Editorial Notes

The Dressmakers’ Symposium

(October 1931)

Source: The Militant, Vol. IV No. 28 (Whole No. 87), 31 October 1931, p. 4.
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The symposium held last Sunday under the auspices of the “Dressmakers’ United Front Committee” represents a step forward! Under certain conditions it can become the starting point of the revival of the militant union movement in the industry and a stimulus to the

left wing labor movement in general. The “United Front Committee”, as everybody knows, is under the leadership of the Stalinists. It is a long way from their mad hounding campaign of yesterday against everyone who differed with the official party in the slightest degree to today’s polite invitation to all factions to meet together and talk things over. This inconsistency only reveals once more the instability of Stalinist policy, in the trade union field as elsewhere. It does not alter the correctness of the action in calling the symposium. Every revolutionary worker in the trade – and in the first place the group of the Left Opposition – should welcome and support and strengthen this trend.

The leaflet issued by the committee, inviting the workers to the symposium, is well worth reading – especially by those who want to check up on the issues of controversy on trade union policy in the Party and, consequently, in the Left wing labor movement. The leaflet says: “The present state of affairs in our industry is, to a very large extent, the result of the split and the artificial division in the ranks of the workers which the bosses are taking advantage of.” In our opinion this statement is incontestable – even though it was written by, or at the direction of, people who made a virtue, and even a fetish, of the split at the last convention of the Needle Trades Workers Industrial Union. And following that there is another complete right-about-face, when the leaflet says: “Dressmakers representing all shades of opinion will be called upon to come and present their views and proposals ...” (Our emphasis). On this point also the leaflet is just as correct as yesterday’s sectarianism was false.

How were the infallible leaders of the Party induced to approve such a complete reversal of policy? The answer is simple. In this instance, as always, they did it under the whip of necessity. The results of the old approach have been so catastrophic that further steps on that road became impossible. Even a blind man knows he has reached a blank wall when he bumps his head against it. When it came to the point that the Kaufman gang of boss-and-police agents were able to appropriate the slogan of “unity” and make fun of the left wing workers in the fur trade, a revolt from below against the suicidal policy of the leadership was no longer to be avoided. It was this logic of events and the pressure of the workers that persuaded the bureaucrats to approve the symposium and the properly-worded invitation to it. The criticism of the Opposition played its part in enlightening the workers, a part which would have been greater and would have brought results sooner if, while remaining entirely loyal to the Party, it had been sharper, more aggressive and more ruthless against the leadership. Stalinist bureaucrats cannot be cured with kindness.

An interesting question arises: Does this action in the dressmakers’ signify a deliberate change of policy motivated by a principle conception, or is it merely a panicky “goat-leap” in an isolated case under the compulsion of necessity? Most likely the latter. Centrists in general are incapable of following a consistent line of policy, and still less a principled one. They live from day to day, attempt to solve each problem separately and move one way or the other according to the pressure of the moment. Hence their repeated contradictions, the attempt to escape from which only leads to others. This is the case right now with their policy toward trade unions and non-party mass organizations in general. If they have purchased a respite in the dressmakers’ situation by the policy implied in the conduct of the symposium it is only at the price of multiplying their complications in the broader field.

Here is their dilemma: If the policy of the symposium is defended as a correct one, if they claim that it represents a worked-out line, then it must be applied generally. But such a general application would bring them to a head-on collision with their present course in the other mass organizations where yesterday’s policy in the dressmakers’ still survives, and with similar results. They are crying out loud these days to the effect that the skeletons of left wing trade unions must take on the flesh and blood of membership and that such organizations as the I.L.D. must be transformed into “mass organizations.” But such a consummation must logically presuppose – since only a comparative few of the workers are as yet Communists – that other workers are given a chance to live and breathe and feel at home there, that “all groups and shades of opinion” – to quote the invitation to their symposium – are made free to “present their views and proposals.”

But this is precisely what their fear of criticism and discussion impels them to deny, as the expulsions in the Marine Workers’ Union and the I.L.D. so eloquently testify. This is one of the reasons why the “mass movements” do not materialize, or if they do take momentary shape as a result of a spontaneous activity of the workers they are quickly wrecked.. The bureaucratic regime narrows down and defeats the movement everywhere. A regime of workers’ democracy, which is the prerequisite for the healthy growth and development of the Left wing organizations in the labor movement, is at the same time incompatible with the survival of a leadership by appointment and command. All the Browders are stranded on this contradiction.

Last updated on: 4.2.2013