James P. Cannon

The Hunger March

(December 1931)

Written: December 1931.
First Published: The Militant, Vol. IV No. 36, 19 December 1931, p. 4.
Source: Microfilm collection and original bound volumes for The Militant provided by the Holt Labor Library, San Francisco, California. Additional bound volumes from Earl Gilman’s collection, San Francisco, California.
Transcription\HTML Markup: D. Walters.
Proofread: Einde O’Callaghan (February 2013).
Public Domain: This work is in the under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

As a Communist propaganda demonstration on the issue of unemployment, the hunger march to Washington at the opening of Congress was an indubitable success. Communist initiative and organizing faculty were written all over the affair. By the demonstration the cause of the hungry millions was placed on the agenda in the most dramatic manner; the inability of the richest imperialist power to provide the necessities of life to the producers of its incredible wealth was called to the attention of the entire world. And before the world the Communists appeared as the spokesmen of the dispossessed, the hungry and shelterless work-ers.

All that was lacking was the participation of the masses of the unemployed. Doak, the labor-baiting secretary of labor, an-nounced the “sensational” discovery of his secret agents that the hunger march was organized and directed by the Communist Party. This revelation needed no exceptional detective work. The facts were all too obvious. It was easy enough to point out the Communist leaders of the march. They were everywhere for all to see. If the Secret Service had been able to discover the unem-ployed masses following these leaders, that would have been a real exposure; and, from our point of view, a most welcome one.

But they could not do it; the masses were not there. The success of the hunger march as a propaganda manifestation of the party was on a par with its failure as a mobilization of the unemployed workers. Like nearly all of the previous actions of the party in the unemployment situation, this supreme effort was confined pretty closely – so far as direct participation is concerned – to the Com-munist workers and their close sympathizers. The crying dispar-ity between the burning importance of the issue and the ability of the party to draw the masses into motion was once again demonstrated on this occasion.

This proceeds inevitably from the false policy and method of the party. You cannot whittle down a mass movement by sectarian methods from day to day and then expect to have the masses ready when the great occasion comes. This is the outstanding lesson of the hunger march. By this we do not in the least deprecate the positive sides of the undertaking. Communist propaganda demonstrations have their importance. But only a genuine movement of the masses will get results. This is yet to come. Stalinist policy and Stalinist leadership of the party are the chief factors of obstruction.

Last updated on: 22.2.2013