half of the nineteenth century this center was in France, and sometimes in England. In 1848 Germany entered the ranks of revolutionary nations. The new century is being ushered in by such events as to induce us to think that we are confronted by a further removal of the revolutionary center, namely, to Russia. Russia, which has imbibed so much revolutionary initiative from the West, is now perhaps itself ready to serve as a source of revolutionary energy. The Russian revolutionary movement, which is now bursting into flame, will, perhaps, become the strongest means for the extermination of the senile philistinism and sedate politics which is beginning to spread in our ranks, and will again rekindle the militant spirit and the passionate devotion to our great ideals”.

Later than was expected, but with essential accuracy nevertheless, this daring prediction was brilliantly confirmed in every particular by the Russian revolution of 1917. The torch of Marxism, all but extinguished by the waves of war chauvinism which the Second International helped to whip up to a deafening fury, was relighted by the Russian revolutionists so that it gleamed with a brighter and harder flame than ever before. It served both to burn the congesting dross out of the working class movement and as a beacon towards which a demoralized and disoriented proletariat might confidently reassemble. Conforming with its epoch, the Communist International, created by the Russian revolution, put the emancipation of the oppressed on the order of the day and rallied an imposing host to challenge the oppressor.

Fifteen years after its birth, the Third International is a political corpse (like the Second, which it superseded), crushed by the bourgeois counter-revolution because it was itself prostrated by the raging cancer of Stalinism eating out its vitals. The headwaters of the Third International have dried up; what trickles through to the western world has been polluted at the source by the poison of national socialism. Fortunate are those who drew their strength from these streams when they were clear and pure, for upon them falls the task of building the Fourth International in every country. Unlike the Third, it must be built – not out of choice, but necessity – from a new center.

“The extremely difficult conditions under which the Russian Bolshevik-Leninists work,” wrote Leon Trotsky a year ago, “exclude them from the possibility of playing the leading role on the international scale. More than this: the Left Opposition group in the USSR can develop into a new party only as a result of the successful formation and growth of the new International. The revolutionary center of gravity has shifted definitely to the West, where the immediate possibilities of building parties are immeasurably greater.”

The two spots in the West where, each in its own way, the greatest prospects obtain for the new movement emerging out of the debris of the old, are France and the United States.

In France, the proletarian movement is maturing at a tempestuous, if inconsistent, pace. It is pointed out elsewhere in these pages by one of our collaborators, that conditions beyond their control and considerations of a revolutionary order are impelling the numerically small group of Bolshevik-Leninists in France to enter the Socialist party as a faction. A confluence of extraordinary circumstances has created a situation there which offers the Marxists the possibility of winning tens of thousands of forward-surging workers to the ideas and the banner of the Fourth International. If the framework within which this gain can be made it, for the moment, a Centrist party, it should be borne in mind that the field of action of the consistent Marxists, like their isolation heretofore, has been imposed upon them by conditions not of their own making.

The appointees of decaying Centrism, most of whom rallied to the Third International only after it had been diluted beyond recognition by Stalinism, are of course shrieking their imprecations at the “capitulating Trotskyists”. One immortal has even pointed out that the “vanguard of the counter-revolution” has “finally” “leaped” to the “tail end of the social democracy”. But all this will not make people forget that these same Stalinists loyally served under, that is, completely abandoned their principles for those of Chiang Kai-Shek, Purcell, Raditch, Pilsudski, Fan Noli, LaFollette and now, the petty bourgeois pacifists. Entering the Socialist party, the Bolshevik faction does not retract its principles; it does not repent or haul down its banner. It goes in not in order to serve reformism or Centrism, but in order to win the masses to revolutionary struggle. As in the formative period of the Third International, so also with the Fourth: the road to it is not always a simple and direct one.

At all events, a radically different situation confronts the revolutionary Marxian forces in the United States. The road followed in France need not be ours. The Socialist and Stalinist parties here do not, as in France, enjoy the monopoly of working class support; and while the latter party is identical enough with its French replica, the differences between the two socialist parties is obvious. Furthermore, the class relationships here have not yet reached the state of acute antagonism and imminency of the life-and-death battle that they have across the sea. These factors among others give the Marxists here more time in which to develop as an organizationally independent party, and to challenge all other parties for leadership of the proletariat.

We have before us a proletariat unique in world labor history. Peculiar historical circumstances have combined to keep the political development of the workers as a class at an inordinate distance from the economic development of the country. The sharp contrast between the economic ripeness of American capitalism for socialism, and the political immaturity of the working class, does not support the idea that the latter will first have to go through a prolonged “natural” evolution, passing through every single stage experienced by the German or the English proletariat, before it reaches the level, so to say, of America's economic development. Rather does it sustain the view that once started on the road of radicalization, the American workers will move with seven league boots and more likely than not, tend to skip over stages in which the workers in other countries lingered for lengthy periods. As soon as the retarding burden of its petty bourgeois past is shaken off, it will shoot to the top with phenomenal speed, just as a deep-sea diver, divesting himself of artificial lead weights, would surge to the surface with all the greater speed the deeper and denser the level at which he was working.

