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James P. Cannon

The Workers Party Today—And Tomorrow

25 August-22 September 1923

Source: James P. Cannon and the Early Years of American Communism. Selected Writings and Speeches, 1920-1928 © Spartacist Publishing Company, 1992. ISBN 0-9633828-1-0; Published by Spartacist Publishing Company, Box 1377 G.P.O. New York, NY 10116. Introductory material and notes by the Prometheus Research Library.
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Copyright: Permission for on-line publication provided by Spartacist Publishing Company for use by the James P. Cannon Internet Archive in 2005.

The following five-part series by Cannon was published in the party’s weekly journal, The Worker. The articles marked the opening salvo in Cannon’s struggle against Comintern “representative” John Pepper, whose policies had led to the disastrous break with John Fitzpatrick’s “progressive” forces at the July 3 Chicago convention. The Federated Farmer-Labor Party formed by Workers Party supporters at that convention obtained little in the way of independent trade-union support.

Part I. Some Aspects of the Labor Party Campaign

The struggle for a labor party in America is still in its infancy, and so is the career of the Communists. Both, however, have progressed to the point where lessons may be drawn from the tactics employed; and this is one of the chief gains of both. It was nobody’s theory, but the decree of history, that these two developments—the beginning of the organized fight for the labor party, and the appearance of the Communist Party in the open arena of the class struggle—should take shape simultaneously. And it requires no prophet to say that the two will be henceforth interlocked. The question of the labor party cannot be considered separately from the role of the Communist Party in it any more than the Communist Party can be considered independently of the labor party.

The recognition that the awakening to class consciousness of the American workers would be reflected in the movement toward a labor party marked a decisive turning point in the life of the Workers Party as well as in the struggle for a labor party.

As soon as we saw that our fate as a Communist nucleus was indissolubly bound up with that of the broader movement of conscious and semi-conscious workers for political expression, the revolutionary changes in our conceptions and activities began. Consciousness on the part of the party leaders initiated these changes, but necessity was the driving force. The very nature of the demands made upon the party compelled it to bend and shape itself to the requirements of the new task. Sectarian conceptions could not live in this atmosphere.

And if our participation in the broader movement has exerted a powerful influence on our own party, no less can be said of the labor party itself. The Chicago conference, which, as comrade Pepper truly said, was “not the end, but rather the beginning of the formation of a genuine labor party,” reflected the deep impression already made by the Communists. The genuine labor party—that is, the party formed and supported by the organized masses—lies in the future. There will be much propaganda, many conferences and a long, hard struggle before it is a reality. But the Chicago conference threw a searchlight on the road that leads toward it.

It showed that the movement for a labor party has reached a new stage since the Communists have acquired an influence in it. An organized form and a militant character—this is what the Communists are giving to the labor party movement. The labor party is no longer an issue to play with, a means of recording one’s sentiments and marking time. At Chicago the Communists showed that they intend to go forward with the fight for the labor party regardless of who drops by the wayside, and the rank and file delegates there, who really want the labor party, showed that they will go with those who lead the fight for it, even at the risk of being called Bolsheviks.

Before Chicago we said the movement for a labor party would get no help from the reactionary leaders, but that it inevitably takes the form of a struggle against them. After Chicago we can also say that even many “progressive” officials, who have been “standing” for the labor party, are not willing now to make a serious fight for it, and that for the present, if we want to remain true to the labor party, we must go ahead without them. The Chicago conference brought out clearly, and emphasized more than ever, the essential rank and file character of the present stage of the labor party campaign, and, therefore, enlarged the role of the Communists.

The attack on the rank and file conference at Chicago showed that the reactionaries will fight any serious move toward a labor party so fiercely, and draw the line so sharply, that there will be no middle ground to stand on. All those who want to be friends with the reactionary officials will have to take their stand against the labor party and against the rank and file workers. And those who want the labor party will have to fight with the rank and file against the present leaders. The “friends” of the labor party and the advocates of nebulous “independent political action” will be rejected by the rank and file, as they were at Chicago, and by the reactionaries, as they were at Albany.[1] The labor party issue is rapidly dividing the entire labor movement into two distinct camps for the greatest battle in American labor history.

The left wing, i.e., the class-conscious elements of the rank and file, versus the reactionary officialdom—that is the lineup. The very idea of the appearance of the working class as an independent party in the political arena implies a certain degree of class consciousness. And for that very reason class consciousness is the only sound basis upon which the genuine labor party can be built or the present struggle for it organized. There is plenty of evidence already to prove that the size and strength and stability of the labor party movement is equal to the size and strength of the militant left wing. And from this evidence we draw the conclusion that the organization of the labor party must begin with the organization of the left wing into a separate political body.

