Written: July 1931.
First Published: The Militant, Vol. IV No. 14, 11 July 1931, p. 4.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
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The announcement of the revival of the Appeal To Reason, with Fred Warren, its old managing editor again at the helm along with Haldeman-Julius, represents an attempt to interpret the discontent generated by the crisis in terms of pre-war radicalism. We do not wish success to this venture, although we are far from denying the importance and necessity of popular agitation sheets which extend their appeal and influence far out beyond the bounda.ries of the conscious section of the tabor movement. The old Appeal did this with an unparalleled effectiveness. It reached hundreds of thousands, at times even millions but nothing came of the movement it created. The logic of events disclosed a fatal weakness In the whole scheme, its ignominious collapse under the first guns of the war was a tragedy; the attempt to repeat the experiment is a farce.
The Appeal under Wayland and Warren was an agitator and therein lay its inherent defect. It was merely an agitator without weight or substance, scorning considerations of fundamental theory and, consequently, frothy, sensational, superficial, and crassly reformist. The unrest of the times and the ignorance of the movement invested the paper with a great temporary success. It “reached the masses” – with sound and fury signifying nothing except poverty of thought and ignorance of Marxian fundamentals. Theory was drowned out by the noise of empty agitation in those halcyon days before the war. But the test of events rendered a different verdict, The Appeal To Reason became a vulgar war-monger. Marxian theory stood its ground and became the foundation of a new proletarian movement.
Because of that experience and to the extent that the present-day movement of the militant proletariat has assimilated the lesson, it stands on higher ground and cannot be dragged back again to the swamps of yesterday. Agitation in itself possesses no revolutionary virtue. Only to the extent that it proceeds from revolutionary theory, and is constantly tested and regulated by it, does agitation serve as an impetus to the development of a class movement. The first and foremost task is to advance this idea and struggle for its hegemony.
At bottom this is what the struggle of the Opposition signifies. It derives its historic importance not only from its implacable antagonism to the old reformist agitation under the old and discredited trademarks. The inadequacy of the old movement on this basis has been sufficiently demonstrated, at least in the eyes of the workers’ vanguard. A more acute and immediate danger is the attempt to smuggle in the outworn methods and conceptions under the flag of Communism. The blustering agitation of the Centrists, debasing all the theoretical traditions of the movement borrows more than a little on this account. The ignorant ballyhoo, about “mass work” which is heard on the fringes of the Left Opposition is at bottom nothing more than this.
So you will give up the slogan, “Go to the masses” – say the advocates of agitation for its own sake. No. But in order to make its meaning clearer – to arm the movement against Appeal to Reasonism, open and disguised – the Opposition adds an amendment to make the slogan read: Go to the masses with a revolutionary policy!
Last updated on: 13.1.2013