J.R. Johnson

On a Central Point in the Workers Party Program:

We Say “Transform PAC Into a Labor Party”

(6 January 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 1, 6 January 1947, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

At the recent National Committee Meeting the Workers Party reiterated its advocacy of the slogan, “Transform PAC into a Labor Party.” A statement motivating this slogan appeared in Labor Action of December 2, 1946. The statement dealt with the necessity of continuing with the slogan, despite the victory of the Republican Party and the rout of the Democratic Party. It showed that the very defeat of the Democrats would compel its working class followers to seek more seriously than ever a medium of political expression and political action to deal with the urgent problems which face the workers and the whole nation. The problem is complicated by the fact that, contrary to 1944, PAC took a beating in the 1946 election. It is true that PAC is more than ever under the control of the reactionary labor bureaucracy. If the need of the hour is independent political action by labor than PAC is a quintessential example of dependent political action of labor. It is being used by a capitalist political organization for capitalist ends, sneered at and distrusted when it helps to win victories as in 1944 and bearing the whole blame for defeat as in 1946. Furthermore it can be granted freely that PAC was formed for the special purpose of deflecting labor’s growing demands for an independent labor party. Today the labor leadership, at its wits’ ends, is off on another defensive tactic.

If circumstances compel a break with the discredited Democratic Party, then the labor leadership stands ready, is already preparing the way, to tie PAC to some kind of middle class third party. Its guiding principle is: above all, no independent labor politics. To be granted also, is the fact that the actual organization of the PAC, unlike for example, the organization of the UAW, is bureaucratic in the extreme. PAC is organized from the top downwards and the bureaucracy holds all the levers of control. Why then did we, knowing all this, advocate the slogan in the past and now continue to do so, despite the increased sharpening of the class struggle? The basic reason is simple to state. It is because PAC sets into political motion and holds the political attention of millions of organized workers. It is there that not only labor politics in general, but revolutionary politics must begin.

This organization has not only all the vices of the bureaucratically dominated organizations of labor, but is openly and admittedly capitalist in theory and in practice. But our use of the slogan in these circumstances involves one of the most fundamental concepts of socialist theory and practice. In fact, it is not too much to say that the political problem involved here faces the revolutionary socialist movement at all stages of its development. Upon the successful solution of this problem, in ever varying concrete circumstances, depends the growth of the party of the workers, at times the safety of the working class, at critical moments the success or failure of workers’ power itself.

Role of Labor

The working class in capitalist society at all times contains within itself a duality. It is the most oppressed class in a barbarous society, bearing all the scars of that society; at the same time, it is the only consistently progressive class in that society, the class destined to emancipate itself from capitalist degradation, and by emancipating itself to emancipate the great majority of the nation. Woe betide that revolutionary organization which confuses the two aspects and does not at all times and under all circumstances strenuously analyze, probe, check and recheck the relation of these two aspects to propaganda, agitation, slogans and practical activities. In Section II of the Communist Manifesto Karl Marx poses this question at the very outset.

“In what relation do the Communists [1] stand to the proletarians as a whole?

The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to other working class parties.

“They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.

“They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mold the proletarian movement.”

The whole section is not easy and is worth reading and re-reading, and, in fact, close study. For the time being we propose to give some random but highly instructive examples of the duality of the proletariat and the corresponding duality imposed upon the revolutionary party. In September 1917 Lenin, driving with all his might for the establishment of workers’ power as the only solution to the problems of Russia, offered to support a government of Mensheviks (reform Socialists) and Social Revolutionaries (revolutionary peasants’ party), the very people he had consistently accused of betraying the revolution. As far as he knew the masses were not quite ready to turn en masse to the Bolsheviks. Hence he was ready to advocate his own program within the framework of the stage reached by the masses. Trotsky made a bold and fruitful application of the same principle when he recommended that the American Trotskyist movement reverse its stand on a Labor Party and meet the rising demands of the working class by itself raising the slogan.

America’s Social Crisis

The crisis of the U.S. workers today is a social crisis of the nation. It reaches into every sphere of social life. It affects the workers on the immediate spheres of wages and its relation to prices. Not only does the housing shortage exhaust the energy and fray the nerves of the workers on whom it imposes the greatest hardships. Tomorrow it will affect their budget. Unless a serious nationwide struggle is waged by the proletariat leading the nation, rent control will not be maintained by the Truman government. In the factories themselves the conditions of production, the speed-up, the persecution of labor by the agents of big business, create a pervading bitterness and frustration among the workers. The Negroes are the subject of a concentrated attack by the reactionary elements in the population; these are emboldened by the absence of government action and the web of legalisms behind which the official guardians of law and order hide their acquiescence in the lynching, beating-up and vilification of the Negroes. The latest development is the use of the judiciary by the government to reinstitute control of labor by injunction, while the armed forces of the nation are held in not too inconspicuous reserve.

