Written: March through April, 1954, The Militant, New York
Source: The Fight Against Fascism In The USA © Resistance Books 2001. Resistance Books 2004 ISBN 1876646179; Published by Resistance Books 23 Abercrombie St, Chippendale NSW 2008, Permission for on-line publication provided by Resistance Books for use by the James P. Cannon Internet Archive in 2004.
Transcription\HTML Markup: David Walters
1. Notes On American Fascism (A letter to The Militant)
I haven’t been able to disentangle myself from other preoccupations to send you any connected thoughts on McCarthyism and the probable character and perspectives of American fascism in general. The articles of Breitman are very effective arguments against people who will not recognise incipient American fascism until it obliges them by assuming the “classic” European form. What will they do if American fascism neglects or refuses to accommodate them in this respect, right up to the eve of the show down—which it may well do?
I will have something to say about the question of American fascism a little later when I get free from some other commitments. Meantime, I am in basic agreement with the campaign you are conducting and the arguments for it, especially those given in Breitman’s articles. I believe these articles would make a good follow-up pamphlet to the first one.
Those who would judge specific American forms of fascism too formalistically by the European pattern, arbitrarily limit capitalist aggression against the workers’ movement in two forms:
They see the democratic form by which the workers are suppressed through strictly legal measures in accordance with the law and the Constitution—such as the Taft-Hartley Law, formal indictments and prosecutions for specific violations of existing statutes, etc. All this, despite its obvious “inconvenience” to the workers’ movement, is characterised as democratic.
On the other side they see the illegal, unofficial forms of violence practiced by “stormtroopers” and similar shirted hooligans outside the forms of law, as in Italy and Germany. This is characterised as fascist.
But what about violence which is technically illegal and unconstitutional, but carried out nevertheless by duly constituted officials clothed with legal authority? What about such things as the breaking up of meetings and picket lines by official police and special deputies; wire tapping; inquisitions; screening and blacklisting of “subversives”; and all the rest of the intimidation and terror of the witch-hunt? These procedures don’t fit very well into the “democratic” formula, although their chief instruments are legally-constituted officials, supported and incited by press campaigns, radio demagogues etc.
This kind of illegal violence under the outward forms of law has a distinctive American flavour; and it is especially favoured by a section of the ruling class which has very little respect for its own laws, and cares more for practical action than for theories as to how it is to be carried out. This is, in fact, an important element of the specific form which American fascism will take, as has already been indicated quite convincingly.
The depredations of Mayor Hague, who announced that “I am the law”, were a manifestation of this tendency back in the late thirties. Trotsky, by the way, considered Hague an American fascist. He described his unconstitutional assaults on free speech and free assembly, through the medium of official police , as a manifestation of incipient American fascism. I think he was right about that. If the workers stand around and wait until the labour movement is attacked directly by unofficial shirted hooligans, before they recognise the approach of American fascism, they may find their organisations broken up “legally” while they are waiting.
The truth of the matter is that American fascism, in its own specific form , has already a considerable army of storm troopers at its disposal in the persons of lawless prosecuting attorneys and official policemen who don’t give a damn what the Constitution says. Incipient American fascism—already, right now—has a press and radio-television power which makes Hitler’s Angriff look like a throwaway sheet. It has political demagogues, like McCarthy, who are different from Hitler mainly in the fact that they are clothed with official legal powers and immunity, while Hitler had to build up an independent, unofficial and at times persecuted movement without any direct support from the established press, etc.
“McCarthy is different”, say the formalistic wiseacres, as if that were a help and a consolation. He is indeed different in several ways. But the most important difference is that he starts with a great power behind him, and operates with formal legal sanction and immunity. The right comparison to make is not of the McCarthy of today with Hitter on the verge of taking power in 1932, but rather with Hitler in the middle twenties. The main difference we find in this comparison is that McCarthy is way ahead of Hitler.
Another point: the German-American Bund of the thirties was not a characteristic manifestation of American fascism, but rather a foreign agency of Hitler’s German movement. Neither is it correct to look now for the appearance of genuine American fascism in lunatic fringe outfits such as the Silver Shirts, Gerald Smith, etc. A powerful section of the American bourgeoisie, with unlimited means at their disposal are already fascist-minded ; and they have a big foot in the government, national and local. They feel no need at present of unofficial movements.
