Paul Temple

Minority Resolution on
Question of Forming Labor Party

(January 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 2, 10 January 1944, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The following is a resolution on the question of the attitude of revolutionary socialists toward the formation of a Labor Party in the United States. Written by Paul Temple, it is now being discussed by the members of the Workers Party. Although it differs from the point of view of the National Committee of the Workers Party, as set forth in its own resolution on the subject, which we printed in the last two issues, and differs also from the point of view advocated by Labor Action, we publish it here as discussion material because of the interest that Labor Action readers have in the subject and because of the vital importance of the question to the labor movement as a whole.

The present upturn in political action talk and Labor Party sentiment in the trade union movement is, showing increasingly that even substantial sections of the trade union bureaucracy, not tp speak of the rank and file, are beginning to realize that the self-limitation of organized labor to economic action only (“pure and simple” trade unionism) is self-defeating.

The point of the long-standing socialist insistence on the necessity of political action is being hammered home especially by the development of increasing political (governmental) intervention in the relations between capital and labor.

Socialists have always been the staunchest proponents of political action by labor. In so far as objective circumstances themselves are forcing the labor movement to turn to political action, it becomes increasingly important for socialists to be clear that political action – including political action by labor – can be good or bad, progressive or reactionary; an aid to the socialist development of the working class or an obstacle to it; conservative, reformist, liberal, fascist, or revolutionary.

The criterion of socialists in their estimation of the character of political formations, or of the development of a given political party, is clear and definite. This is the criterion of class independence.

To pose the question: Shall labor form a Labor Party? is to ask: Would the formation of a Labor Party REALLY lead to a political break-away by labor from capitalist politics?

The question is not answered by deciding to add the word “independent” to Labor Party. It is only obscured by confusing the formal organizational independence of a party with its political content.

The fact that the British Labor Party, for example, is an independent organization does not reflect on the fact that it does not represent independent working class political action today. The independence of labor politics – its class independence, not its organizational form – is in the first place a programmatic question.

Strategical Analysis of Revolutionary Socialists

Before the present era of capitalist decline, when capitalism was expanding, the formation of a reformist Labor Party with an INDEPENDENT class program was a possibility. It was accomplished in Britain; it was proposed by Marx and Engels for America.

It was a possibility because a reformist struggle for immediate gains, economic and political, which the bourgeoisie was able to grant if sufficiently pressed, offered a realistic political perspective. At the same time, and for the very same reason, the reformist parties of social-democracy also were able to play a progressive role in the historical development of the working class.

Today, in both cases, this political perspective is no longer actual. Today, even the successful struggle for immediate demands requires militant, class struggle, implicitly revolutionary action. The bourgeoisie must tend to withdraw rather than grant further concessions. What gains are made episodically are cancelled out by the development of the capitalist crisis, the imposition of war economy, and tomorrow by post-war breakdown.

The time is past when a working class political party acting within the programmatic, limitations of bourgeois reformism had an independent role to play in organizing the class in independent action for immediate concessions. Today, the only working class program which is actually – politically – independent of the capitalist class is the revolutionary program.

There is no reason for making any putative American Labor Party a peculiar exception to the rule: Today every political formation is confronted with the harsh alternatives – defense of capitalism or the fight for socialism. Only individuals without responsibility, theorists, demagogues and impotent groups can continue to talk, in terms of a dreamed-up middle ground. The possibility of finding footing in a middle ground is no longer there for any serious political movement. The pressure of social forces does not permit this escape from reality to any serious political organization which has to act on real problems.

The old type of reformist program which, in a different period, provided this middle ground, has now been taken over by the most enlightened section of the bourgeoisie itself – the “left’’ New Deal Democrats, the Rooseveltians, the “liberal” wing of capitalist politics. It is in this sense that we used to make the observation that the Roosevelt Administration may be called the social-democratic phase of American political development. It is that social-democratic phase, not in its “classic” form naturally, but in the crabbed, reactionary, telescoped and already senile form inevitable under the new conditions of chronic capitalist decline and chronic war, and revolution. The lusty reformism of the old days, with its progressive consequences and politically independent programmatic base, is no more possible for it than it is possible for the labor bureaucracy.

“Social-Patriotic ... But Politically Independent!”

This analysis is made starkly concrete by the imperialist war, now raging. As long as the revolution does not appear as a pressing threat, the setting up of a Labor Party would mean for the reformist leaders setting up in politics against the leaders of capitalism whom they support and FROM WHOM THEY HAVE NO ESSENTIALLY DIFFERENT PROGRAM.

To them, as to us, the war question is paramount. Less than ever are they willing to “break national unity” at this time when they are acting as whips to line the workers up behind the capitalist government’s war policy, and specifically behind Roosevelt.

The United States is in the midst of the Second Imperialist World War. The criterion of class independence becomes translated into terms of the war. In the midst of an imperialist war, a social-patriotic party and a party independent of capitalist politics can never be the same thing.

We cannot give political support to a pro-war Labor Party, the only kind of Labor Party conceivable in the coming period. We cannot support pro-war candidates, whether running on the ticket of the Democrats, Republicans or of the American Labor Party (the existing “independent labor party”). We cannot wish the creation of a reformist, social-patriotic political machine, born for the purpose of “independently” rallying the workers to the support of the demagogic wing of capitalist politics.

(To be continued)

Last updated on 12 August 2015