The workers of America have made many attempts in many places at independent political action, and, while this experience has not been uniform, it shows in every case that such action has no stability unless it is led by an organized body of class-conscious workers. Any other condition results in a mushroom growth which only lives for a day.

Labor parties formed with the hope of quick political success begin to disintegrate with the first failure. Most of the state units of the old Farmer-Labor Party collapsed after the first campaign. Where they lived longer and made a stubborn effort to keep in the field it was invariably due to their control by a body of militant workers who were committed to the labor party as a principle. The state of Washington provides the classic illustration of both these points.

The Farmer-Labor Party in this state has been organized for several years and has weathered several campaigns, local, state and national. At one time it had the backing of the whole labor movement of the state, but failure to win in its first election soon deflated the movement to its natural size. Pressure from Gompers on the one hand, and overtures from the capitalist parties on the other, soon brought about the defection of the state labor machine. In its later campaigns the party was supported only by the most advanced local unions and the organizations of the poor and exploited farmers, the conservative unions and the organizations of well-to-do farmers having withdrawn their support. There the movement crystallized into a stable minority party of the left wing of the farmers and city workers.

It will gain the official support of the labor movement again only when the class-conscious elements become dominant or gain sufficient strength to force the leaders into line. The leaders of this party are not Communists, but they have learned by their own experience that the labor party has to fight for its life, not with the conservative leaders but against them. That is why, when the showdown came at Chicago, they did not hesitate for one minute to break with the old leaders to go with the new ones who stood for militant struggle.

Those who form their theories about the labor party from British experience overlook the fact that America has already accumulated some experience, such as this cited here, and that this American experience is vastly different from the British. We are much more “American” than the Socialists and “progressives” who attack us for “taking orders from Russia,” because we base our policy on an analysis of the struggle in America, and on deductions drawn from concrete American experience.

We are bound to the labor party by principle and, while we have not sought to control it, our duty will not allow us to shirk the responsibility of leadership, when other leaders retreat. But this puts upon us the double responsibility to watch carefully where we are going. It is necessary to rouse the enthusiasm of all our party members and sympathizers for an aggressive and militant campaign for the labor party; but it is also important not to let our enthusiasm lead us to overestimate the rate of radical development, and rush into premature actions. And we must guard against the danger of isolation, and take special care that the semi-conscious and honest progressive workers are not alienated from us by any fault of ours, by foolish mistakes, by what may appear to them as our own narrow party interests, or by overanxiety for quick results.

The interests of the Workers Party are identical with the interests of the wider circle of radical workers who are seeking for expression through the labor party. Unless our party plays an active part in the labor party movement, it is bound to wither into a futile sect, and the developing class struggle will pass it by. And those overzealous “friends” of the labor party who are willing to subordinate the Workers Party, or eliminate it entirely, would rob the labor party of an element indispensable to its life and growth. The presence of the disciplined body of Communists within the labor party is the one and only guarantee that it will not be killed by its savage enemies from without, or sabotaged and betrayed by its unreliable friends within. The labor party will have a stable and healthy growth from now on only to the extent that it becomes organized, develops a militant character, and carries on an uncompromising struggle against the capitalist parties and their agents in the labor movement. The Communists will assist the labor party to follow this line.

The weakness and lack of aggressiveness of some of the elements who have hitherto played an important part in the labor party imposes a double task upon the Communists. We are obliged by the new developments to take a much larger share of responsibility in the labor party campaign, and to give more of our time and energy to it. And these increased duties and responsibilities demand that we build and strengthen the Workers Party, for our effectiveness in the broader movement is measured by the strength and discipline of our own independent party of Communism. The campaign we are now starting to increase the membership of the Workers Party is one of the most important immediate steps in the struggle for the labor party.

Part II. A Look at the New Movement

After I returned from Moscow I started out on a cross-country speaking tour with two questions uppermost in my mind. They were: first, how quickly will the party be able to assimilate the decisions of the Fourth Congress, and, second, how soon will the results begin to manifest themselves?

My propaganda tour lasted nearly five months and took me to every section of the country where we have party connections. I had been pretty familiar with the party since it was organized in 1919, as well as with the socialist and syndicalist movements from which it sprang. Then the six months I spent on the Executive Committee of the Communist International, where the problems of the various affiliated parties were dealt with almost daily, enabled me to get a clearer understanding of what the great leaders mean by the term Communist party. I was, therefore, able to look at the party today, in comparison with the party in its first three years, and with the older movements which preceded it; and also to form an opinion as to the progress we are making towards becoming a genuine Communist party.

