James P. Cannon

Left Current’s in the S.P.

The Revolutionary Policy Committee

(May 1934)

Published: The Militant, Vol. VII No. 18, 5 May 1934, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
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Note: This is the first of a series of articles by comrade Cannon on the program of the Revolutionary Policy Committee of the Socialist Party.

* * * *

Under the impact of the second historic debacle of social reformism on the international field – Germany and Austria – and the sharpening of the class struggle in America, the ferment in the Socialist Party is deepening and a process of differentiation along principle lines is clearly evident. Most significant, among the many groupings, a left wing current is now taking shape Inside the party.

This current, which differentiates itself in many important respects from the lukewarm radicalism of the “Militants”, calls itself the “Revolutionary Policy Committee of the Socialist Party”. It has recently issued a programmatic statement of aims and principles with 47 signatures under the title: An Appeal to the Membership of the Socialist Party. In this pamphlet, for the first time since 1921, a group of more or less influential party members takes issue with the reformist position on fundamental principle questions and approaches the standpoint of revolutionary Marxism, that is, of Communism. Declaring against any “middle road” and demanding that the Socialist Party change “its present principles and tactics”, the new Left group attacks the traditional reformist policies of Social Democracy all along the line.

The statement of the Revolutionary Policy Committee is somewhat lacking in clarity and incisiveness on certain fundamental issues which permit of no ambiguity. The document also leaves other essential programmatic questions untouched and omits the necessary critique of the various groups and tendencies in the Socialist and Communist movements.

Despite these defects, however, the declaration of the Revolutionary Policy Committee indicates the emergence of a substantial group in the Socialist Party which is obviously breaking with the policy and practice of social reformism. If the group preserves on this course it will undoubtedly attract the revolutionary elements of the party, especially the Socialist youth, and play an important role in the reconstitution of the revolutionary movement in America.

Dangers Facing the Left Wing

Many dangers will beset them on this path. They can overcome them, and avoid the fate which has befallen many other radical groupings in the parties of the Second International – that of serving as a windbreak for social reformism and an apologist for its treacheries – only on the condition that they round out their program and develop its implications to the very end.

For this, as theory and all experience have demonstrated clarity and precision of expression are needed. And, in addition, a course which suits the action to the word is needed. The break with reformism must be complete and lead to a fusion with the revolutionary Marxists, or it is no break at all in the real sense of the word.

The Revolutionary Policy Committee has taken the first, but only the first, decisive steps in such a break. Needless to say, every intelligent Communist can but welcome this significant development in the Socialist Party and aspire to aid its further evolution in a revolutionary direction. The first prerequisite for this is frank, and straight-forward criticism. After that, direct proposals to the Left Socialists to apply their programmatic declarations in practical action follow as a matter of course.

Those who mean their declarations seriously can have no objection to such criticism and such proposals. They are doubly necessary at the present time when, after the manifest bankruptcy of reformism in Germany and Austria, reformists of all shades are covering themselves with the mantle of radicalism in order to return to the old ways again tomorrow. One of the first obligations of honestly revolutionary Socialists is to mark themselves off, in word and deed, from these false prophets and centrist masqueraders.

The State and Revolution

Under the chapter heading, The Road to Power, the statement of the R.P.C. is remarkable, both for what it says and what it leaves unsaid. On this fundamental question of the state and revolution, which has divided the Social Democracy and Communism most sharply and irreconcilably, the R.P.C. rejects the conception that the bourgeois democratic state can serve as the instrument for the transformation of the social order. The program assigns this function, as Marx and Engels did, to the dictatorship of the proletariat.

In order to bring out the position clearly we quote at some length:

“It is necessary (says the statement of the R.P.C.) to acquire possession of the state power so as to transform capitalist society into socialist society by means of the dictatorship of the proletariat.”


“The class character of a capitalist society means that no institution or instrument set up by the capitalist class can be depended upon to establish the Workers’ Republic. Therefore the working class state will be an entirely new type of state based on workers’ councils, historically suited to serve as the organs of liberation”

For Arming the Workers

On the function of the workers’ state, the declaration of the R.P.C. says:

“Once socialists are in possession of the state machinery by the mandate of the workers, their task is to secure and insure the governmental power for the victorious revolution by arming the workers for its defense against all possibility of a counter-revolutionary resistance and to proceed to transform the economic and social basis of society”.

This position, to be sure, represents a sharp break with Social-Democratic dogmas and fetishes regarding bourgeois democracy and the possibility of utilizing the so-called “democratic” state to usher in the socialist society. On three essential points – the dictatorship of the proletariat, the Workers’ Councils (Soviets) as its concrete form, and the arming of the workers to suppress counter-revolution – on each of these fundamental aspects of the question of the state the R.P.C. takes the revolutionary Marxist position and rejects the reformist position of Social Democracy. (Incidentally, the position of the R.P.C. on these questions is clearer and more to the point than the ambiguous formulations of the same questions contained in the platform draft of the American Workers Party. A very pertinent question arises in this connection: How can the American Workers Party possibly become the center of attraction of the revolutionary Socialists if it lags behind them in the matter of a program?)

The Workers’ Councils and the Struggle for Power

But, for all that, the Revolutionary Policy Committee does not give a direct answer to the most important side of the fundamental question of the revolution. That is: How will the dictatorship of the proletariat be established?

It is not enough, in a program, to speak of “acquiring” state power. It is necessary to tell the workers how they are to acquire power. It is quite false and misleading to describe the Workers’ Councils only as instruments of state power of the workers and say nothing about their role as the organs of struggle to overthrow the state power of the capitalists. Nor does it suffice, in a program, to refer to the “violent character” which the class conflict assumes “when the decisive hour approaches”.

The worst offense in a program is ambiguity. The R.P.C. itself has declared in so many words that the program “must be so clearly defined as to make it impossible in the future for Party members to hold diametrically opposite principles”. The R.P.C. will greatly strengthen

its position in the fight for uniform party principles by removing all ambiguities, and by filling out the blank spaces, in its own program on The Road to Power. Omissions and ambiguities in the program constitute hiding places for desperate reformists and centrists seeking a temporary radical shelter. Such elements are a source of weakness, not of strength, to a revolutionary grouping. Necessary Amendment to Program

The program section relating to the state and revolution should state clearly that the government of the capitalists – whether fascist or democratic, it makes no difference – must be overthrown by the workers and replaced by the dictatorship of the proletariat. The program should state further that the workers’ councils (Soviets) are the organs which mobilize the workers for the revolutionary assault as well as the organization form of state power after the victory.

The Soviets are not formed after the revolution. They evolve out of the developing united front movement as the revolutionary crisis approaches and organize the struggle for power. The Soviets (workers’ councils) should be described in the program. It should be explained that they are an expression – the highest expression! – of the united front, that they consist of representatives of all the workers’ organizations and places of employment and that they are not under the formal control or leadership of any party.

These explicit statements are indispensable in the program. If the German experience has shown the tragic consequences of the failure to fight, the Austrian tragedy has demonstrated the no less fatal results of the neglect to prepare and organize the workers for the fight and to explain to them in advance the organization forms and methods of the struggle for power.

The questions of the state and the struggle for power have been considered first and at some length in this review because of their preeminent importance. In next week’s article other sections of the program of the R.P.C. will be discussed.

Last updated on 13 May 2016