To the extent that such outfits will appear here or there, with the development of the social crisis, they will probably be subsumed in a broader, more powerful, adequately financed and press-supported general movement, which operates under more or less legal forms. It is far more correct, far more realistic, to see the incipient stage of American fascism in the conglomeration of “official” marauders represented by McCarthy than outside it.
2. Perspectives Of American Fascism
The campaign of the Socialist Workers Party against the ominous upsurge of McCarthyism, and its characterisation of the McCarthy movement as American fascism in incipient form, has been misunderstood by some people who don’t want to think, as well as by others who prefer to misunderstand us in order to misrepresent us.
Up till now we have not heard any cogent arguments against our campaign and its motivation. The most we can make out so far are some mutters and murmurs of dissent, to which we will give a preliminary answer while our critics and opponents are getting up the nerve to speak more distinctly.
One of the these muted criticisms appears in a clouded statement in one of the documents of the Pablo faction which Joe Hansen is taking apart in serial articles on another page of The Militant . Remarking that the Socialist Workers Party has “sounded the alarm on the fascist danger in the United States”—an accusation which cannot be denied—this document represents the campaign as a sign of our “pessimism”, a conclusion which at the very best can be characterised only as a misunderstanding.
There is an obvious contradiction in this recognition of our campaign and the conclusion drawn from it. The woods are full of pessimists about the future of America in general, and about the prospects of American fascism in particular, but they are not organising any campaigns. It is not in the nature of pessimists to do anything of that sort. Pessimism is not merely a gloomy view of evils to come, but a capitulatory reconciliation to them in advance. The real pessimists are simply keeping quiet—concerned to prolong their own grub-like existence, and hoping to adapt themselves to whatever comes by acquiescence and conformity.
The attitude of the SWP is the opposite of all that. The character of a party is not indicated by what it sees and points out but rather by what it does about it. To accuse the SWP of “sounding the alarm on the fascist danger in the US” is only to pay to the party the indirect and unintended compliment of saying that it calls for a struggle against the danger. Pessimists don’t sound any alarms or organise any struggles. They just run for cover. Pessimist is just another name for quitter and capitulator.
Some other critical murmurs we have heard, which have not yet found their way into print, represent our campaign as an “exaggeration” of the fascist danger and an apprehension of its imminent victory. That is another misunderstanding. To sound the alarm against the danger of fascism in the United States—and to state frankly that its victory is possible—is by no means to be taken as an admission that fascism is already in power, or close to it. Neither is it to be taken as a prophecy that fascism is destined to conquer eventually.
That will be decided in the struggle. The aim of our campaign is to “alarm” the labour movement to the reality of the danger and, from that, to the necessity of organising the struggle on the right basis while there is yet time. The workers still have time to organise the countermovement, but they don’t have forever; and the sooner they recognise the central reality of the whole problem—that the issue will be decided in struggle—the better chance they will have to be the victors.
A fascist movement does not arise from the bad will of malicious demagogues. Neither is a radicalised labour movement created by the propaganda of revolutionists. Both are products of the incurable crisis of capitalism, which renders it unable to maintain a stable rule through the old bourgeois democratic forms. One way or another—these forms will be changed. The latent crisis, which has been artificially suppressed and disguised by war and military expenditures, promises to break out with redoubled fury in the coming period. This will spell impoverishment and misery for tens of millions of people, and it will generate an enormous discontent with the hopeless state of affairs. The unfailing result will be a widespread desire for a radical change.
This mass discontent and desire for a change can take one of two forms, or both of them at the same time.
The workers are the strongest power in modern society. If they show a resolute will to take hold of the situation and effect the necessary revolutionary change, the millions of desperate middle-class people—impoverished farmers, bankrupt small businessmen and white-collar elements—who have no independent power of their own, will follow the workers and support them in their struggle for power. This was demonstrated in the Russian Revolution of November 1917.
On the other hand, if the workers, as a result of inadequate or pusillanimous leadership, falter before their historical task, the allegiance of the middle-classes will rapidly shift to the support of the fascists and lift them into power. This alternative outcome of the social crisis was demonstrated in Italy and Germany.
