James P. Cannon

Proletarian Party Split

(January 2932)

Written: January 1932.
First Published: The Militant, Vol. V No. 2, 2 January 1932, 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: Andrew Pollack.
Proofread: Einde O’Callaghan (March 2013).
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Engels once wrote that every workers’ party must necessarily develop in a process of internal struggle, according to the dialectical laws of de velopment in general. This observation is again called to mind by the factional struggle now taking place in the ranks of the Proletarian Party. It is a sign of vitality that is well worth watching. For over a decade this sectarian offshoot of American communism devoted itself to a tranquil observation and “explanation” of social phenomena. The depression in the American labor movement during the period of prosperity, and the indifference of the workers to revolutionary propaganda which ensued from it, created special conditions for the existence of such a group. And this was further facilitated by the errors and exaggerations of the official Communist Party. The pseudo-Marxist policy of Keracher and Company was a complement to Pepperistic adventurism. Thus a number of revolutionary workers were maneuvered onto a sidetrack. Everything was quiet in the Proletarian Party. The leadership walled it off from the class struggle and from the fierce disputes which raged within the general communist movement.

But that state of affairs could only be temporary. The accentuation of the class struggle in the country and the great conflicts over principle which have brought the world movement of communism to a crisis, have posed questions which can no longer be evaded. Controversy is sweeping through the Keracher party like a tornado, making up in fury for its long postponement. Almost overnight the Keracher group of leaders, who ask only for peace and quiet, has been confronted with a stormy internal struggle. Following the national convention of the organization, where criticism was smothered and all the burning questions of the moment were met with evasive opportunism, an opposition has come to life and is waging a militant struggle on a national scale. The opposition is publishing its own bulletin and has even gone so far as to project a national conference. A split appears to be the inevitable outcome of the conflict.

In fact, the split has already begun. The leaders of the Proletarian Party, who borrow so much in principle from Stalinist revisionism, have revealed themselves also as apt pupils of the administrative methods. The criticisms of the opposition everywhere are being answered not with, arguments but with expulsion. According to the Proletarian Opposition Bulletin, six of the leading oppositionists in Chicago have been expelled and twenty-five members have resigned from the party. Members of the NEC are being sent out on a witch-smelling and heresy-hunting campaign, with power to expel, suspend, or otherwise punish members, without the formality of a “trial.” Three members have been suspended and one expelled in Elkhart, Indiana. The entire branch of forty in Buffalo has been expelled. In New York and other places secessions have taken place.

The course of the opposition movement within the Proletarian Party remains unclear. It is quite obvious, from a reading of its campaign ma terial, that the opposition has not yet undertaken to answer the main question which arises inevitably from its struggle against the leadership and policy of the party. That question is: Where are we going, and why? Proletarian Opposition Bulletin, no. 2, which we have at hand, directs a sharp criticism against the bureaucratic regime within the party; it condemns the opportunistic election campaign in Detroit, and insists on a struggle for immediate demands on the question of unemployment. On all these points the opposition is undoubtedly in the right as against the leadership. But when all is said and done these questions have a secondary importance. They are by no means an adequate armament for a real political struggle. The opposition must equip itself with an all around platform. It must take a position on the basic questions of principle, and make its tactical deductions accordingly. Otherwise it will not be able to avoid a rapid disintegration. Such a fate will threaten it immediately.

One thing at least may be said with certainty: the opposition cannot stand alone as an independent movement. Having made a decisive break with the sterile circle of Keracherism – and this is a sign of its vital proletarian impulse the opposition confronts the necessity of attaching it self to the living movement of communism. This is the first and most pressing implication of the revolt. With which faction will the new grouping affiliate? That is the ques tion. Those who seek to evade that question, who hold up the prospect of a “fourth” faction, can only deceive and mislead the movement. That is only the Keracher policy on a small scale; and the present upheaval is, in the first place, a sign of the utter bankruptcy of this policy. The fact that a part of the insurgent elements in New York and other places have already gone over to the Stalin faction without waiting for the movement as a whole to clarify its policy, is a warning against temporizing and delay with this fundamental problem.

To save the new movement, or at least a substantial part of it, from this fate is the task of the serious communist elements within it. Keracherism is only a weak sprout of Stalinism; the ideology at bottom is fundamentally the same. A transfer of affiliation from the Proletarian Party to the Stalin faction signifies nothing more than an organizational secession and a capitulation in principle. Every tendency to limit the opposition to the secondary tactical points is a preparation for such a debacle. A serious study and consideration of the great principled questions, and the adoption of a precise attitude toward them, are now indispensable for a fruitful outcome of the revolt in the Proletarian Party.

Last updated on: 22.3.2013