First of all, on the basis of what I saw and learned on the long trip, I have no hesitancy in saying that, in all respects, we are making great headway. And with equal certainty the reasons for it can be stated: the advice of the Communist International, and the increased activity in party affairs, and influence on party policies, of a number of experienced and practical trade union men.

Anyone who knew the real condition of the party only a year ago cannot but regard the progress as phenomenal. From all standpoints we are in better shape than ever before: the party has stronger discipline, closer unity, more homogeneity, wider influence and more of the characteristics of a real Communist party.

But when I make these statements, it must be understood that I am speaking comparatively. I have in mind the fact that the life of the American Communist movement, for the first three years, was mainly an internal one, poisoned with sectarian dogmas and paralyzed by factional disputes. I do not mean to say that we have capitalism by the throat, or that our party has become the leader of a big proletarian mass movement. To expect this of a party that is just finding its legs, and of a class that is showing only faint signs of awakening to class consciousness, would be to expect a miracle. And Communists, by official decision of the Enlarged Executive, are not allowed to believe in miracles.

The real progress the party has made, especially during the past year, is indicated principally by the nature of its activity. The main activity of the party today is external, not internal. From a small sect of abstract theory and routine propaganda it is striving to become a party of campaigns and actions over concrete issues, and it is doing this without falling into the theoretical errors, confusion and opportunism which wrecked the older movements in America when they tried to broaden the scope of their work.

These changes in the character of the party, more than the increased amount of influence it has gained, represent the advancement it has made. The class struggle is not a slot machine which automatically returns a package of influence for the first penny of real, practical effort we insert into it. The results are sure, nevertheless, and we need not worry if the party has not become popular overnight. Such a party as we are striving to become will inevitably extend its prestige by leaps and bounds. Of this we can be confident.

A year ago we could all say that sectarianism was our greatest danger. Now it is quite clear that we are overcoming that trouble, and doing it much more rapidly and with less internal travail than the most optimistic amongst us hoped. We have taken deeply to heart the advice of the International, and are trying with all our zeal and energy to become a body of realistic fighters in the daily struggle, without forgetting for one minute the revolutionary aims of the movement. The whole party has learned, in theory at least, that revolutionary work in America today is daily work, the work of leading the fight for regeneration of the labor movement and raising the level of working class consciousness, of carrying the war to the capitalists and their labor lieutenants on questions which press hard against the workers today.

We are at the very beginning of this work and, taking into account the present stage of the class struggle in America, we can see, surely, that many years of pioneer work are ahead of us. For that reason we ought to carefully study the situation and the part we are playing in it. A constant and fearless self-criticism is the only thing that will prevent the little mistakes that inevitably occur in the daily work from growing into big ones. Thoughtless mistakes are a luxury which a revolutionary party cannot well afford.

Our campaigns for amalgamation and the labor party have deeply stirred the trade unions, without a doubt, and have already produced a number of results which should be noted. We have to face the fact that the expected increase in party membership has not yet materialized; but, in the real sense of the word, the party has grown. We have succeeded, through these campaigns, in drawing into the party quite a number of well-connected trade unionists. These elements are like nuggets of gold to the party. If we had nothing else to mark up to the credit side of these campaigns we would be repaid a thousandfold for the energy we put into them.

In several localities our party has been able to set the whole labor movement in motion through the instrumentality of a few of these strategically situated individuals. Lenin, in one of his books, speaks very warmly of the “eminent workingmen” who, in the days of blackest reaction in Russia, got themselves so situated that, in spite of all difficulties and obstacles, they could carry out the party’s work in the labor organizations. The dynamic possibilities of a party made up principally of such elements, and armed with the tactics of Leninism, staggers the imagination. That would be a real Bolshevik party!

Besides drawing a number of these workers directly into the party, we have also succeeded in organizing around us a much wider body of sympathizing workers than we ever had before. But it must be admitted that our propaganda and agitation has run far ahead of our organization. Many of our well-aimed bullets turn out to be blank cartridges for this reason. With such a small party we are only able to fight successfully if a much larger body of sympathizing workers stands with us. When we get too far ahead we run into trouble. Many of the fights which appear to be very spectacular have more smoke than fire, as far as we are concerned.

Organized opposition confronts us all along the line. The fights we have started in several of the big unions, and especially the formidable showing of our party at the Chicago Farmer-Labor conference, have greatly alarmed our old enemies, and united them with some new ones against us. In one way this can be taken as a proof that we are active and that the reactionaries fear us.

The united front against the capitalists is still a propaganda slogan; but the united front against the Communists is a reality. We seem to be organizing our enemies faster than we are organizing our friends.

