James P. Cannon

Even A Browder Can Learn

Written: July 1931.
First Published: Editorial Notes, The Militant, New York, Vol. 4, No. 15, 18 July 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 (January 2012).
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We have always maintained, in contradiction to the right wing, that centrism is not a stable and consistent political tendency, and certainly not a stubborn and incurable ultraleft policy. The long-lasting bloc of centrism and the right wing – during which the expulsion of the Left Opposition was carried out – is in itself a sufficient disproof of this contention. The adventurist plunges of the “third period” did not disclose a new face of centrism. They only rounded out and confirmed the basic thesis of the Opposition: that centrism is a policy of staggering between the classes, which yields to the pressure of the moment and is characterized by wide swings to the right and adventurist leaps to the left. The attempts of the centrists to extricate themselves from the absurdities of the “third period” have been noted before, particularly in unemployment work and in the trade union question. Now we are witnessing an awkward somersault in the policy of the mine strike. It is needless to mention that the leading acrobat in this turn is Browder. He was the noisiest shouter of the pseudoleft season. That qualifies him, according to the ritual of Stalinism, to be the first to make a turn of 180 degrees, without, of course, saying anything about the falsity of the discarded policy.

Browder will be remembered as the impetuous revolutionist who was through forever with “progressives.” He proved – to his own satisfaction – that they had become “social fascists,” and from this he drew the conclusion that the tactic of united front was out of date …. As far back as February 27, 1929, that is, before the crisis and its consequent sharpening of class relations, he wrote in the Daily Worker:

“We will no longer waste our energies and time in the disastrous attempts work with these fake progressives”

In The Militant of March 1 of the same year we explained, in our own counter-revolutionary way, that Browder would have to change his mind about that. He did not dissapoint us. After more than two years of rumination over the question and a blow in the face from the actualities of the mining situation – the same Browder comes forward with an amazing discovery: that “we cannot decline to have relations” with the Musteite, Keeney. Browder could not keep such wisdom to himself. Fired with the zeal of a convert, the great man made a speech, to which – if the Daily Worker for July 11 does not lie – the “party leaders” had to listen. There he announced a new revelation:

“The Keeney group has the hegemony in Southern West Virginia. This requires that we have a tactic of maneuver in regard to these people. We cannot merely decline to have relations with whatever group comes out of this field, whether it is Keeney personally, or Keeney’s representatives. The fact remains that one of the roads to the miners in this territory is maneuvers with this outfit.”

From this it can be seen that even a Browder can learn something, if he is allowed enough time. The elementary idea, explained as far back as the Third Congress of the Comintern in 1921, that “we cannot decline to have relations” with reformists has finally penetrated the thick skull of the Trotsky-killer, and that alone testifies to the power of the idea.

And along with that, Browder has assimilated another simple and obvious conception, and, as was to be expected, he also made a speech about it. Before the crisis, and after, our hero saw the “offensive of the workers” and the “revolutionary upsurge” rising high enough to drown him. But since then he has found a dry rock to sit on and collect his thoughts. The result of this cogitation is embodied in a speech to the convention of the Young Communist League, reported in the Daily Worker of July 14. The erstwhile fire-eater shakes the finger of caution at the assembled hotheads and warns them:

“It is therefore clear that it is absolutely wrong to speak of the ‘offensive of the working class and the counter-offensive of the capitalists.’

“The beginning of the mass actions has primarily a defensive character.

“We witness a most vicious offensive of the capitalist class against the working class.”

And so on. All of which is Browder’s way of conveying the impression that the present struggles of the workers are defensive. This is, of course, a correct appraisal of the situation, as The Militant has pointed out a hundred times. The idea itself is not new; it is Browder’s sudden comprehension of it that provides the day’s sensation.

These incidents demonstrate, as has been said, that centrism is able to change its mind a little; that the analysis of its policy as chronic ultraleftism is false; that even a Browder can learn. But from this we draw no optimistic conclusions, for the process takes too long, they do too much damage in the meantime, and they correct one error only in order to commit a dozen more. Centrism is not consistently leftist, but it is consistently false and consistently dangerous to the proletarian movement.

Last updated on: 5.1.2013