How will things go in this country? The most “optimistic” way to answer that question is to tell the truth and to say once again: It will be decided in a struggle. Experience of other countries has already shown that a fascist movement and a movement of labour radicalisation, which arise in the first place from the same cause, make their appearance at approximately the same time. But they don’t develop at the same rate of speed. The “subjective” factor, the factor of leadership, plays a big role here.
In Italy, and later in Germany, the movement of labour radicalisation had a big jump on fascism at the start. In these two countries fascism began to become a mass movement and a formidable power only after the workers had failed to carry through their revolution when they had the chance—in 1919-1921 in Italy, and in Germany from 1918 to 1923. The tumultuous rise of the fascist movement in those two cases, and its eventual victory, were the answer to the workers’ default and the penalty for it.
Here in the United States we see a somewhat different development of the two antagonistic forces—fascism and workers’ radicalisation—and a different rate of speed in their development. But these are only tentative manifestations which are not yet by any means decisive. The extraordinary thick-headedness of the labour bureaucracy in this country, and the lack of a revolutionary party with a base of mass support, have given incipient fascism the jump on the labour movement. A form of preventive fascism, of which McCarthy is indubitably the chief representative, has already got a head start and has widespread ramifications of support, inside the governmental apparatus as well as outside it. To recognise that fact is not to conjure up imaginary dangers but simply to recognise the obvious reality of the situation.
And this recognition of reality is the first prerequisite for the organisation of an effective countermovement. McCarthyism, as it appears today, is undoubtedly an incipient fascist movement, but that’s all it is. The beginnings of a fascist movement aiming to take power in this country, and fascism already in power, are not the same thing. Between the one and the other lies a protracted period of struggle in which the issue will be finally decided. Whoever recognises that and “sounds the alarm”, and thus helps to prepare the struggle of the workers is doing what most needs to be done at the present time. Such a campaign is by no means a manifestation of pessimism, but the best antidote for it.
Power is on the side of the workers, and all the chances of victory are in their favour. But they will never gain the victory without the most resolute struggle. The first prerequisite for that is an understanding of the irreconcilable nature of the struggle and what it’s all about. The fate of America, and thereby of all mankind—that’s what it’s all about.
3. First Principles In The Struggle Against Fascism
The honourable Joseph McCarthy is not much of a thinker himself, but he has certainly stimulated a lot of thought, or what passes for it, in the minds of others. His unbridled aggressiveness in recent months has stirred up quite a fluttering in the dovecotes of so-called liberalism. The pontifical pundits, who yesterday thought the spectre could be exorcised by ridicule, or by pretending not to notice it, are now deep-thinking second thoughts about the Wisconsin demagogue and what he stands for.
Some apprehension of the deadly seriousness of McCarthyism has even begun to dawn in the thick skulls of the official labour leaders, and that alone is testimony to its penetrating power. It is now widely recognised that if the Wisconsin demagogue is crazy, he is crazy like a fox, and has to be taken seriously. It would also seem that the liberals, and the labour leaders who farm out their thinking to the liberals, are catching up with the SWP, as far as the definition of McCarthyism is concerned. Lately we see more and more references to McCarthy as an American Hitler. For example, Adlai Stevenson, who cannot justly be called an extremist, referred to McCarthy in his Miami speech as the apostle of a “malign totalitarianism”.
But we are still poles apart from the liberals and the labour skates on the main question, that is, the analysis of the causes of this preliminary manifestation of a “malign totalitarianism”—the Stevensonian euphemism for fascism—and the program for struggle against it. They all regard our revolutionary approach to the question as extreme and unrealistic. The unrealism, however, is on their side, because they separate McCarthyism from the social causes which have generated it, and which in fact, make such manifestations inevitable. If McCarthy did not exist American capitalism would have to invent him, or a reasonable facsimile.
In every great social struggle, those who understand its laws and foresee how it must develop according to those laws, have a big advantage over those who deal with surface manifestations. If the Socialist Workers Party had been the first and only group in American political life to state categorically that the rise of a fascist movement in the United States is an absolute certainty., and likewise the first to recognise McCarthyism as the preliminary manifestation of American fascism, and to call it by its right name—this was not guesswork in either case.