It is not so much a spirit of militancy that the working class of this country must be imbued with. There are few that can compare with it in this sphere. Rarely do strikes anywhere in the world last as long as in the United States; rarely are they fought with such spontaneous vigor and even violence. Especially in recent times, few are the strikes of any importance in which the workers are not instantly confronted with the armed forces of the capitalist state, emphasizing with clubs, bayonets and tear gas bombs that the benevolent impartiality of the government is a myth. The American workers are not accustomed to the miserable standard of living to which they must be forced if the ruling class is to prosper. The American workers are not exhausted, demoralized or sunk in pessimism by a series of major defeats such as the European proletariat has suffered in the last decade. Nor have they been inoculated with the ideology of social reformism which is, ordinarily, harder to throw off than the more outright ideology of the bourgeoisie. The working class which, in the last year alone, has fought tremendous battles in groups of tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands at a time, which followed the first local general strike in fifteen years with a textile strike which outnumbered any in American history, needs only to have its militancy informed with class consciousness in order to accomplish miracles of progress that would bring the United States well towards the top in the list of revolutionary succession. This is precisely the task which devolves upon a revolutionary party. One does not yet exist. It must be formed. We have, in this country, “more time” at our disposal than in others; but this is an account that can easily be overdrawn.

Soon after the German catastrophe, the International Communists proclaimed that new revolutionary parties had to be formed throughout the world and a new International established. The conduct of the Stalintern in the German situation proved beyond a doubt that it no longer offered the possibility of reformation; it had to be replaced. By this proclamation, the International Communists ceased to consider themselves a faction of the Third International. They did not, however, believe that by this reorientation they had automatically constituted themselves as the new International, and, in each country, as the new party. A group of revolutionists does not become a party at the very instant that it ceases, to be a faction, any more than a child becomes a father the minute its umbilical cord is severed. The Internationalists approached those groups, moving to the Left, which indicated their readiness to proceed to the formation of the new International by breaking with reformism, Stalinism and all other Centrist currents.

In the United States, the Communist League of America addressed itself, with the same objective in view, to the American Workers Party. At its Pittsburgh convention late last year, this organization, which previously existed as the Conference for Progressive Labor Action, had declared itself in favor of forming a new revolutionary party in this country. The position of the American Workers Party at that time was marked by a lack of clarity in the basic questions of program. At the same time, its origin and consequently its line of evolution were radically different from that of the League. Nonetheless, the latter felt firm in its belief that the direction of this evolution, converging as it did with its own, made a unification of the two groups possible, and this being the case, the interests of the hour made it necessary.

The Communist League had its origin in the Communist party and brought with it the best traditions of the latter, reinforced by the experiences of the last decade of struggle in the communist movement. The very nature of its fight as an independent current determined its rigorous attachment to those basic and hard-won theories and principles which lie at its foundation and invest it with its homogeneity and strength. The American Workers Party had its origin in a more or less all-embracing organization of progressive trade unionists, including a whole variety of political tendencies. Its members could support the Socialist, the Socialist Labor or the Communist Party, as they saw fit. The vitality of the movement which it represented is sufficiently revealed by the fact that it developed, slowly but fairly consistently, to the Left of the three parties which it had formerly tolerated, to a break with these parties, to a break with its existence as a trade union current and the inauguration of its own existence as an independent political current. Indeed, any other evolution could only have been retrogressive, leading inevitably to its degeneration.

That these two groups, coming from different directions and bringing with them different traditions, now declare in formal statements that a merger for the purpose of launching the new revolutionary party in the United States is both possible and necessary – more than that: is a matter of a comparatively short time – only reflects the fact that a satisfactory and sufficient programmatic basis exists upon which the fusion can take place. This basis was not arrived at by ignoring the differences of opinion existing between the two organizations, but by a candid acknowledgment of them and a cordial discussion which finally produced those changes in position that make unification desirable and possible and eliminate from it any taint of unprincipledness. Such a fusion would enable the new revolutionary party to be launched forthwith.

It may be thought that the different spheres in which the two organizations developed independently, would prove an ever-present source of friction which would hamper the cementing of a single party by a division into two antagonistic camps. We are not of this view. Unlike the sterile sectarian, the revolutionary Marxist considers his preoccupation with questions of theory and principle the necessary preparation for and constant guide in the daily struggles of his class. Approaching the problem from another angle, the members of the AWP, whose origin determined their preoccupation with the daily struggles, nevertheless moved, and had to move, steadily towards a revolutionary consideration of those fundamental problems which underlie all proletarian action.

No greater injury could be done to the new party formed out of a merger of the two groups than to establish a pernicious “division of labor” by which one section of the party would be assigned to “theory” and another to “practical” work. He would be a fine Marxist indeed who considered it his role in the revolutionary party to behave like a Mandarin condescending to lecture the benighted mass on the wisdom he learned in a book. He would be doing himself and his party no less of a disservice than the comrade who, out of an equally erroneous conception of his role in the party, thought that his practical daily work among the masses could be conducted without maintaining the closest flesh and blood ties with the party, without participating actively in its internal work, in the elaboration of its theories and policies. Far from regarding the respective qualities, which each of the two groups has emphasized in the course of its development, as mutually exclusive or productive of friction, we would consider them as supplementing and inter-penetrating each other and thereby endowing the party as a whole with a striking power in the class struggle that springs from an unassailable firmness in principle.