An old sickness of the American party—a psychological one—is not yet completely cured. That is the tendency to get unduly excited, to overestimate the radical development, and plunge into premature actions which bring disastrous defeats and paralyzing reactions in our own ranks.

We have progressed earthward during the past year, but we are still too much up in the air. We still throw more bluffs and make more noise than our strength warrants. This would not matter if we were not the ones who suffer by it. Many times during the past year delicate situations which might have been matured by quiet work have been shot to pieces by too much advertisement and boasting of our intentions. Lincoln’s story of the river steamboat is not a bad one to remember. This boat had a small engine which could not generate enough power to move the boat and blow the whistle at the same time. Our engine is not very large either.

An aggressive, fighting policy is, of course, the breath of life to a party such as ours. And in our general propaganda our demands should not be modest ones. We can be as bold as the “SLP” in this respect and demand “the unconditional surrender of the capitalist class.” But when we take up specific fights on concrete questions of the day, and raise slogans of action in regard to them, we have to take into account the relative strength of our forces with those of our enemies, and endeavor to regulate the tempo of our campaign somewhat by the rate at which the struggle is naturally developing.

When we fail to do this, we overstimulate the movement, run away ahead of our own sympathizers and bring the issue to a head prematurely. Then we suffer from the consequent reaction, and the isolation of our comrades who, in such cases, often have to hunt for cover and keep still for a while in order to regain their contacts.

Outside of the defects noted here which, after all, are the result mainly of the busy life we have been living, and the lack of time for self-examination, there is very little to find fault with in the party. It is on the right road, its general line of tactics is correct, and it has excellent prospects for healthy growth. If we cannot find the grounds for the optimistic hope expressed by comrade Zinoviev in his letter that “In the near future the Workers Party will mature to one of the truly Communist mass parties of the world,” we can say, confidently, that the party is going forward at a good rate of speed, and that it will give a good account of itself in the next year.

Part III. The United Front Against the Communists

The united front is a very good slogan, and everybody nowadays seems to be in favor of it. Our united front slogan has been such a good success that our enemies have adopted it, with an amendment of their own. Those who are unwilling to make a united front against the capitalists are making a united front against the Communists.

Look at them: Farrington and Lewis, after calling each other crooks and grafters and proving it, unite to fight the “Reds,” while indictments against our active comrades in Pennsylvania dovetail neatly into their plans. The Socialist Party makes peace with Gompers and war on us. The “progressive” leaders of the old Farmer-Labor Party take up the fight against us with Gompers’ slogans of “Red,” “Force and Violence,” etc. While these big dogs spring at our throat the little ones snap at our heels, the Socialist Labor Party, Proletarian Party, etc.

We were never short of enemies. Quite a number of “progressives” have been in a sort of coalition with us. Now even some of these are joining in an effort to isolate us. An analysis of the make-up of the American labor movement, however, will show that this situation is not a permanent crystallization, and that it is possible, by using the right tactics in the developing class struggle, to break up the present anti-Communist front and bring about realignments of various kinds which will advance the movement as a whole and strengthen our position in it.

No European Analogy

The American movement has no counterpart anywhere else in the world, and any attempt to meet its problems by the simple process of finding a European analogy will not succeed. The key to the American problem can be found only in a thorough examination of the peculiar American situation. Our Marxian outlook, confirmed by the history of the movement in Europe, provides us with some general principles to go by, but there is no pattern, made to order from European experience, that fits America today.

In all the European countries the workers movement has matured to class consciousness and is committed, in theory, to socialism. The working class is organized politically and does not support the capitalist parties. The three factions of the movement, right, center and left, each have a political party organization, all of which are professedly anti-capitalist.

How different is the situation in America. Here the dominating element in the labor movement defends the capitalist system in theory as well as in practice, and the great body of workers still support the capitalist parties. The immaturity of the American working class is nowhere more clearly revealed than in the fact that only a minority support the labor party. A working class without a party of its own is an infant that has not yet celebrated its first birthday.

Beside the Communists, who, of course, are an organized party with a clearly defined revolutionary program, four other elements make up the American labor movement; and all four of them are now centering their chief opposition on the Communists. These four elements are: 1) the right wing bureaucracy; 2) the Socialists; 3) the revolutionary sects; 4) the “progressives.”

The Right Wing

The right wing, the ruling bureaucracy, is by all standards the most reactionary in the world. Its philosophy is capitalistic, not socialistic as is the case in the European countries. It is organized and has a definite program of systematic opposition to all radical proposals. It fights all progress under the very same slogans used by the capitalistic press.