Our approach to the question of American fascism, as to every other political issue, begins with and proceeds from a basic theory of American perspectives which is different from that of all other political parties and tendencies. That is not because we deny America’s exceptional position in the world today. It is known, and has been said often enough, that American capitalism is in a different position from other sectors of the same world in other countries. I am even willing to repeat it once again if such reassurance will do anybody any good. But there are points of similarity as well as of difference, and the former are more important than the latter. That is the main point.
The American capitalists are richer and stronger than their counterparts in other lands. They are also younger and more ignorant, and therefore more inclined to seek a rough settlement of difficulties without diplomatic subtlety and finesse. All that does not change the fact that American capitalism operates according to the same laws as the others, is confronted with the same fundamental problems, and is headed toward the same catastrophe.
Of all the mistakes that can be made in judging the nature and prospects of the present social system in this country—and it is safe to predict that the American labour leaders, being what they are, will exhaust every possibility in this respect—the worst and most disorienting mistake is to regard American capitalism as fundamentally different; as immune from the operation of the same laws which determine the evolution and development of the same social system—through crisis, revolution and counter-revolution—in other countries.
This pernicious theory of “American exceptionalism”, which seized the leadership of the American Communist Party in the latter days of the great boom of the twenties, disoriented the party in the great crisis which exploded soon afterward. This same theory, which is today held by the entire labour officialdom, is what disarms the American workers at the present time more than anything else, and gives the preliminary movement of American fascism such an easy advantage in the beginning.
We Trotskyists never belonged to this school of “exceptionalism”. In 1946, right at the time when the editorial spokesmen of American capitalism were proclaiming the advent of the “American Century”, and the American labour leaders were adjusting their so-called thinking to this illusory prospect, the Socialist Workers Party outlined a different and more realistic perspective for this country. The “Theses on the American Revolution”, adopted by the party convention in that year, expressed its conception in the very first paragraph, as follows:
The United States, the most powerful capitalist country in history, is a component part of the world capitalist system and is subject to the same general laws. It suffers from the same incurable diseases and is destined to share the same fate. The overwhelming preponderance of American imperialism does not exempt it from the decay of world capitalism, but, on the contrary, acts to involve it ever more deeply, inextricably and hopelessly. US capitalism can no more escape from the revolutionary consequences of world capitalist decay than the older European capitalist powers. The blind alley in which world capitalism has arrived, and the US with it, excludes a new organic era of capitalist stabilisation. The dominant world position of American imperialism now accentuates and aggravates the death agony of capitalism as a whole.a
This formulation of American perspectives, which governs all the work of the party, determines its analysis of McCarthyism as the incipient stage of American fascism; its categorical assertion that this movement will grow bigger, stronger and more cohesive with the development of the oncoming crisis; and its program for the struggle against it.
Some such manifestation as the present McCarthy movement was foreseen; and it needed only to make its appearance and score some initial successes, as it has manifestly done since the Brownell-Truman affair, for the party to react with its counter-campaign of agitation. The fact that the party members have recognised the necessity of the campaign, and responded to it with unanimous participation, is a sign that they were prepared for it by a long previous period of doctrinal education.
I speak of our view of American fascism as a doctrine; for we consider it a matter of principle that the war prosperity of US capitalism has been sick with a latent crisis from the start: and that this crisis is bound, sooner or later, to explode with devastating fury. This exploding crisis is certain to produce two antagonistic phenomena, a fascist movement on the one side, and a radicalised labour movement on the other.
The same social crisis which poses the threat of revolution in each and every capitalist country without exception, likewise generates the attempt to head off such a revolution by means which ruthlessly break down all the old forms of democratic rule. An organised fascist movement is an imperative necessity to the ruling class in every modern capitalist state threatened with social revolution, and is, in fact, a reflexive answer to it. In this view, the fascist movement is not something arbitrarily created by demagogues, to be talked down by appeal to reason and an alliance of all men of good will. Fascism is organised counter-revolution.
There is no law which forbids such a counter-revolutionary movement to get under way before the prospect and threat of revolution is clearly evident to all. A social revolution is immanent in the present position of American capitalism, and so is the counter-revolution. McCarthyism, as the first definite preliminary manifestation of the counter-revolutionary movement, does not lose this basic characteristic simply because it is a preventive mobilisation against a revolution which has not yet taken visible form.
