Hal Draper

On the Tasks of the Convention
and the Political Resolution

(June 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 45, 27 June 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

In his report for the P.C. in New York, Comrade Burnham proposed that our work in the next period be concentrated around campaign activity on six issues. These, he suggested should be: war; jobs; democratic rights; fascism; the C.P.; and the labor party. This approach in my opinion is correct, and not in contradiction with our international or other tasks. In this article I wish to make some remarks on how these objectives can be implemented.


The overshadowing task of this Convention, and of the Party in the next period, is preparation for the war. Is the Party geared to the needs of this pre-war interval? No. Why not, and what must be done? This is the major pre-convention problem; the following remarks are intended as a contribution to this problem.

First, I think we must make a rectification in the direction of our agitation and propaganda on the war question. Up to now, 99 percent of it has been directed against the more-or-less open war-mongers: the policies of the Roosevelt administration, the collective-security advocates. Since this is in fact the actual policy of the U.S. government, it would be absurd to dispute the importance of this kind of attack. But consider: the great mass of the American people, and especially the workers, are not collective-security advocates, but in one form or another are under the influence of isolationist and pacifist ideology. Turning to the masses means turning to them, in large part. In fact, there is a smaller percentage of collective-security-ites among the masses generally, than there is among the “advanced” workers. In this I am not thinking about the professional isolationists and pacifists of the various leagues, but of the more naive and inarticulate sentiments of the man-in-the-street or the worker-in-the-shop.

Why have we devoted so little attention to this, the predominant mood of the masses? First, perhaps, because we have felt that, as against the collective security shouters, they are the lesser evil, not as dangerous, have a “more correct” position, etc. If it were merely a matter of intellectual conviction or passing a resolution, this might have some justification; but the question is rather one of mobilization to action along the class-struggle path. And it is not news for us to be told that the role of pacifism and isolationism is precisely that of a soporific, of a brake on militant action. Secondly, it is harder to come to grips with these strata – they are not as organized, not as represented by spokesmen in the public eye, less homogeneous. This is true, but what I am interested in here is to point out that there has been no deliberate effort to overcome these obstacles.

It is not enough to decide to pay attention to the naively anti-war masses. We must learn how to approach them. We do not know. We cannot approach them, by and large in the same Way that we have attacked the collective-security-ites. This may be so with some varieties of pacifist-isolationists, but With others we must work to lead them from their present attitudes towards ours, nof only on the basis of the proper propagandistic approach but also through action. This means training, and I shall return to this point.

Organizational Preparation The second point that has to be made with regard to preparation for war is of course organizational. Indisputable as it is, it is more than disquieting to realize that with war so near we have no organizational machine that would not be dislocated and ripped apart on the day that the government’s M-day machine gets going – if not before. And of all our weaknesses, what can compare with this weakness in its importance? I have complete confidence that the Fourth Internationalist movement will stand out against the war more firmly than any movement in the history of the world – including the Russian Bolsheviks in 1914 – in a political sense; but, to quote the Bible, what shall it profit us to gain the anti-war monopoly and lose our own organization?

I am aware that this task has been considered of the highest importance by both the membership and the party leadership – only nothing has been done about it, not even some extremely elementary steps. The task of the national leadership in this period is not only to put the national office in order, but it is its responsibility to see to it that the local sections do likewise.

Aside from organizational machinery, our members are not individually prepared. One thing this means is training. Not training in understanding of our political program – I am taking this for granted – but training as propagandists under war conditions. We tend to rely too much today on individual comrades to act as our mouthpieces, speak for us at street corners, etc. Each of us will have to be our own mouthpiece, ourselves react to situations, etc., to a vastly larger extent under war conditions, with the best central machinery. What this points to is internal education and training for every rank-and-file party member.

The Communist Party

It should be emphasized that the section on the C.P. in the political resolution represents a change, not merely a matter of emphasis. Perhaps not a change in policy for the party officially, but certainly a change in the de facto attitude of most party members. This change is overdue.

In understandable reaction against the tradition of the Trotskyist movement, and accompanying a healthy turn toward the masses, the comrades have obviously let C.P. work slide more than it should. To underline the point made in ;he resolution: since the foundation of the S.W.P., there has been no seriously organized C.P. work nationally or in any locality. In recent months a good beginning has been made in New York, that is all.

This is the elementary organizational conclusion from the resolution: national and local machinery, committees and directors, for this work!

