Paul Temple

Minority Resolution on
Question of Forming Labor Party

(January 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 3, 17 January 1944, p. 3.
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 two recent 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 Threat of “Labor” Third Partyism

This analysis determines the political perspective of the Labor Party movement in America which – though it is today still on a much lower organizational level than it has been at least twice before in America since 1918 – may yet burgeon into a more serious organizational development.

Such an eventuality could occur under the pressure of three interrelated forces:

  1. Generally speaking, a greatly intensified discontent by the rank and file of labor with the bourgeois politics of the labor movement – a healthy impulse from the grass roots which would have to be “ridden” and channelized by the leadership if it could not merely be knocked down.
  2. The ending of the Roosevelt era and the triumph of the more openly reactionary wing of capitalist politics, with a consequent extrusion of the bourgeois left, homeless, into the political cold, and their rapprochement with the labor bureaucracy.
  3. The sweep of revolution in Europe, in its effect on class relations in America, together, with the direct backwash of the war on the revolutionization of American labor.

Under the impact of such forces the formation of an independent third party in America, representing the coalition of the labor bureaucracy and the bourgeois left, is a potent threat.

Whether such a party is entitled the American Labor Party or not, whether it is heralded forth at a trade union convention or in a Washington hotel or at the former following the latter, its political character will be unchanged. With its mass basis in the trade union workers – the liberals will not escape this inevitable present-day accompaniment of any third party movement which wants to be of greater consequence than the Lemke party of 1936 – it bodies forth the characteristic combination of the People’s Front: the generals-without-an-army of bourgeois reformism bestriding and reining in the body of labor.

It does no good to say: We want a “genuine” independent Labor Party, not a “third party.” We ask, and there is no answer: What basic difference of today are these two labels supposed to refer to? In program? Support of capitalism? Methods? Mass basis? The labels are nostalgic historical references to a dichotomy that has ceased to exist.

Two Labor Parties: The Reality and the Dream

The Marxist analysis of the Labor Party problem has been confirmed at all points by the only existing “independent Labor Party” in the country – the American Labor Party of New York State.

This “independent Labor Party” took its inception in the fear of the labor bureaucracy that progressive labor in New York was turning away from Roosevelt and the New Deal in disillusionment. It was formed in order to ride this progressive impulse of discontent with bourgeois politics, and rein it toward support of Roosevelt.

Like any other today, this Labor Party was the continuation of class-collaborationist politics – by other means.

This “independent Labor Party” has since acted completely as the “loyal” wing in New York of the Roosevelt Democracy. Its structure and organization is, if anything, more bureaucratized than are the trade union bodies on which it is formally based. Its farthest step in the direction of “independence” was the running of ah “independent labor” candidate for the high post of Governor of .the State of New York – Dean Alfange! – as a bold move for independent action – by the Roosevelt wing of the Democratic Party.

If a third party of bourgeois reformism had been formed in New York instead of the ALP – how possibly could it have differed from the actually existent ALP? If a third party is formed nationally, how possibly will it differ from a national extension the ALP? To call for the creation of a national American Labor Party means to take responsibility for it before the working class – at least, before that section of the working class which heeds OUR call, namely, the most advanced, militant, class-conscious workers. Criticism of (“refusal to take responsibility for”) this, that or every other specific action by the Labor Party does not absolve us of our responsibility for the effect of its existence on the class struggle for socialism.

The desire to find a by-pass to the creation of a mass revolutionary party is a common concession to the mood of the times. It even leads to the notion that a national American Labor Party can be that mass revolutionary party itself! This theory of how a revolutionary party can be forged is by far less plausible than the average theory on this basic question which Bolshevism has had to reject and combat. We teach that a revolutionary socialist party must be founded on a revolutionary program and built around that program. A wealth of historical experience, including that of the Norwegian Labor Party, has confirmed this in every instance. We have seen no reason advanced to make an exception for America in this regard.

To teach the most advanced workers to look toward a Labor Party as the political rallying center of American labor (let alone as the future revolutionary party instrument of American labor!) is to teach a falsehood and a delusion. It will be precisely the best, most advanced workers who will e disillusioned with a Labor Party first. Our job is to fasten this process, if it turns out that they must go through it. It is not our job now to point to the Labor Party as the way out or the post-war breakdown which we predict or as the shield against fascism, but to insist with all our strength that only revolutionary socialist politics and a revolutionary party can solve these problems. We must tell the truth about the Labor Party, that it will not be able to solve “even the most immediately pressing problems” of labor.

The Policy of Revolutionary Socialists

We therefore do not advocate the formation of a Labor Party. Still less do we advance the defeatist concept that if a Labor Party is not formed, the alternative for the workers is defeat and doom. Our attitude toward existing or future labor parties or labor party movements, is a question of tactics. We have always said and say again that we will stand at the side of the working class without separating ourselves from them in every phase of their political development.

We stand ready to enter and work within any Labor Party that is set up, in a struggle for real independent action and program. We will advance and fight for the immediate and transitional demands which we propose for the working class. We will seek to utilize whatever arena the Labor Party provides for these purposes and for socialist education. To any Labor Party movement we say: “Your leaders have ostensibly organized for independent political action and in order to solve your pressing problems. It is our opinion that they and the Labor Party will do neither. You don’t agree with us? Then see for yourselves; fight for class-struggle candidates and a class-struggle program. We intend to fight along with you for these objectives. We will show you in action that socialist politics is the only way out.” This is the general sense of a revolutionist’s agitation and propaganda with respect to a Labor Party movement.

But our job is to attempt to shorten by our own efforts any hypothetical Labor Party phase of working class political development; to convince at least the vanguard now that they must come directly to the revolutionary party, and to utilize their experiences, especially their experiences with the Labor Party, now for this purpose. Our job is to foster disillusionment with the reformist, pre-war, collaborationist machine, instead of strengthening illusions by our own advocacy. We do not wish the character of the Labor Party to be exposed solely by experience. We wish the advanced workers to turn to the others and say: “This party told us the truth about the Labor Party; it showed us the way soonest; it is a good party.”

It is primarily by our work in the trade union movement that the best elements of our class will be drawn to us and the revolutionary party built. The prospect ahead is one of world-wide revolution and crises. In modern days these have always developed through a rising tempo of strike action, political strike movements included; the break-up of reformist formations; the merging of economic action into political action through the variety of organizational forms which the working class inexhaustibly invents, of which the Soviets were the type – shop committees, councils of action, etc.

This is how the revolutionary politicalization of the working class expresses itself. This is real independent political action by a working class mass movement. This is the end to which we shape our policy.

Last updated on 12 August 2015