Editorial Notes

What Is a Renegade?

(August 1931)

Written: August 1931.
First Published: The Militant, Vol. IV No. 19, 15 August 1931, p. 4.
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Denunciation is an indispensable weapon in the arsenal of the proletarian revolutionists. Lenin insisted on it and explained that unless reformists and betrayers were exposed and denounced by their proper name the workers would not know whom to trust in the movement of crisis. In recent years, we have seen this principle, like all of Lenin’s teachings, perverted and distorted and turned into its opposite. Denunciation and epithet have ben employed so widely – and so falsely – that they lost, for a time, much of their meaning and power. Nevertheless, Lenin’s idea retains all its validity and is beginning to show itself clearly again through the fog of slander and fakery. Events have helped this as they help every revolutionary principle.

Let us take the word “renegade”. This epithet for turncoats and traitors is a sword of razor-edge in the hands of the proletariat to be used sparingly – and always surely. If it is disloyally employed to hack indiscriminately in every dispute within the camp of the revolution, it loses its sharpness to cut down traitors on their way to the camp of the enemy. But this, unfortunately, is the way it has been used, as we have seen in America for the past three years.

Who will forget the cry of “renegade” which Lovestone, seconded by Foster, hurled at the American section of the Left Opposition. It did not destroy us it is true, for genuine internationalists wear an armor against it. Misused in this shameful way, the word lost its power and significance for a time. It became a jest, as useless as a blunted sword. And yet the word means something, it remains a weapon in the hands of those who use it honestly. The incidents in Paterson have done much to restore the meaning of the word, to re-sharpen the sword for the Communist workers.

The course of the National Textile Workers Union in Paterson deserves criticism, and readers of the Militant know we have not spared it. We have criticized the official party in that situation from the standpoint – as is the case with everything the Opposition on an international scale has criticized in the official line – that it weakens the position of Communism before the reformists and the bourgeoisie whom they serve. But the Paterson affair has brought forth another kind of criticism – a criticism of the reformists for “errors” which helped the development of the Communist union there. The authors of this brand of criticism are the Lovestoheites, the people who first called us renegades.

Lovestone and Gitlow are sitting cheek-by-jowl with the reformists and reactionaries in Paterson, but they attack their policy no less than we attack the policy of the National Textile Workers and the Communist party. They roundly score the dilatory tactics of their friends in the Revolutionary Age for July 25. “The delay”, they say, “has been very costly.” And why? Because it “made it possible for the National Textile Workers Union ... to assume leadership and to take the initiative in calling a general strike in Paterson.” And that is not all. The reformists, by their mistake, let the Communists break through on another sector. “The hesitation and delay”, says the statement, “have also made it possible for the National Textile Workers Union to enter the Allentown strike situation and spread dissention and disruption there.” Serious errors indeed.

Did the Musteites make any more “mistakes” which Lovestone and Gitlow noticed? Yes, they made one more and it is pointed out in the Revolutionary Age for August 1. The amalgamated unions stayed at work after the N.T.W. called its strike. But that was wrong only because it is poor strategy. “Nor is it in the interests of the amalgamated unions,” says the Lovestone statement, “and the workers that follow them that a large number of workers should be firmly convinced of the charges of the N.T.W.U. that the August 3 strike proposal was issued for the express purpose of breaking the strike of the N.T.W.U., in other words, that it is a strike-breaking proposal.”

And in the same statement – while the N.T.W.U. members were on the picket line and the Associated and the United Textile Workers Unions were in the shops – the expellers of the Left Opposition from the Communist party complain of the delay which, they say, “made it possible for the National Textile Workers Union which has no base in the industry and lacks the confidence of the workers, to inject itself into the situation.”

Yes, the word Renegade has a meaning in spite of all the disloyal use that has been made of it. Its meaning is written clear for all to see in the statements quoted above.

It is reported that the “Communist Party (Majority Group)” is going to change its name. It is high time.

Last updated on: 13.1.2013