A fusion consummated on such a basis and in this spirit could not but have fruitful results. The forces represented by the new party would instantly be a factor of no small significance in the class struggle. If it is axiomatic that it must draw its recruits and support from the great, unorganized mass of the American workers, the elements that are being drawn into the new party have already furnished sufficient assurance in action that they will meet the test. Minneapolis and Toledo show the capacities contained in these elements, and the formation of the new party would speedily draw to its banner forces now outside any organization who would only strengthen and enhance its effectiveness. Many are the working class militants who are now becoming increasingly conscious of the need of a revolutionary Marxian party. They are repelled by the criminal policies of the Stalinist party, by the nightmare of its bureaucratism, and by the conservatism, equivocation and passivity of the Socialist Party. To them, the appeal of the new party would be direct and immediate. Their adherence will be its first triumph.

The new party will not, of course, be a full-fledged, mature and powerful organization on the day of its birth. Nor could it be. Revolutionary parties do not spring into existence full-panoplied, like Minerva from the brow of Jove. Its complete and definitive program will not be adopted the moment it is launched, and in our opinion, it would be an error to make the attempt immediately. Even the Communist International did not adopt its final program for several years after it was founded (it might be added that it would have been better off if it had not adopted any program rather than the one finally jammed down its throat by Stalin and Bukharin!). The program of a revolutionary Marxian party can finally be elaborated only after a period of experience in the class struggle, after common internal discussion – this is especially true in the present instance, in the case of a unification of such two groups as those involved – and above all in our epoch, after an international discussion. The new party can, in our opinion, be launched with the adoption of a brief programmatic statement which states concisely those Marxian principles upon which every genuine revolutionary internationalist can unite.

The formal launching of the new party is a step of the greatest and most solemn importance. But it is, after all, only the first big step. To found a new party is equivalent to announcing its intention to challenge all the existing parties for the leadership of the proletariat in every sphere and phase of its activity. Specifically, it is a challenge to the Socialist and Stalinist parties. Its challenge will not – this is assured! – take the form of trying to be more “respectable” than the one or more abusive than the other. It will pit its activities and its policies in the class struggle against those of its rivals, and remain confident of the outcome. Be it in direct collision with the others, or in a genuine united front with them for the attainment of a specific immediate aim, the new party will not need to fear being confronted by opposing parties and policies, and discussing them objectively before the working class as a whole.

But from this it does not follow that the three parties will be hermetically sealed entities, occasionally touching at the circumference. The new party cannot close its eyes to the existence of thousands of revolutionary militants in the ranks of the two existing organizations. The ghastly unanimity in the Stalinist party is iron-clad only in appearance. The first serious clash with an important problem will reveal the yawning abyss between the ranks and the leadership which a bureaucratic cloak now conceals. It was right after its greatest demonstration of hidebound solidity that the French Stalinist party was ripped open in a conflict between the apparatus and the powerful St.-Denis organization which ended in a split. There will be other Doriots in the American Stalinist party, and what is of far greater importance and value, other St.-Denis organizations. Good prospects exist for attracting these potential rebels against the Stalinist regime, and, providing it pursues a realistic and comradely course, the new party will appear in the eyes of these militants as the rallying ground for revolutionary unity.

Of even more immediate significance are the developments in the Socialist Party. Only the purblind can fail to see the big change that has taken place in its ranks. The Socialist Party is growing in the United States, and, especially among the younger elements, Left wing sentiment is meeting with a cordial response. The present leadership of wishy-washy would-be Centrists cannot endure for long. It is being pressed from the Right by the Bourbon wing of the party which demands an end to all this nonsense about revolution and mass action. It is being pressed from the other extreme by the Left wing movement which is gaining in clarity and consistency – not so much in the shape of the Revolutionary Policy Committee, which has succeeded to a large extent in discrediting itself by its own vacillation and uncertainty, and by its Lovestonian complexion, as in the form of a movement further to the Left by the more vigorous elements in the ranks of the Militants group itself. Whichever of the two forces should prove superior, one thing is certain: a genuine Left wing is in the process of crystallization in the Socialist Party.

Only sectarian folly could dictate to the new party a policy of ignoring this development. Elements who are ready to lay charges against Jasper McLevy for conducting the office of Mayor in a manner unbecoming a socialist, against Louis Waldman for his treacherous behavior, against Oscar Ameringer for his support to Upton Sinclair, and to vote for the exclusion of the unregenerate Right wing, are the comrades-in-arms of the new revolutionary party. We believe that it will be the task of the latter to accelerate the Leftward development of these forces, establish contact with them, and, whatever forms their unpredictable future evolution may take, to make possible a unification with them that will swell the ranks of the new movement and assure the maximum possible unity of the genuinely Marxian currents in the United States.

A new day is ahead for the proletarian movement in this country. The future belongs to the new party and the Fourth International!

 
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