The working class struggles against all these manifestations of the social crisis. The response of the miners to Lewis; the rallying of AFL and CIO to the support of the UMW, lame and halting though it was, sufficiently testify to the sentiments of the workers. The Oakland General Strike also shows what deep currents of dissatisfaction are moving among the masses. The common front of the UAW, the Steel Workers and the Electrical Workers on the coming wage demands show in another sphere the tendency toward united action and resistance to being beaten down which exists among the workers. The preparations among AFL and CIO workers in Detroit for a joint 24-hour stoppage in support of the UMW, show the same in yet another sphere.

But the very urgency of the situation and the need for immediate action only underline the necessity for overall political action. Yet it is precisely here that the working, class is most baffled. How to translate into immediate action the need for independent labor politics? It is not merely a question of program here. The Workers Party in Labor Action, its pamphlets, etc., urges its Transitional Program, constantly adapted to the changing situation. It has embraced the GM Program advocated by Reuther (a program which it has itself long advocated) when the UAW strike initiated the present crisis. This program can be fought for in the unions individually and by unified action. But the working class needs a sphere, a medium, an organizational form in which today at once it can begin the enormous task of mobilizing its political weight for action.

What Is PAC?

PAC is a medium to hand. The basic strength of the Democratic Party in the nation is organized labor, yet the organizational power of that party is in the hands of the capitalists, the government bureaucracy, and the Southern Bourbons. PAC is in this respect the exact opposite. It is tied to the Democratic Party, but without the labor rank and file and the labor bureaucracy which runs it, PAC would be nothing. Its very formation marked a process of differentiation within the Democratic Party. The labor bureaucrats organized PAC to forestall independent labor action in the nation as a whole. But it was organized also to crystallize the power of labor in the increasing tensions within the Democratic Party itself. If that was so in 1944, the pressure of the social crisis and the open turn of Truman and the administration against labor, increases the tendencies toward disintegration within the Democratic Party and stretches unbearably the tie of PAC to the official Democratic organization.

In advocating that the workers turn PAC into a Labor Party we do not minimize our program, we do not adapt it in any way to the reactionary mold of PAC. We do not confine ourselves to PAC as a vote-catching organization. We do not propose that the workers submit themselves to its bureaucratic organization. We propose that precisely all these features of PAC be busted wide open and the organization transformed into a living working class organization, politically active today. PAC is a shell. Filled with workers actively determined to make it work for the labor movement it can become the nucleus for a nationwide independent political party.

What Should Be Done

Can it be done? And here comes in what we have stated is the indispensable corollary to starting with the working class where it is—the revolutionary confidence in its power by experience to transcend its limitations. But whenever the American proletariat seeks a genuine independent proletarian activity, its main obstacle will be the labor bureaucracy. Inside PAC or outside PAC it will face the obstructive, confusing and demoralizing tactics of these gentlemen who mortally fear the prospect of facing the national and international crisis outside of the umbrella of the traditional parties. While PAC is not the sole predetermined form by which the proletariat will find its way to independent political action, to concede in advance that any struggle by the proletariat within the PAC is doomed to defeat, is not far from saying that any struggle with the labor bureaucracy is doomed to defeat. It is not for one moment to be forgotten that the question of separating PAC from the Democratic Party does not alone concern the proletariat. The dominant capitalist elements in the Democratic Party have been restless at this would-be independent organization of labor even though it has been subordinated to Democratic Party policy and organization. Should the working class really open a struggle to make PAC in reality, and not only in form, its own instrument, its efforts for independence will be supplemented by the panic which will be created in the Democratic Party leadership.

It is precisely such a struggle which in the present situation, can forestall the efforts of the labor leaders to channelize labor party sentiment toward a third party, dominated by the middle class politicians, liberals, and others, and capitalistic in aim and practice. The workers and the workers’ movements can be best manipulated when they are quiet. On the other hand their increasing restlessness, the need for political action which is being hammered into their heads by the objective situation, these demand that we point out to them the existing concrete organization, built with their money their efforts and their name, which is being used against their general interests and urgent needs.

Finally, It would be wrong to too PAC purely in terms of the 1944 elections. The 1947 legislative program of Congress, the use of the Judiciary, and the armed forces against labor, the burning question of prices, the remoter question of war and peace, there is not one single one of them which will not be immediately affected by the determined emergence of labor as q political force within the present limited but infinitely expandable confines of PAC. It is a commonplace in all sections of the workers’ movement that the failure of PAC to be the decisive force in the recent elections was its miserable subordination to the official program of the senile Democratic Party. The converse in this case holds equally true. The regeneration of PAC by a militant working class means a greater possibility of political development than the tremendous stride forward which was made ten years ago when the incipient CIO broke away not from a capitalist, but from another labor organisation.



1. Not to be confused with Stalinists who are in no sense Communists.

Last updated on 28 November 2020