Gompers denounces the Trade Union Educational League on patriotic grounds, and accuses the Communists of wanting to overthrow the United States government, with the same moral indignation that inspires a prosecuting attorney who speaks against us in court. Lewis, of the miners union, goes one step farther in defense of capitalist institutions. He crosses the Canadian border and expels the Nova Scotia miners, one of his charges against them being that they went on strike to undermine the “constituted authorities” in Canada. His devotion to capitalism is not confined within the narrow limits of national boundaries.

The leaders of the labor movement lean so far backward in support of the profit system that many politicians in the capitalist parties appear to be revolutionaries in comparison with them. Senator Wheeler, of Montana, made the statement that “the bankers in Montana are more radical than the labor leaders in Washington.” These bureaucrats are our natural enemies. They belong in the united front against us.

No Peace with Socialist Party

The Socialists are also an organized party with a definite program of reformism. Fortunately for the working class it is a small party with a dwindling influence, and its miserable role is not an important one. It crawls before the black reactionaries, but against the left wing it is militant and venomous. War to the knife is the only attitude a revolutionary party can have toward it. We fight the reformist Socialist Party because we know from the bitter experience of the European workers that reformism is poison to the labor movement.

If we can prevent such a party from ever getting a grip in America it is quite possible that the working class will be able to cross the bridge to revolutionary understanding much quicker and less painfully than the workers of Europe have done. There is no possibility of peace between the Communist left wing and the Socialist Party unless it completely changes its present character and attitude. There is no sign of this, so we can say that it also has its proper place in the united front against us.

We need not devote much time here to the third factor enumerated above: the little, voluble, chattering sects of revolutionary phrasemongers who take no real part in the struggle, and whose energy is expended in snapping and barking at our heels. The struggle will dispose of them. It will sweep into the ranks of the fighting party all of them who honestly want to fight against capitalism. As for the others, to whom super-radical phrases are merely a cloak to hide behind, they have already shown that in action they are against us.

The “Progressives”

The fourth element—the so-called “progressives”—is one that, like the right wing, is peculiar to America. Altogether it makes up a considerable section of the movement, a vague, indefinite, unorganized group shuffling back and forth between the organized militant right and the organized militant left. They are the American “centrists”; but for several reasons they cannot be dealt with precisely according to the formula which the Communists use in dealing with the centrists in Europe.

They are not nearly so definite a grouping nor so highly developed politically as the classic centrists of the international movement. For one thing, they have practically no organization, no systematic and consistent political philosophy, and they have no recognized, authoritative leaders of the highly trained, professional European type. They do not represent a crystallized movement, but a hazy sentiment which, speaking in terms of America, where anything resembling a class viewpoint is progress, is really progressive.

This “progressive” element is already quite large, and it is growing. It has not yet acquired sufficient consciousness to develop an organized form; that is why it is so uncertain, inconsistent and non-militant in action. But at bottom it is a revolt against Gompersism. This is plainly indicated by its general support of such proposals as the labor party, amalgamation, recognition of Soviet Russia, etc., wherever it is not called upon to fight too hard for them.

Present Alignment Only Temporary

Up until recently most of these progressives were going along in a rather loose alliance with us in support of these measures. At the Chicago conference, and in some localities before the Chicago conference, through no fault of ours in a single case, a number of these “progressives” broke away from this alliance and joined the united front against us. But I do not think the bulk of them naturally belong there, or that we should take it for granted they will stay.

The rapidly developing class struggle will not permit any elements which stand for progress to stay united with the dead reaction of the Gompers regime. The “progressives” cannot do it without repudiating all the things they have been standing for up till now. Some of the leaders may be willing to do this, but the progressive movement cannot so easily change its character overnight.

It is more a drifting movement than a conscious one, and the intensifying struggle accelerates the drift toward the left, not toward the right. This situation offers tremendous possibilities for the Workers Party, and it should certainly be a part of our strategy in the labor movement to look forward to the possibility of a rapprochement with the “progressives,” at least with those who have not consciously betrayed the movement and gone over to Gompers.

In next week’s article I will undertake to analyze the “progressive” movement, and the reasons which brought about the break between some of the leaders and the Communist left wing, and, also, to set forth what, in my opinion, our tactics toward them should be in the future.

Part IV. The Workers Party and the Progressives

Why did some progressives break with us, and what does it signify? This is an important question for us because it has a vital bearing on our future strategy in the labor movement. It affects our fight for the labor party, for amalgamation and, most of all, for the recognition of our party as an integral part of the labor movement. In order to find the answer we have to analyze the progressive movement, and if we analyze it correctly we should have little difficulty in arriving at the proper attitude toward it.