McCarthyite fascism has its cause and origin in the crisis of a social system which is pregnant with a revolution; and is in fact, the preliminary form of a preventive counter-revolution. A general hue and cry against McCarthyism won’t amount to much until this is recognised.
4. A New Declaration Of Independence
Fascism is a product of the crisis of capitalism and can be definitively disposed of only by a solution of this crisis. The fascist movement can make advances or be pushed back at one time or another in the course of this crisis; but it will always be there, in latent or active form, as long as the social causes which produce it have not been eradicated.
Looked at from this standpoint, the threat of American fascism is not a short-term problem, and by no means can it be eliminated at the next election—or, for that matter, at any other election. The American fascist movement, and the workers’ struggle against it, will be a long drawn-out affair, from now to the final showdown, which in the end can be nothing less than a show down between fascist capitalism and the workers’ revolution.
If the default of the labour movement has given American fascism, in the incipient and preventive form represented by the McCarthy movement, an advantage at the start, it still represents nothing more than an episode in a long struggle which will have many ups and downs. The real movement of American fascism is now only in its preliminary stages of formation, and the countermovement of the workers against it is not even started yet.
At any rate, American fascism, in its McCarthyite form or under some other aegis, is bound to provoke a militant resistance from the workers as soon as it passes over from its present preoccupation with a hunt for spies and “subversives” to a direct assault on the labour movement. Thereafter, the fascist movement will not develop on a straight ascending line. There will be zigzags on one side and the other, advances and set backs and periods of stalemate. In this protracted conflict the labour movement will have time to get a clearer picture of the real nature of the problem, and to mobilise its forces for an all-out struggle.
At the present time, the myopic policy of the liberals and the labour leaders is concentrated on the congressional elections next fall, and the presidential election to follow in 1956. A Democratic victory is counted on to deal a death blow to the McCarthy aberration. “McCarthyism is becoming a danger all right, and it begins to look like a fascist movement; but all we need is a general mobilisation at the polls to put the Democrats back in power.” Such are the arguments we already hear from the Democratic high command, the literary liberals, the labour leaders and—skulking in the rear of the caravan, with their tails between their legs—the Stalinists.
This would really be laughable if humour were in place where deadly serious matters are concerned. The Roosevelt New Deal, under far more favourable conditions, couldn’t find a way to hold back the economic crisis without a war. A Stevensonian version of the same policy, under worse conditions, could only be expected to fail more miserably. A Democratic victory might arrest the hitherto unobstructed march of McCarthyism while it re-forms its ranks. It might even bring a temporary moderation of the fury of the witch-hunt. But that’s all.
The fascist movement would begin to grow again with the growth of the crisis. It would probably take on an even more militant character, if it is pushed out of the administration and compelled to develop as an unofficial movement. Under conditions of a serious crisis, an unofficial fascist movement would grow all the more stormily, to the extent that the labour movement would support the Democratic administration, and depend on it to restrain the fascists by police measures.
Such a policy, as the experience of Italy and Germany has already shown, would only paralyse the active resistance of the workers themselves, while giving the fascist gangs a virtually free rein. Moreover, by remaining tied to the Democratic administration, the labour movement would take upon itself a large part of the responsibility for the economic crisis and feed the flames of fascist demagogy around the question.
That would be something to see: The fascists howling about the crisis, and stirring up the hungry and desperate people with the most extravagant promises, while the labour leaders defend the administration. The official labour leaders are fully capable of such idiocy, as they demonstrated in the last presidential election. But with the best will in the world to help the democratic administration, they couldn’t maintain such a position very long.
The workers will most probably accept the recommendation of the labour leaders to seek escape from the crisis by replacing Republican rascals by Democratic scoundrels in the next election. But when the latter become officially responsible for the administration, and prove powerless to cope with the crisis, the workers will certainly draw some conclusions from their unfortunate experiences. The deeper the crisis, and the more brutal the fascist aggression fed by the crisis, the more insistent will be the demand for a radical change of policy and a more adequate leadership.
From all indications, the workers’ discontent will be concentrated, at first, in the demand for a labour party of their own. This will most probably be realised. It will not yet signify the victory over fascism—not by a long shot—but it will represent the beginning of a countermovement which will have every chance to end in victory.