Party Organization

There is a good deal of loose talk about the party’s being in an “organizational crisis”. Alarmist as most of this is, there is no doubt that there is no political problem before the Convention which overshadows in importance the task of readying the party organization for its tasks in the next period.

I do not expect that this will receive its due share of attention at the Convention, because of lack of pre-Convention preparation and the conditions under which a Convention is held. I would propose that this gap be filled by:

  1. Holding special conferences of the delegates during the Convention on specific organizational problems: C.P. work; educational and agitprop work; etc. Whether this is feasible, of course, depends on the physical and time arrangements.
  2. Organizing the delegates, at the formal close of the Convention, into a special organizational conference, to consider organizational problems only. Such a gathering can be useful as a preparation for:
  3. Holding regional organizational conferences after the delegates return home, for discussion and exchange of ideas, etc., with N.C. members present at each one. The organizational end of war preparation should be an important aspect of these gatherings.

For the Convention itself, I should like to emphasize one proposal, which it seems to me puts the finger on an outstanding and continuing lack in our work.

There is not one comrade in the National Office whose task it is to oversee and direct and aid the organizational functioning of the local sections. Comrade Cannon, as the political secretary of the Party, cannot and should not be expected to fill this gap. This is especially important since in few localities have we a local organization which does not need constant aid and guidance and which can be independent of the center in this respect. The necessity of this is testified to once more by the eagerness with which comrades in the field grasp at organizational directives, advice, suggestions of any sort which come from the center.

What this means is an organizational secretary and department in the National Office. It is not a utopian proposal; on the contrary, it is an absolutely necessary contribution by the national center toward closing the gap between our political tasks and our organizational means.

The Labor Party

It is with some regret that the largest section of this discussion article must be devoted to the labor party question, which Comrade Burnham proposes be one of the six issues to be headlined in our work. It is not a question of merely repeating the previous discussion; I wish to point out:

  1. that the labor party section of the political resolution sticks out of the document like a sore thumb and is completely out of place in our general view of our tasks.
  2. That the labor party position given in the political resolution is a departure from that put forward by the majority in the last discussion and adopted by referendum.
  3. That our experiences since the referendum serve to invalidate the majority line in that discussion.

This is the first Convention after the adoption of the labor party line by referendum. The party has a right to expect from the P.C., or at least from individual P.C. members, an attempt to draw up a balance-sheet of the 10 months or so that have intervened – a balance sheet of our work in the field, as well as of the development of the labor party movement. Both sides made predictions, put forward arguments that perhaps can now be more concretely tested, etc. In the absence of such a balance sheet by the P.C., I limit myself here to some cursory and preliminary remarks.

A Side Dish?

I. The political resolution begins with the indisputable statement that “Every political, and economic and social issue is being more and more subordinated to the war preparations.” And the resolution rightly links each one of the issues discussed to the present pre-war situation, shaping our line of attack into a rounded program revolving around the war question. That is, with the exception of the labor party section! Burnham’s six points, for example:

“War is coming – Struggle against war!”

“War is coming – Fight to preserve the workers’ democratic rights! Fight against fascism!

“War is coming – Jobs, not battleships!

“War is coming – Fight the jingoes in the working class ranks, the C.P. above all!”

“War is coming – Build a labor party!”

Try that on your street-corner speech. How does a labor party campaign fit into a rounded program of agitation and action against the war, or is it merely a side-dish with no connection with the rest of the menu?

A Change in Line

II. The first two sentences of the labor party section read as follows: “During the past year, the sentiment among the workers for a labor party has remained inert, held back by Roosevelt, the labor bureaucrats and the Stalinists. Any extended general campaign on our part around the labor party slogan would have been on the whole academic, and our agitation on this issue has been largely, and correctly, confined to specific and local situations where it was relevant.”

In these two sentences the P.C. manages to throw out of the window 90 percent of the argumentation they and their supporters used to justify the majority resolution 10 months ago. I allow a residue of 10 percent out of good-will.

Were we not told then that precisely because “Roosevelt, the labor bureaucrats and the Stalinists” were against the labor party that the revolutionists must throw themselves into a campaign to mobilize the workers over the heads of these gentlemen? Surely the P.C. knew in advance that these forces would seek to keep the workers from independent political action and confine any manifestations to “specific and local situations”?

When the then-minority counterposed fraction work within the labor party movement to the slogan “Form a labor party”, we were asked the so-embarrassing question: “If you agree to agitating for independent labor party candidates in “specific and local situations where it was relevant”, like the Kennedy movement in Pennsylvania, does this not necessarily entail a campaign to link up these local situations into a national labor party?” We answered No. 10 months later, the P.C. answers: “No, it would be academic and irrelevant.”

