J.P. Cannon

Red Baiting in Illinois

The P.M.A. Under Fire

(April 1933)

Published: The Militant, Vol. VI No. 24, 29 April 1933, pp. 1 & 4.
Source: PDF supplied by the Riazanov Library Project.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
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In recent days, the reactionary press in Illinois has even attempting to work up a “red scare” in the Progressive Miners Union. Having failed to break the magnificent movement of the progressive miners by frontal attack, the coal operators have decided to supplement the physical terror of the state forces and the Lewis gangsters with a campaign of ideological terror within the union. They have developed a great solicitude about the political opinions of some of the leading miners in the union – especially Gerry Allard. And with their well-known concern for the welfare of the miners they are warning them to get rid of him and all others whom they identify as Communists or class struggle militants. They are saying in effect to the miners:

“We have nothing against you as coal diggers. As a matter of fact, in that capacity you are necessary for the production of our profits. What we object to is the fact that you have broken with the Lewis unionism, which suited us to perfection, and have begun to fight for your rights, if you will give up this idea and stop listening to people who stir up the spirit of class militancy and resistance, we will be satisfied, in other words, if you will transform yourselves into sheep, we will eat you up and then we will have peace together.”

The attack on Allard as a Communist, conducted in sensational articles in the Taylorville Breeze and other organs of the big interests, is obviously a part of the general campaign of reaction against the Progressive Miners. The object of the “red scare” is to discredit the union before public opinion and thus to prepare the ground for more terroristic aggression, to intimidate the membership and consolidate the conservative Right wing in the union (the concealed agents of Lewisism), and to drive the official leadership of the union at a faster pace on the path of conservatizing the organization, if they can succeed with this campaign of demoralizing the union from within, then the Progressive Miners’ organization as a center of resistance to the capitalists and an inspiration to the miners throughout the country, as well as to the working class generally, will have become a thing of the past.

The Enemy’s Aim

The game of the operators and their agents is an old one. And there is only one way to meet it, as all experience has shown. That is to assert the independence of the union. To reject all advice offered to it by the class enemy. The union will not thrive and grow by conciliating the bosses, by capitulating to their ideology, by “domesticating” the union and making it acceptable to the bosses. This is what the bosses want. This is what they are aiming at with the new Communist hunt. To understand this and to fight against it is the elementary duty of the leading elements in the union, including Allard and the other individuals under attack.

But the response made to the attack in the Progressive Miner up till now does not in the least indicate an understanding of this strength of the enemy and underestimating the inner resources of the progressive miners’ movement, as is always the case with “progressives” of all hues, they are trying to counter the brutal offensive of the class enemy with a “clever” strategy of camouflage and capitulation. They seek to ward off the attack by denying the “charges” of any Communistic influence in the union. Thus, by implication, they disavow any tendency toward class struggle militancy, which is what the bosses really mean when they talk of Communism. Thus they lay the ground for the proscription not only of Communists but of all class struggle militants inside the union. And by that they concede the main demands of the bosses. Allard too, who should know better, allowed himself to fall in with this worthless strategy.

The class conscious members in the progressive miners’ movement have to recognize the real purpose of this new attack of the class enemy on the ideological front. The operators and their tools have been unable to smash the movement in open struggle. Now they are trying to demoralize it from within, to rob it of the militancy which called it into life and sustained it in struggle – to purge it of those very qualities which have distinguished it from the corrupt unionism of Lewis and, eventually, to drive it back into the Lewis camp. Now is the time to call to mind the tragic fate of the previous insurgent movements which were disorganized and defeated by those very methods. Now is the time for the real militants, who have carried the new movement on their shoulders in struggle and sacrifice, to remember the bitter experiences with Walker, Howat, and Edmondson and to say to all the leading forces in the new movement: “Nobody can lead us again onto this slippery path which leads lo demoralization and defeat.”

The Present Course of the P.M.A. Leadership

The present trend, however, is in this direction. The course of the official leadership over a considerable period now has been to seek a “stabilization” of the union at the expense of its class struggle character. The negotiations and proposed agreement with Governor Horner, the ban on the demonstrations for the Taylorville prisoners, the new wage contract – in all these, and in a number of other important questions, the course of the official policy has tended to narrow down the differences between the Progressive Miners and the type of unionism against which the rank and file rose in revolt. Since the inception of the new movement the Left Opposition has warned against a repetition of the cruel experiences of the past and urged the militant elements to consolidate their forces in a firm Left wing on a policy of class struggle. This warning must be repeated again now when the demoralizing agitation of the bosses is reaching into the union and finding direct and indirect supporters there. The Left wing must rally its forces for a resolute counter-attack. In the circumstances the strategy of the militant forces cannot reconcile itself with that of the leading circles in the union.

The Progressive Miners of America is the product of a miners’ revolt. Its preservation and further development depends on a sustained militant policy which is impossible without a free participation of Communists in the union. The progressive character of the union, which has distinguished it from the Lewis organization, cannot be maintained if it permits the hounding of Communists. At the present stage this is precisely the crux of the problem of the P.M.A. What is a progressive union for if it allows the operators to dictate the opinions of its membership? An open fight for the right of workers of all political opinions – including Communists – to participate freely in the life of the union is the only way to reply to the attack of the reactionary press. The resolutions of the local unions and of the Ladies’ Auxiliary, printed in the Progressive Miner show that the rank and file can be mobilized to fight on these lines. What is needed is an organization of the fight and leaders who are equal to it.

Last updated on 3 September 2015