The break with the Democratic Party will be an implicit recognition that the fight against fascism is fundamentally a fight against capitalism in the period of its agonising crisis of disintegration and decay; and that there is no hope of victory for the workers in alliance with one of the parties of this same capitalism, and still less under its leadership, as at present. The formation of a labour party, based on the trade unions, will represent the American workers’ Declaration of Independence. It will be a great turning point in American history. All developments will be speeded up after that.
It would be a great mistake, however, to speak of a prospective labour party as the solution of the problem of fascism. As in 1776, the new Declaration of Independence will signify not the end, but the beginning of the real struggle. The final outcome will depend on the program and the leadership. These will become the burning issues of an internal struggle for which the labour party will provide the main arena. It is from this point of view—clearly stated at all times—that we advocate the formation of a labour party and do all we can to hasten the day of its appearance.
5. Fascism And The Labour Party
Our campaign against McCarthyite fascism is an agitational campaign to arouse the labour movement to the advancing danger, and to stimulate a countermobilisation of the workers. Along this road we participate wholeheartedly in every practical action regardless of its official auspices. Such actions have a logic of their own and can lead, in a step-by-step process, to a final settlement of accounts with fascism and the social system which turns to fascism as a last resort.
The struggle against fascism is an affair of the working class, and the revolutionists would only defeat their own purpose by sectarian abstention from antifascist mobilisation of the class. The Militant is certainly correct in calling for a general congress of labour, to consider the question of a united antifascist struggle of the entire labour movement; and in advancing the slogan of a labour party as the general formula for the political independence of the workers in this struggle..
But even while advancing and popularising these slogans, which sooner or later will be accepted and supported by millions, we ought to explain their limitations as well as their advantages. The assertion that the labour party “will stop McCarthyism”, which makes its way into our agitation now and then, is an oversimplification which ought to be guarded against. A labour party would represent a gigantic step forward in the struggle against fascism, but is not in itself a panacea for victory.
A fascist movement is an inherent necessity to the capitalist system at a given stage of its disintegration. Nothing will “stop fascism” short of the overthrow of capitalism. This is the simple truth of the matter, and if our party doesn’t tell this truth constantly it would have no reason to exist. There are plenty of others to sow confusion and foster illusions, and they are not entitled to any direct or indirect help from us. There is good ground for confidence that the workers will prevail in the final showdown, and that fascism will never come to power in America. But there is no ground for the assumption that the workers’ victory will be quick and easy, or that a mere demonstration of organised labour’s opposition would scare the fascist menace off the map.
The workers of Germany were politically organised in two great mass parties. Moreover, the communist and social-democratic parties of Germany, who shared the allegiance of almost the entire working class between them, were at least formally committed to a socialist program. They collapsed under the blows of fascism just the same, precisely because they hoped for the miracle of victory without a real struggle. That would surely happen in this country too, even with a labour party supported by the entire trade-union movement, if it should offer no more resistance to fascism than plaintive objections and parliamentary opposition.
I believe it is correct to say that a real first step toward a serious struggle against American fascism could hardly be anything less than the formation of a labour party. As long as the trade unions are allied to the Democratic Party and thereby, in effect, dependent on capitalist politicians to protect them against the onslaughts of a fascist party dedicated to a capitalist counter-revolution—they have not even begun to fight.
For that reason, it is perfectly correct to put the slogan of a labour party in the centre of our agitation and to concentrate all agitation around it. But in doing so, we have no need to oversimplify the fundamental problems posed by the beginnings of a fascist movement, and to think that we are doing our full duty if we stop at that. We must look far ahead—from the beginning of the struggle to the end—and keep the goal in mind in all that we do and say. We have to be with the workers in all their practical actions and in all their struggles. But we will be no help to them if we simply follow along, keep quiet about the workers’ present illusions and thereby foster them.
If we see the impending struggle in its true shape as a drawnout affair, we must recognise that coming developments will work powerfully to realise the slogans of the present. After that, new events will prepare the conditions for a widespread acceptance of the more advanced slogans required at a later stage of development. As a revolutionary party, we ought to foresee these developments and formulate the necessary slogans in advance.
