Editorial Notes

How the Miners Were Defeated

(March 1931)

Written: March 1931.
First Published: The Militant, Vol. IV No. 5, 1 March 1931, p. 2.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
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The article of Gerry Allard in the last number of the Militant paints a picture of catastrophe in the Illinois mine fields, the old-time seat of labor militancy and the stronghold of Communism. His remarks on the situation have a value, but that value, unfortunately, is a purely negative one. They are an excellent example of how not to solve the problems of Communism. For that reason, and that only, they deserved publication in our paper.

The Left wing for years was a power in Southern Illinois, based on mass support of the militant miners. The “Save the Union” movement under Left wing leadership challenged all the fakers for supremacy. The coal towns and camps were dotted with thriving locals of the Communist party – the surest sign of a conscious movement. But as has been told before, and as comrade Allard’s article points out again, this whole movement has slipped away. The mighty revolt of the miners has been broken for the time being. The rebels have been corralled again by the labor fakers with the help of Howat and other so-called progressives.

And with it there is “the complete collapse of the Party apparatus” and “the non-functioning of a single local union [of the Left wing miners’ union]”. In the recent elections the party candidate for senator “polled only 24 votes” in Franklin County where we once had “over 400 party members”! So says comrade Allard, and he ought to know because he is on the spot. He cites these facts as “a clear cut example of weakness.” Weakness indeed! Better to say an example of catastrophic defeat. And better yet to ask what are the real causes of it. Instead of that comrade Allard muddles the issue further by arguments over secondary questions.

For the results in the Illinois mine fields there is a chain of causes, one linked to another. Fishwick and Farrington, the direct agents of the mine owners, were sufficiently discredited. They could not recapture the revolting miners by themselves. For this they needed Howat and other pseudo-radicals. This explains the necessary prominence, as decorations, of these elements in the Fishwick union.

But Howat and the other “progressives” in turn could not harness the miners again to the chariot of the mine bosses, driven by Fishwick and Farrington, by their own efforts alone. In order to accomplish this they needed the disruption of the workers’ vanguard – the party. The policy of Foster accomplished this for them from within. The policy concocted to fit the exigencies of the spurious “third period”, was criminally false. The course of expelling and blackguarding the most reliable Communist militants was absolutely reactionary. By these means Stalinism disorganized the vanguard and prepared the way for the betrayal of the “progressives” and the victory of the reactionaries and the bosses. Foster helped Howat no less than Howat helped Fishwick and the mine owners.

The Communist miners will not be able to take a single step forward out of this blind alley of defeat until they understand its whole chain of causes and their connection with each other. Comrade Allard bears a direct responsibility for the present sad state of affairs. At a critical moment of the fight he deserted the banner of the Opposition and capitulated to the Centrist bureaucrats who were organizing the defeat of the vanguard from within. It is quite necessary to expose the rôle of Howat. The function of “progressivism” as a come-on for reaction is graphically illustrated by the Illinois experience. Even the Opposition, which suffered very little from illusions on this score, can learn something from this example. But we cannot allow a discussion of this factor in the defeat to cover up an even more decisive one – the disarming of the workers’ vanguard by the bureaucrats of Centrism.

An emphasis on this side of the question is doubly necessary when comrade Allard is speaking. This is the first and most important lesson of the Illinois defeat. When comrade Allard begins to explain this to the miners we can begin to have some confidence that he will be able to serve the interests of the party and the working class again and to make good some of the great harm he has done. As long as he avoids this question he puts a chasm between himself and the principled policy of the Opposition. We are not in the least interested in self-humiliating “confessions” according to the Stalin ritual. We only want the questions put straight and the lessons clearly drawn.

Not the least of the crimes of Lovestone and Foster was their poisoning the movement with diplomacy. This diplomacy, this muddling, hiding, twisting and obscuring the principle questions, is not a proletarian but a bourgeois method. Let us have none of it in the Communist League..

Last updated on: 5.12.2012