James P. Cannon

The Union Square Meeting

Written: July 1931.
First Published: Editorial Notes, The Militant, New York, Vol. 4, No. 13, 4 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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When the meeting at Union Square last Saturday was opened by the chairman with the announcement that the official Communist Party had not been invited to send a speaker for the occasion – which was ostensibly a united-front demonstration in behalf of the Centralia prisoners – the representative of the Communist League, Comrade Swabeck, took his name off the speakers’ list and withdrew from the meeting. In this demonstrative action there was the protest of the conscientious revolutionist against the prostitution of the interests of class-war prisoners to debased and reactionary factionalism.

Just consider! Here was proclaimed a union of all forces for the Centralia martyrs – a most commendable undertaking, in which every militant worker worthy of the name would boldly participate. Every radical and pseudoradical organization that can be thought of was represented by a speaker: yellow socialists and right communists, liberals and anarchists, Musteites and IWWs. Everybody was welcomed – everybody but the Communist Party. This, with its tens of thousands of members and supporters, was deliberately and specifically excluded. Do you call that a united front for class-war prisoners? It is a contemptible fraud, using the Centralia victims as a shield for a reactionary demonstration.

You will not get our support for such a game. Comrade Swabeck’s withdrawal from the meeting was a way of saying this. He might have made the protest by taking the stand and denouncing the shameful procedure. That, however, is a secondary question and a debatable one. There is something unspeakably repugnant to an honest militant in using the platform of a labor defense meeting for polemics. The prisoners, and their burning appeal for solidarity, are apt to get lost in the shuffle.

This is what actually happened at the Union Square meeting. An anarchist windbag, taking his tip from the chairman’s announcement, gives a lecture against the proletarian dictatorship in Russia. Other speakers, poisoned to the marrow by the phobia against communism, aired their prejudices. The result? The meeting degenerated into a demonstration against communism. Those who hold the Centralia men in prison have no reason to object to that.

The leaders of the IWW are directly responsible for this miserable performance, and their guilt is in no way extenuated by the fact that the Stalinists boycotted a similar meeting last year. That action of Foster and Company was a crime for which the communist workers will yet call them to account. The Union Square meeting was conducted on the same plane. By their actions its organizers said to the Stalinists: Solidarity in behalf of labor prisoners means just as little to us as it means to you; we will prove that we are just as rotten as you are.

That is what they said. That is what they proved. It is by such an attitude – in which the officials of the IWW met the officials of the Communist Party on one level – that a real movement of genuine solidarity in the fight for the Centralia victims is thwarted, and sabotaged, and made impossible.

This affair of last Saturday was rich in other instructive lessons. Despite the formidable list of organizations represented, a scant few hundred came to the meeting. Doesn’t that show where the present strength of labor militancy lies? Doesn’t it show that the Socialists paid only lip service to the demonstration and that they give no real support to the issue?

The IWW has come to a sad pass when, in the crusade against communism, it falls into the company of this black gang and finds itself at home there. But this is the logic of the fight against communism. Communism, despite all the worthless bureaucrats who disgrace its banner, is the only revolutionary doctrine, the only revolutionary movement of the proletariat. Whether they wish it or not, those who dedicate themselves to the war against communism come to the service of reaction. The deplorable affair at Union Square last Saturday was a striking illustration – and a warning – of this logic.

Last updated on: 5.1.2013