Looking to the future, as measured now only in years rather than in decades or generations, it can be expected that a labour party will take shape and command the allegiance of millions of workers from the start. This will represent a real beginning of the antifascist mobilisation of the American working class, which will just be another name for the mobilisation against capitalism, of which fascism is the final resort. But our agitation, and our participation in practical actions leading to this preliminary mobilisation, will have real importance and significance only to the extent that we keep the whole line of future developments in mind and prepare ourselves and others to meet them.
If the slogan of a labour party based on the trade unions is the most correct and necessary general slogan of agitation at the present time, the simultaneous explanation of the inescapable trend of developments toward a revolutionary showdown, and the building of a party of conscious revolutionists based on this perspective, cannot be put aside in the meantime. The two tasks go together; and taken together, they constitute the most important work of preparation for things to come.
6. Implications Of The Labour Party
The formal launching of an Independent Labour Party, the indicated next step in the preliminary mobilisation of the American working class against a rising fascist movement, will hit this country like a bomb exploding in all directions. It will not only blow up the traditional two-party system in this country and bring about a basic realignment in the general field of American politics. It will also mark the beginning of a great shake-up in the labour movement itself. The second result will be no less important than the first, and it should be counted on.
Under the present system the political stage is occupied by two rival capitalist parties, which in reality represent two different factions of the ruling class. The workers play merely the part of a chorus in the wings and have no speaking part on the stage. The formation of a labour party will change all that at one stroke. The struggle of capitalist factions for control of the government will be subordinated to the struggle of classes, represented by class parties. That is the real meaning of politics anyway.
The political realignment, brought about by the appearance of a labour party on the scene, cannot fail to have profound repercussions inside the labour movement. There will be a great change there too. The break of the trade-union movement with capitalist politics will coincide with the rise of the big opposition to the present official leadership. This rank-and-file opposition movement will most likely take shape in the struggle for a labour party, and be identified with it.
To imagine that the present official leaders can make the great shift from the Democratic Party to independent labour politics, and maintain their leadership smoothly in an entirely new and different situation, requires one to overlook the basic causes which will force them to make this shift. That is, the radicalisation of the rank and file and their revolt against the old policy. No matter how it is formally brought about, a labour party will be the product of a radical upsurge in the ranks of the trade unionists. The more the officialdom resists the great change, the stronger will grow the sentiment for a different leadership. Even if the present leaders sponsor the labour party at the start, they will be under strong criticism for their tardiness. The real movement for a labour party, which will come from below, will begin to throw up an alternative leadership in the course of its development.
The demand for a labour party implies the demand for a more adequate leadership., and the actual formation of a labour party, under the auspices of the present official leadership, would only accelerate the struggle under more favourable conditions. As revolutionists, we advocate the formation of a labour party with this perspective also in mind.
It is true that the simple fact of the formation of labour party, by itself, would have a profound influence in speeding up radical and even revolutionary developments. But those who are satisfied with that might as well retire from the field and let the automatic process take care of everything. The automatic process will not take care of anything except to guarantee defeats. The conscious revolutionists, however few their numbers may be in the beginning, are a part of the process. Their part is to help the process along by telling the whole truth. The fight for a labour party is bound up with the fight to cleanse the labour movement of a crooked and treacherous leadership, and cannot be separated from it. Those radicals and ex-radicals who are willing to settle for a labour party, leaving the question of program and leadership unmentioned, are simply inventing a formula for their own betrayal.
It is not permissible for revolutionists to pass themselves off as mere advocates of a labour party, pure and simple, like any labour faker who devotes Sunday sermons to this idea. A labour party headed by the present official labour skates, without a program of class struggle, would be a sitting duck for American fascism. That’s the truth of the matter, and advocacy of a labour party isn’t worth much if it leaves this truth unsaid. Large numbers of trade-union militants know this as well as we do. They know that the present official leaders are no good for a real fight on any front, and that they have to be thrown out before there can be any serious thought of a show down with American fascism.
Those militants who know the score on this ought to organise themselves in order to conduct their struggle more effectively. This organisation of the class conscious workers can only take the form of a revolutionary party. There is no substitute for that. And since the SWP is the only revolutionary party in the field, there is no substitute for the SWP. Those workers who today already recognise the necessity of a labour party ought to take the next step and unite with the SWP in its effort to direct the struggle toward a revolutionary goal.