James P. Cannon

Results Of The Party Convention

Written: 1929
First Published: The Militant, New York, Volume 2, No. 6, March 15, 1929
Source: Microfilm collection and original bound volumes for The Militant provided by the Holt Labor Library, San Francisco, California.
Transcription\HTML Markup: D. Walters
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The party convention which was to “end the faction struggle and unify the party” ended with a free-for-all fist fight, the sharpening of the internal strife, the wide distribution of new caucus documents, and a race to Moscow by representatives of both factions.28 It could not be otherwise. This bankruptcy is only the reflection of the political and ideological collapse of the Stalinist regime in the Communist International, a regime which stultifies revolutionary thought, suppresses discussion, and undertakes to solve all difficulties which arise from its barren policy with organizational manipulations. The unanimous endorsement of the Stalin leadership by the convention was an appropriate act.

The convention sessions themselves were an empty formality. The real activity consisted of a long series of caucuses by the two factions and was confined almost exclusively to the paltry struggle over the office of party secretary. The mechanical exclusion of the Opposition prevented a discussion of the great principled questions which confront the Communist International and which lie at the bottom of the fierce factional struggles in all the parties. The convention delegates, carefully selected from the standpoint of their indifference to these questions, naturally could not touch them—they do not even understand them—and this failure doomed the convention to ignominious futility from the start. Without facing these issues, which are the determining factor in the whole Comintern, and taking part in the effort to solve them on the right basis of principle, there can be no “liquidation of the factional struggle” no matter how often the “unprincipledness” of this struggle is proclaimed.

Almost the entire activity of the two caucuses—which met in joint session occasionally as the Sixth Convention of the partywas devoted to the maneuver of Stalin which was represented by the two representatives of the Executive Committee of the Communist International: the proposal that Foster should be appointed secretary of the party.29 The fact that a secondary organizational question of this kind should become the central problem of the convention is in itself a significant characterization of the gathering. The motive behind this Stalin strategy is quite obvious. In the first place it was a form of pressure on the Lovestone faction to make a complete break with Bukharin. It was also designed to graft Foster onto the Lovestone faction as its “American” expression and decoy for the proletarian communists who are fighting it under the banner of the Communist Opposition. It was easy to accomplish the first aim, for here it was a question of dealing with people without definite principles or loyalties. The second aim had no chance to succeed. It failed to consider the principled motives that animate the proletarian supporters of the Opposition and it underestimated their political intelligence.

The reactions of the two groups in the convention to this proposal regarding the secretaryship throw an interesting light on their actual character. The Bittelman group went into convulsions of enthusiasm over it and regarded it as, almost, the “final victory.” For it they completely forgot their “political line,” they scrapped their convention theses, they declared a still more “merciless” struggle against the Communist Opposition and howled for “unity” with the “Right Wing”—with Lovestone, Pepper, Wicks, Stachel, Wolfe, Minor, 01gm, or anyone else of a similar stripe who would accept it. How can such an attitude be explained? It is only a few weeks ago that Bittelman issued a statement, signed also by a number of lieutenants and new recruits, repudiating Foster’s position on very important questions from a principled standpoint. Foster himself stated in his article that Bittelman had denounced his position as “liquidating everything connected with Communism.” Foster’s articles reaffirmed his stand as against that of Bittelman and all the rest of the group. How then can the appointment of Foster be regarded as such a great “concession” to the Bittelman faction that everything else can be cheerfully sacrificed? The incident demonstrates quite clearly that organization positions play the main role in this case and that the theses (cast aside so soon and so lightly) and the big talk about political line (forgotten already) were merely trimmings. What kind of a group is this which divides over political questions and reunites over organization questions?