“Snows of Yesteryear”

What happens to the despairing cries that rose up from the majority’s ranks and spokesmen to the effect that the labor party question was a life-and-death matter for the party, that the party could not go on “stewing in its own juice” and that a labor party campaign was the answer to our isolation?

Where is the argument that the labor party issue was “indissolubly” connected with the Transitional Program – or was a general campaign on the Transitional Program academic and irrelevant too?

Another question on the refrain, “Where are the snows of yesteryear?” – In the discussion, Comrade Crux argued that agitation for the labor party was imperatively demanded by the objective situation, and many and forceful were his remarks about basing our policy on the mood of the workers. For him it was a race against time to raise the political level of the workers – as it is – and the labor party slogan was to be a stout weapon to this end. If Comrade Crux’s approach had anything in common with the P.C. position, what difference does it make whether Roosevelt, the labor bureaucrats and the Stalinists have worked to hold back the workers? All the more necessity for a stiff campaign! – As we pointed out then, all this is academic and irrelevant to the P.C.’s position.

What remains as the decisive justification for the labor party position we now have on our books?

Transitional Program

In practice – to keep away from the academic and irrelevant – what has pushed the party forward in the last period? – In the discussion we pointed to the campaign around the Transitional Program as the positive line for the party, the main line. And this is precisely what has happened. Where we have put the Transitional Program into action – as we have partially in the case of the Workers Defense Guard – the effect on the party has been marked. It is the slogans of the Transitional Program which have been repeated at the end of Appeal articles – not, perhaps not once, “Build the labor party!” In his discussion article in the Appeal, Comrade Lieberman mentions Shachtman’s speech in New York on May Day, in which the Transitional Program was translated into one of the best mass speeches I have heard. Neither I, nor other comrades I have asked, can remember Shachtman’s mentioning “Build the labor party”. What part has the labor party position played in the agitation and action of the party? None. Or if this is not so, I am waiting for the P.C. to tell us.

State of Labor Party

Is the labor party position a dead dog? No. Now, says the resolution, is the time for a general campaign. What, is there a resurgence in the labor party movement? Well, answers the P.C. resolution carefully, “the organized intervention of labor in politics has continued and in some respects increased during this same year” during which labor party sentiment has remained inert; and the present situation is “raising or beginning to raise once more in the minds of the workers questions about political action.” To begin with, to say the least, a far cry from the confident assertions in the 10-month old labor party resolution: “The workers have begun to turn in million-masses toward political action,” “We can with sufficient assurance predict that the resistance of the bureaucracy (to the L.P. movement) will be broken. The movement in favor of a labor party will continue to grow,” etc.

Comrade Burnham has kindly revealed to me what it means when it talks about the “continued” and “increased” intervention of labor in politics. According to him, the A.L.P. in New York “still continues” –

– Very modestly put, “still continues”; the A.L.P. is actually in a state of suspended animation, which the hypodermic of the coming elections may or may not jerk it out of –

– There is the trade union campaign in Minnesota ... which only underlines the bankruptcy of the F.L.P., and the lower level of organizational form which the Minnesota workers have had to resort to for political action –

– There was the trade union campaign for Murphy in Michigan and Olsen in California ... This certainly represents “continued” mobilization of labor behind capitalist politicians, but how is it “increased” participation as compared with the labor campaigns for Roosevelt, for Lehman, for LaGuardia, et al.?

The labor party movement in America is already reaching the end of its blind alley. The P.C. takes the ebb for the flow.

What to Do

The many comrades who said they wanted to “experiment” with the majority labor party position have had their noble experiment. Now what?

  1. The political resolution must be given a realistic estimate of the labor party situation now and during the past year which corresponds with the facts.
  2. It must place the emphasis clearly on independent participation by the party in electoral campaigns, along the lines of the issues featured in the resolution, under the sign of the war question, We must utilize the elections and the parliamentary field to put ourselves before the masses as the anti-war party, tying ourselves to no social-patriotic political formations whatsoever. Section 23 should be rewritten from this point of view.
  3. Section 22 should be completely cut out of the resolution, to be replaced by a section in the spirit of point 1 above.
  4. This does in effect mean ditching the labor party thesis adopted in the last discussion. More than ever, I would propose its replacement by the Convention with the minority labor party resolution put before the party last year.

Last updated on 17 January 2016