Austin Lewis

A Positive Platform

(April 1912)


Source: From International Socialist Review, Vol. 12 No. 10, April 1912, pp. 664–665.
Transcription: Matthew Siegfried.
HTML mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists Internet Archive (2022).
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2022). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.


A CORRESPONDENT, who, like so many hundreds of other working men, has left the Socialist party, disgusted with its latter-day opportunism, writes to ask me with regard to a “positive platform.” The expression occurred in a recent article which I had published in Revolt, and this is only one of several inquiries of a similar nature received.

By the way, it is almost pathetic to see the type of men who are being driven out of the Socialist party. Young and vigorous workmen, full of ambition for the cause of the proletariat, enthusiastic and generous, refuse to be herded along a path which leads to disillusionment and makes only for the advantage of misleaders.

My correspondent belonged to a local which broke up after the endorsement of the present state administration and ever since the proletarian ex-members of that local have been looking for a foothold which would give them a chance to maintain that fight. It would seem that they gained nothing by leaving the party. Their places are taken by smooth bourgeois, mealy-mouthed anemic ethicists and political adventurers. It is a poor exchange and we are all the poorer thereby. The men should have stayed since they could do no better; they should have stayed and helped the rest of us.

It is easily comprehensible that a vigorous working man should desire to play a game more to his evident immediate interest than the political. For the political game at its very best can be no more than a reflection of the actual fight carried on in the shop, the mill and the mine. Adventurous spirits will naturally find in the real fight, the economic fight itself, greater zest, greater opportunity and more real satisfaction than in manipulation and that eloquent hypocrisy which is inseparable from popular speaking and the marshaling of political sentiment. All this can be readily granted. No one can blame a working man, who, breaking loose from the bourgeois associations which membership in the Socialist party necessitates, goes into the industrial struggle itself determined to put his whole force where it will immediately tell.

But the Socialist party exists and will continue to exist. It has a role to play; it is on the stage of history. The character of the role is largely dependent upon the working class and those who think with the working class. It is quite likely that the maintenance of the present tendency in the Socialist party will cause it to degenerate into a mere appendage of reform republicanism, and that its leaders by careful bargainings, may, as is the way with leaders, land successfully, leaving their deluded followers wallowing in the mire. They are not far from it now. The recent Socialist party activities placed side by side with those of reform republicanism are hardly distinguishable except by the inferiority of their texture and the evident amateurism of their construction. We find the same “constructive" policy, the same burning anxiety to give the capitalists a chance to dispose of insecure plants for secure bonds, the same flatulent sentimentalism about a reformed society, even the same desire to truckle to the organized labor bodies. It would be hard to say where reform republicanism leaves off and Los Angeles social ism begins.

Still the Socialist party is going to live. In spite of all its present vileness, its double dealing and double shuffling, its belly crawling and humiliating kowtowing to labor organized on safe, sane and conservative lines, it is a political manifestation of first-class importance. The economic acts of the proletarians must mirror themselves in political action and in this country they will, in all probability, find their reflex in the Socialist party. It is necessary then that the Socialist party should, as far as possible, be made amenable to the proletarian so that the latter may find in it a ready response to such political desires as he may possess. For, even laying the least possible stress upon political action, it is necessary that the actual achievements of the proletarian should be converted into statute law enforceable by the power of society as a whole. If the Socialist party is not to mirror merely the defeat of the small capitalist and to be phonographed in history as a futile whine, it must be made to mirror the advance of the proletarian. It can only do this by the presence of the proletarian in its ranks and the presence also of those who are able to interpret the psychology of the militant proletarian.

Besides this, moreover, the Socialist party must engage in a campaign of education so as to obtain the support of that mass which while not proletarian still will cluster round the militant nucleus if the aims of that militant body can be made to appeal to their sense of right and justice. These latter are abstract terms and, it must be remembered, that while such abstractions play no real part in the equation of social progress after cancellation is made, they are still most important elements in generating or developing individual and even mass enthusiasm. These abstractions the bourgeois element in the party is using to its own advantage at the present and is emotionalizing with political career well in view.

Against this tendency and this emotional thimble-rigging we protest in vain. Negations cannot head-off positive effort, for men after all, express themselves not in negations but in affirmations. A critical correspondent in Revolt said rather a good thing when he declared that words unmade men. Negations may unmake men and, even affirmations, as the story of opportunist socialism conclusively shows.

Now, what is meant by a positive plat form? A platform which will make proletarian affirmations as against the bourgeois affirmations of the opportunist socialists. There is no space now to go more fully into this, but I will set hereafter a list of matters which might be made the prominent features of a socialist campaign. These can be more fully discussed in later issues:

The above is a tentative list of proposed political measures which might tend in some measure to give the working class a better opportunity to make their fight. They may be regarded as starting points of proletarian political action.

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