The attitude of the Lovestone group to the Stalin maneuver was more businesslike, practical, and “political” in the Stalinist sense. They took away its main motive by introducing a resolution for Stalin and against Bukharin—thus refuting at the same time the accusation that they are purely and simply a right wing. They can also be center or left if occasion demands. Their next step was to discredit the proposal to make Foster secretary of the party. For this they put forward their “proletarian” delegations to attack Foster’s war record openly in the convention. The article signed by W. J. White in the Daily Worker of March 4 was part of this campaign, and poor White of course did not write the article. It is quite obvious that Bedacht and Lovestone wrote it. “Where was the ’leader’ of the Opposition during the past war?” asks the article. “Does his record in the past war assure reliability in the coming war? It does not.” With words like these and others even more blunt and outspoken on the convention floor, the carefully coached “proletarians” hammered at the candidacy of Foster for the secretaryship. Thus the Lovestone caucus was solidified against the “war danger” and Foster. They finished by electing three secretaries with equal rights, one of whom is Foster in the same position he held before the convention and with even less prestige.

The Bittelman-Foster caucus document accuses the Lovestone faction, because of its rejection of Foster as secretary, of placing the convention “in the position of open hostility to the C.I.”—that is, to the Stalin faction. But that doesn’t follow at all—the wish probably influences the thought that thereby they would receive the favors that come only to the “loyal” ones. They didn’t understand Lovestone’s maneuver any more than they understood Stalin’s. It is absurd to think the Lovestoneites will split on this question. Their aim was to discredit the idea of Foster as the actual leader of the party so completely that Stalin will either withdraw his demand that Foster be appointed secretary; or, if Stalin insists, on the ground of the exigencies of the fight against “Trotskyism,” they can finally accept it without in any way endangering their real control.

Eight delegates of the Lovestone caucus, including Weinstone, split from the faction over this issue on the platform of the literal acceptance of all decisions of the Stalinist leadership of the Comintern regardless of their contents and no matter how much one contradicts another. The nimbleness which such a platform requires in these days makes Weinstone its natural leader. Two years ago he broke with Lovestone because he thought the CI really meant to unify the party. A year later he returned to the faction because he thought the CI was against Foster. Now he makes another switch because he read the latest cablegram literally, without thinking of what it really means. He hasn’t got things straight yet.

The convention session of Friday evening, March 8, was broken up by a free-for-all fight which began with the refusal to grant the floor to a minority delegate and was soon followed by a general melee which spread throughout the hall and among the visitors in the balcony, until the singing of the “Internationale” brought a lull during which the meeting was adjourned. Such a thing never happened before in all the history of our party—not even in gatherings which ended in splits. This unheard-of scandal is the first interest payment received by the party on its investment in the methods of gangsterism against the Opposition. It is a warning. The methods of the labor fakers cannot be played with “just a little”—they will permeate the whole movement and undermine its ideological foundations. And to what base uses is the noble song of the international proletariat being put? Nowadays they sing it at meetings of the Opposition to compel the audience to arise and prevent the speaker from being heard; and at party meetings, it seems, they are beginning to sing it when a physical fight breaks out—if possible, before the cops arrive. Such desecration is a sign of the times. Hooliganism is a symptom of degeneration.

According to the Daily Worker of March 11 the convention unanimously accepted the open letter of the Comintern (printed in the Daily Worker of March 4) without reservations and declared complete agreement with it. All the previous theses, countertheses, statements, and declarations of the two factions were scrapped in favor of this document which, on the most important questions, is much nearer to the platform of the Opposition than to the theses of the other groups. It would be a grave mistake, however, to conclude that this action signifies a change of course on the part of either of them or a removal of the basis of the quarrels. It is merely a gesture of internal diplomacy and an easy bureaucratic way of saying the CI is always right. The light-heartedness with which the open letter was accepted as a substitute for their various theses and other documents demonstrates how little importance they themselves attached to them. Such practices reduce the authority of leadership to nothing.

The open letter represents a great departure from the line of the Sixth Congress on the position of American imperialism and the perspectives of revolutionary development in Europe. Bukharin’s report to the Sixth Congress was almost as one-sided in its awe before the power of American imperialism, in its failure to estimate its involvement in the general crisis of capitalism and the revolutionary implications of its world aggressions, as was the conception of Pepper and Lovestone. The open letter represents a partial attempt to “correct” this line under pressure of the criticisms of the International Opposition, in a typical Stalinist manner, without saying so or explaining the reasons. Trotsky’s criticism of the Draft Program makes a Leninist appraisal of the world situation and particularly the role of American imperialism. This is the real source of the belated half-corrections of the mistakes of the Sixth Congress partly revealed in the open letter. In accepting this new line they accept a part of that which they glibly pronounced a Menshevist and counterrevolutionary program. Such turns are easy for people whose words signify nothing but factional speculation. In practice it means nothing. Tomorrow they can reverse the position and it will mean just as little.

