Editorial Notes

The Miners’ Convention

(May 1931)

Written: May 1931.
First Published: The Militant, Vol. IV No. 9, 1 May 1931, p. 2.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
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The miners’ convention at St. Louis marked a step in the struggle to break the shackles of the Lewis machine and clear the way for an independent union, despite the glaring defects and weaknesses revealed there. Under the circumstances the presence of a hundred delegates bears testimony to a profound sentiment in the rank and file for a final break with the organization of the betrayers. At the same time the St. Louis convention demonstrated that the rank and file movement is only at the beginning of serious organization and has not yet found its proper leadership. The convention attracted a comparatively small delegation when all the conditions working in its favor are considered, and the decisions arrived at fell short of the minimum requirements of the situation. The pseudo-progressives have stood at the head of the new movement so far. This tells the story of its weakness and its failure. For these people shrink from a real battle with Lewis and the operators and are incapable of conducting it. The insurgent movement will gain momentum and raise the miners to their feet for the conflict with the reactionaries only insofar as it is steeled in irreconcilable hostility to their shields, the “progressives”.

The idiotic policy of the official Communist party is responsible for the slow progress of the new revolt and the temporary supremacy of the progressive fainthearts. After the formation of the National Miners’ Union in 1928, Foster and Co. devoted their talents to the task of discrediting themselves and Communism. Then they insisted that the miners come to an independent union by the path marked out for them in the blueprint. They did not understand that the masses would find their way to this goal by divergent and. at times, contradictory paths. The boycott of the Fishwick convention in 1930 was a colossal blunder which cleared the way for the great betrayal recently consummated.

Their approach to the new revolt was another exhibition of Centrist bankruptcy. First they denounced the movement and proclaimed a boycott of the convention. Then, at the last moment, Foster came out with a call for the Left wing miners to go to the convention and work there for a united front with the N.M.U. This is precisely what the Opposition said at the start, and that advice – which Foster appropriated when it was too late – was acknowledged by the customary drivel about the “renegades”. As a result of the contradictions, mix-ups and delays, the official party and its sympathizers didn’t have a single delegate at the convention. The representative of the N.M.U. was given the floor through the pressure of the delegates of the Communist League and the Left wing miners working with them.

The work of comrades Angelo, Allard and others in the convention deserves the highest commendation. Even if their forces were not very large they succeeded in setting an example for Left wing militants which will not be lost. They crystallized a firm minority in opposition to the milk-and-water leadership of the progressives. They brought forward the program which the whole movement will be compelled to adopt as the price of survival and development. In our opinion, the statement they issued to the delegates lacked sharpness and militancy in characterizing Howat and his associates. All those who helped Fishwick and Walker helped to betray the miners! Let us say that openly, clearly and loudly so that everybody will understand what happened and how it happened and prevent a repetition of it.

The absence of John Watt from the convention is something which Left wing militants must note with regret. Comrade Watt has suffered under enormous provocation. He has been persecuted and slandered villainously, as we have pointed out on [line missing] -derers who have discredited themselves, and the name of John Watt means a great deal to the miners, especially in Illinois. That is why we think any abstention from the movement on his part, when a great new struggle is unfolding, will be harmful to the movement and doubly harmful to his own prestige.

The Road to a New Union

The delegates who spoke in the miners’ convention from the standpoint of the Left Opposition demanded a resolute course toward the formation of a new union and a united front with the National Miners’ Union and all other independent groups and tendencies, with the goal of union into a single independent organization on a class basis. This is the only way. The formation of the National Miners’ Union marked only the first stage in a drawn-out process of separating the mines from the perfidious rule of Lewis and Walker. That separation will take place along the line of a new union, despite temporary set-backs and zig-zags. The miners cannot free their hands for struggle in any other way. After the great betrayal in Illinois they will be compelled to realize this in an increasing degree and they will move toward a new union irresistibly. Those who oppose it will be swept out of the way.

The progressives are close enough to the rank and file to sense this. That is why they did not dare to oppose the idea openly at the St. Louis convention. Their tactics there were to delay and sabotage the movement while giving lip service to the aim. The next wave of the movement, forced up by the unbearable conditions of the miners, will drive them from this position and compel them to go with the new union movement or back to Lewis and Walker. It is very probable that they will split over this question. The Left wing must work to hasten this development and strengthen its own positions in the process. The leadership of a resolute Left wing is the prerequisite for the success of the new union movement. But this leadership must be the leadership of the masses of workers, not of paper organizations, and it will not be gained in a day or by decree. The first big draft of the future troops of the new independent union are now in the movement represented at St. Louis. The National Miners’ Union has only a section of the vanguard, isolated from the masses by a false policy. For that reason the Communists and the Left wing must penetrate this movement and shape its course from within. This idea must be made clear to the Communist workers. Events have confirmed its correctness a dozen times over and are beginning to hammer it into the wooden heads of the leaders.

On the other hand the workers sympathizing with the National Miners’ Union represent a great dynamic force, even though false leadership has dispersed and demoralized them for the time. They are our natural allies, and our delegates at St. Louis were absolutely right in demanding a united front with them. The Communist League will work in the future as in the past for the union of all currents tending toward a new union on a militant basis and for the union of all Communist and Left wing workers within the broader movement.

At a time when the sentiment of the workers and the pressure of circumstance is driving the “progressives” to talk of a now union, the editorial in the Revolutionary Age – proclaiming the death of the new union movement and calling for a return to the U.M.W.A. – adds a touch of irony to the situation. Muste and Co. are without the corrective of principle but they feel the pressure of the masses. Lovestone and Gitlow lack both. How hopelessly lost are these people who only yesterday expelled the Opposition from the Party for “opportunism”!

Last updated on: 27.12.2012