The great mass of the awakening workers whom we classify under the heading of “progressives”—those who have broken away from the ruling bureaucracy and who have not yet joined the left wing—are not under the control of an organized party. And it is precisely this situation that makes our task of strengthening and extending the Communist influence immeasurably easier than that of our comrades in Europe, who are confronted at every turn by the opposition of powerful Socialist parties.

It is our good fortune to have already created a clearly defined, if small, Communist party which is operating in an intensifying class struggle with a politically undeveloped, but rapidly fermenting labor movement. These features of the American situation give the Communists their supreme opportunity. By following the right line of strategy, correctly appraising the other elements and adopting the correct attitude toward them, our party can drive forward with the speed of a locomotive.

Defining the Progressives

In order to talk about the other elements in the movement we must first define and label them. The word “progressives” is both a definition and a label for those with whom we are principally concerned in this article. We cannot speak of them in any of the classic terms of the class struggle, because they are only partly class-conscious. From the standpoint of the international proletarian movement they are neither right, left nor center. They are not Socialists, Communists, centrists, anarchists, or syndicalists. They are—progressives.

This is a very vague word, it is true; but the section of the American labor movement it describes is, as yet, very hazy in its outlook, and its composition is a hodgepodge. It is altogether too loose and indefinite a body to be spoken of in precise socialist terminology. And that is the crux of the question.

Progressivism is a revolt against Gompersism that has not yet developed a systematic philosophy or an organized form. It is not as yet a conscious movement and it does not show a uniform development in all parts of the country, and in all the International unions. The administration of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers is not the same thing as the administration of the Seattle Central Labor Union. There is some difference between Fitzpatrick of Chicago and Cramer of Minneapolis. The Detroit Federation of Labor is not the West Virginia Federation of Labor. But all of them, and the hundreds of thousands of workers whom they represent and typify, have certain things in common: they are not a part of the Gompers machine, they are not Socialists, and they are not Communists.

For several years this progressive movement has been drifting comfortably along, putting itself more or less formally on record for progressive measures, but creating no real disturbance in the labor movement. Gompers, the militant reactionary, had little difficulty in beating it back. It was not aggressive enough to cause any sharp collision anywhere. It was not submitted to any real tests and, for that reason, it was not easy to discover its real nature.

Their Uncomfortable Position

But the rapid rise of the Workers Party, and the organization around it of the militant left wing, have introduced a new and most dynamic factor into the situation. The progressives, who are disposed to move ahead slowly and peacefully, find themselves in a most uncomfortable position. Between the militant left wing, which tries to hurry them forward at a faster rate of speed, and the militant reactionaries, who launch fierce counterattacks in order to drive them back, the progressives have no more peace. Under this pressure from the left and right the progressive movement is revealing its true character quite clearly.

The recent startling actions of different sections of this progressive movement—the big step forward here, the panicky retreat there; the open support of the Michigan Communist cases at first, and the denunciation of them a few months later; the joint campaign with the Communists for the labor party before the Chicago conference, and the sudden, unprovoked break at the conference—all these inconsistent actions are nothing more nor less than the first reactions of the progressive movement to the war between the left and right wings in the labor movement, and the propaganda and pressure each side exerts upon it. That is the real meaning of these recent events.

The progressives do not constitute a homogeneous body, and its lack of consciousness and organization robs it of militancy and certitude, rendering it very susceptible to propaganda and pressure from the right as well as from the left. Under pressure from the left it supports the amalgamation movement. Under counterpressure from the right it abandons even the labor party. It oscillates between the right and the left, and whenever it has a minute’s peace it stops at its own position—mild support of the labor party and recognition of Soviet Russia, and still milder support of amalgamation.

Chicago Break No Accident

What took place at Chicago was not an isolated, unexplainable accident. The happenings at Chicago merely dramatized and gave prominence to a ferment in the ranks of the progressives which, prior to the Chicago conference, had unmistakably manifested itself in several localities where the struggle between the right and the left brought matters to an issue.

If any of us were greatly surprised at what occurred at Chicago and elsewhere it was because we had overestimated the political consciousness and stability of the progressives, and expected too much of them. Such shakeups will serve a good purpose in the long run if they prompt us to make a more thorough examination of the whole question and bring us to a better and clearer understanding of our own task in regard to it. These events will be worth whatever they cost if we do not deceive ourselves as to what really happened and what it signifies.

At Chicago, when the crisis came, our program made the stronger appeal to the great majority of the convention delegates, including a big section even of the Farmer-Labor Party, and they came along with us. But that did not make them Communists. With others, the secret pressure of the Gompers machine and the fear of an open struggle with it were the dominating factors, and at the crucial moment they broke with us. But that single act does not make them reactionaries, even if, in stress of the occasion, for want of an argument to justify their acts, they turned on us with the stale accusations of Gompers, which, in turn, are only a variation of the capitalists’ indictments of those who challenge their rule.