A section of the open letter of considerable interest to us is that which stresses the necessity of a course toward the Americanization of the party in the communist sense. This runs like a single thread throughout the document and is listed in the summary as one of the four conditions for the development of the party on the path toward transformation into a mass party. We also emphasized this point in our platform; and it is not a new opinion of ours. “The Party can become a mass proletarian Party only on condition that it widens its base by creating its main strongholds in the ranks of the American workers.” “The course on the American workers and the decisive branches of industry must run through all the activities of the Party.” Such expressions in the open letter are almost literally the same as those in our platform.

The need for such a course was not even mentioned in the theses of the Lovestone and Foster-Bittelman factions. They considered this idea, which we have brought forward repeatedly and insistently in the past, as a “deviation” peculiar to us, a part of our “pessimism,” etc. Now they blandly accept it—and forget it. The “ideological campaign” to permeate the party with this consciousness and the thoroughgoing organizational readjustments which such a course necessitates will not be thought of. It is impossible to educate a party in this way.

Having withdrawn their own theses and adopted the open letter, both factions have once again found a “common platform” as a basis for “unity.” According to tradition this should be the signal for the intensification of the factional struggle, and the Foster caucus document proceeds along that line. It accuses the other side of giving only “the customary lip service to the line of the C.I.” Platforms have no real meaning in this degenerated struggle for power in the party. Stalinization has produced the type of bureaucrats in all the parties who have no definite standpoint, no stability of principle, and for whom the prevailing winds in the Russian party are decisive.

It was the elder Liebknecht who said that a revolutionary must be able to change his mind within twenty-four hours if the interest of the revolution demands it. The Stalinist regime has modernized and “improved” this excellent formula to read: A bureaucrat must be able to change his position in twenty-four minutes if ordered to do so, without inquiry into the merits of the change or the reason for it.

”The peculiar characteristic” of the Lovestoneites, says the caucus document of Bittelman and Foster, “is their unprincipledness, which reflects within our Party the methods and practices of the bourgeois Parties.” This is quite true. But it does not prevent the authors from declaring in the same document “our readiness ... to join with all comrades in the Convention ... for the merciless struggle against and liquidation of the counter-revolutionary Cannon-Trotsky Opposition.” “Unprincipledness” and the “methods and practices of the bourgeois Parties” are the necessary basis of such a combination against communists.

The “political differences” between the leaders of the two factions are eliminated. We are told this in so many words by the unanimous resolution of the convention, which says: “The political questions at issue between the Majority and the Minority of the Party no longer exist after the acceptance of the political platform of the Open Letter.” This is true, however, only of the leaders. Their political coalescence at the top is accompanied by deeper and wider divisions below. The development of international events, the pressure of the class struggle, and the criticisms of the Opposition strengthen and clarify the proletarian tendency in the ranks. These factors create the conditions for its consolidation on a principled basis and make the growth of the Opposition certain.

The new line decreed by the convention and echoed in the caucus document of the Bittelman group, for a stronger attack against the Opposition, will react in our favor. It clears the air and draws the line of struggle between the petty-bourgeois and proletarian tendencies more sharply. It leaves less room for “intermediaries” who catch the half-formed opposition sentiments of the workers in the ranks and divert them into futile factional wrangles over small questions. It is bound to bring about a further cleavage in the ranks of the minority which will draw the proletarian elements closer to us and push the bureaucratic functionaries at the top into one camp with Lovestone. More energetic and deliberate work on our part to accelerate this cleavage will be work for the reestablishment of the unity of the communist forces on a principled line.

It is our task, above everything, to make the issues clear to the workers in the ranks and to base our activity upon them. What has been done up to now is only a beginning. The Opposition on an international scale has only completed the first stage of its development, the stage of formulating the platform and organizing the vanguard. The struggle for the winning over of the Communist masses is before us.

The establishment of The Militant as a weekly and the holding of a national conference of the Opposition are the next steps on the path to this goal.