An individual amongst them, here and there, may have already consciously decided to go back to Gompers. Even in these cases, however, we can well afford to wait for a consistent series of actions to remove all doubt, before we classify them as reactionaries. Likewise there is a strong probability that some of them have made up their minds to go all the way to the left. This also will have to wait for proof. There has been a shuffling of individuals to the right and to the left, but the progressive movement, as a whole, remains practically the same as before the recent shakeups. Only the onward-driving class struggle, and the greater intensification of the war between the right and the left, will be able to substantially change its character.

Our Attitude Toward Progressives

The progressive movement remains practically the same as before, and our attitude toward it prior to Chicago, which was essentially correct, still holds good. But two points have to be especially emphasized now. First, we must continue to approach the progressives in a friendly and patient manner, and, second, we must exert all our energy to build the Communist left wing as an independent power.

The progressives have shown themselves to be a confused and unreliable body, and for that reason we cannot count too much upon any alliance with them, not even as much as we did before Chicago. Our real ability to influence the labor movement depends, first of all, not on an alliance with the progressives, but on our independent power as a party. Not only that, but our ability to affect the course of the progressives, to give any meaning to an alliance with them, also depends upon it.

Only where we have a strong party organization does the coalition with the progressives represent a real force.

In such localities as Minneapolis we have had experience to show that the unity of the left wing and the progressives, where the left wing is not organized as an independent power, is a house of cards that collapses under the first volley from Gompers’ guns.

The confusion and instability the progressive movement has revealed, which makes it doubly necessary for us to build our own party as an independent power, is also the reason why we cannot adopt a sharp or hostile attitude toward it. It cannot be put into the same category with the Socialist Party, which carries on a systematic ideological war against us. The progressive movement, in spite of its glaring defects, represents a sound, healthy, honest impulse of hundreds of thousands of workers. It offers great possibilities for us, and it must be our aim to effect an alliance between it and the left wing whenever it is possible, and by careful, patient and friendly work to lead the progressive workers to the platform of Communism.

Part V. The Workers Party and Its Rivals

In my recent trip across the country I made inquiries in every locality as to the strength and influence of the various radical parties which are rivals to the Workers Party. The information I obtained in this way, supplementing the knowledge we already have as to their national influence in comparison with that of our party, enabled me to get a clear view of the actual situation. It can be summed up by this statement, which, in my opinion, is unquestionably true: the Workers Party is rapidly outstripping the whole field; it is going forward and its rivals are declining; in many places the other parties have become practically liquidated by the assimilation of their best elements into the Workers Party. The Workers Party is the only one that is showing any aggressiveness or driving power in the class struggle. It has already put itself at the head of militant rank and file movements locally as well as nationally. And these, of course, are the fundamental reasons why it is pushing its rivals to the wall.

There are not many consciously radical workers in America but there are very many radical organizations. The whole radical labor movement of America looks pitifully small in comparison with most of the European countries, but we can challenge any country in the world to show a greater number of radical and revolutionary organizations, factions, sects and cliques. Except for the Proletarian Party, which is a sectarian split-off from the Communist movement, our party is the youngest in the field. We are only four years old as a party. The Socialist Party is 23, the Industrial Workers of the World is 18, and the Socialist Labor Party is a middle-aged lady who doesn’t speak of her age anymore. The Proletarian Party, if we remember rightly, is three years old, but it is manifestly an abnormal child which sits listlessly in the library reading books which it doesn’t understand, and suffers from lack of exercise. It doesn’t seem to run and play enough to get the proper development.

These bodies are not much given to agreeing with anybody about anything, but they all agree with each other that the Workers Party is no good. They have a united front on that issue. Those who used to spend most of their energy fighting each other now center their main fire on us, and, strangely enough, they all use pretty much the same arguments and accusations.

As a revolutionary party which aims to represent the entire class interests of the proletariat, our real fight is against the capitalists and the capitalist government first, and next against the agents of the capitalists in the labor movement—the Gompers machine. But in marshaling the revolutionary workers for this fight against the class enemies of the proletariat we have to insist on sound revolutionary policies and principles; otherwise the fight would not be successful. These rival radical parties who espouse false doctrines have only a harmful effect on the movement. To the extent that they have influence they create divisions in the ranks of the class-conscious workers and introduce confusion into the struggle. This brings us into collision with them. Our fight against them is a fight against division and confusion.

The Collapse of the Socialist Party

I was especially struck by the obvious moral and organizational collapse of the Socialist Party. The fight with it in New York City, where it is still entrenched in the needle trades unions and buttressed on a number of property institutions in its control, has a tendency to give us an astigmatic view of its real status. In the country at large it has practically ceased to exist as a vigorous rank and file movement. The young blood has left it and joined the Communists, many thousands have quit the movement, and only a handful of tired old men hold the fort here and there for the Socialist Party, talking about the past but doing very little today.

The Socialist Party of America could be more accurately called the Socialist Party of New York and Milwaukee. In these cities it represents a real power and it is a real stumbling block to the revolutionary movement. In these places we find it necessary to wage a direct fight against it not only because of its false philosophy, but also because of the treasonable conduct that springs logically from that philosophy. But in other localities, where it has no property institutions, no newspapers and no established professional officialdom, the tendency of our party is to sweep past it completely. The constructive work of our party, its united front tactics, give it the leadership of the radical workers. The necessity for direct struggle with the Socialist Party does not arise for the simple reason that the Socialists are not in the field.

The Socialist Labor Party

We have skirmishes now and then with the Socialist Labor Party, but they are never of a very serious nature because the SLP is not a serious factor in the fight. The official organ attacks us very heatedly and excitedly nearly every week, but we could not afford to spend much time in answering them. We fight them, nevertheless, and the difference between their method of fighting and ours reveals very clearly the difference between a dogmatic clique and a realistic political party.

We proceed on the theory that a party which has a false theoretical foundation, and which takes the wrong position regarding the revolutionary goal of the movement and the way to realize it, will not follow a revolutionary policy in the daily struggle. We have no objection to theoretical arguments now and then, but the average worker does not take much interest in such combats. So, as a rule, whenever the SLP meets us in the field with a challenge to debate the merits of the late Daniel De Leon, we answer with a proposal that they make a united front with us against the common enemy, against the capitalists, the capitalist government and the reactionary labor leaders. The SLP is a sterile sect that does not understand any life except abstract controversy. Marxism to it is only a collection of dogmas. It is not a party of the class struggle, and against proposals to really fight in the class struggle it is absolutely helpless.

A few months ago I was speaking to a crowd of miners in southern Illinois. There is a little nest of chronic SLP fanatics in that section, and after I finished speaking they offered to start an argument with me about the dictatorship of the proletariat. I answered them in this way:

I would be glad to discuss this question with you, but it is quite possible that most of these miners here have not made a sufficient study of revolutionary theory to be able to conclude from our debate which party they want to support. Suppose we put the question in another way that will make the case simpler. Right now these miners are suffering a great oppression at the hands of Farrington and Lewis, who are nothing but the agents of the mine owners in the miners union. I will invite you to make a united front with us against Farrington and Lewis, and for a program that will improve and strengthen the miners union and make it a revolutionary instrument in the hands of its members. We can still have debates once in a while over theories, but in the meantime let us make a common fight against the common enemies of the working class.

When the SLP members refused this proposition the miners would not let them talk anymore. They came to the natural and logical conclusion that a party which will not fight today is only bluffing when it talks about fighting in the future.

The Proletarian Party

The Proletarian Party is not a political party in the true sense of the word because it does not have a national character, takes no part in the general political struggle and has never undertaken any kind of a campaign on a national scale. It appears to be a loose collection of groups and study classes located in about a half dozen cities. Its activity consists almost exclusively of conducting and holding study classes, street meetings and heckling Workers Party speakers. They are quite militant in their fight against the Workers Party but we have never been able to get much help from them in the fight against the labor fakers. They call themselves Communists, and, taking them at their word, we have made many efforts to get them to unite with us into one Communist party. But they have always refused on one pretext or another. Even the direct appeal of the Communist International could not avail with them. They are sore at us and they refuse to play in our yard—that is about all we can make out of their childish behavior.

We cannot say what the real object of the Proletarian Party is. But if they thought they could seriously injure the Workers Party by their bitter and senseless attacks on it they have failed most miserably. The Workers Party has stood the test of action far better than the Proletarian Party, and it has already succeeded, by the constructive nature of its activity and its energetic campaigns for the labor party, amalgamation, etc., in bringing into its ranks quite a number of former members of the Proletarian Party who could not accept a Communist program as a substitute for Communist work.

They are amongst the most valuable members of our party at the present time and the fact that they have come over to us is the best proof that our attitude toward the Proletarian Party has been correct. We have refused to engage in a mud-slinging campaign with them. We simply have set up our actions against their words, and let all those who call themselves Communists take their choice.



1. A reference to a meeting of the Conference for Progressive Political Action held in late July in Albany, New York. The railroad union leaders walked out of the conference rather than countenance any talk of independent political action.


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