Felix Morrow

A Critical Analysis of the
American Workers Party

3. What Is Its Position on Internationalism?

(June 1934)

From The Militant, Vol. VII No. 22, 2 June 1934, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Editor’s Note – The following is the third of a series of articles contributed to the discussion of the movement for a new party by Felix Morrow.

* * * *

The preceding articles have discussed two of the main tendencies which stand between the A.W.P. and the road to the new revolutionary party and International.

  1. The A.W.P. has failed to break critically with the reformist past of its predecessor, the Conference for Progressive Labor Action; there is danger of reformist hangovers, especially since the contemptuous or indifferent attitude toward theory, expressed by leading A.W.P. members, prevents examination of fundamentals.
  2. The most significant example of the A.W.P.’s insufficient break with reformism is that its present criticism of the Stalinist party is little different from that earlier voiced by the reformist C.P.L.A. By placing the blame on “sectarianism”, “the American scene”, and a lack of emphasis on the regeneration of the fundamentals of Communism which gave the Comintern, including the C.P.U.S.A., its powerful vitality up to 1924.


When we examine the character of the internationalism espoused by the A.W.P., here again we find the baleful influence of the myth of “sectarianism”. The A.W.P. Program says:

“... The workers in each country are faced with certain conditions, they have, a certain background, tradition, psychology. A revolutionary party must ‘feel’ all this, feel how the workers in the country feel and think. This cannot be communicated to it from the outside.

“These fundamental principles of revolutionary strategy have been disregarded by the Third International.” (p. 28)

The elevation of national peculiarities into “fundamental principles” and the attribution of Stalinist failure to their disregard – both are false.

The fundamental principles of revolutionary strategy flow from the nature of world capitalist society and its present stage of development. Needless to say – needless to anyone who has read the documents of the early Congresses of the Comintern – special peculiarities in specific countries are to be allowed for; and these the parties in the given countries should deal with.

But the problem of allowing for such specific conditions has never been a crucial one. Certainly this problem was not the cause of Stalinist failure. What, for example, has the theory of social fascism and the united front from below (which are practiced of course on a world scale) to do with “how the workers n the country feel.” What these theories disregard is the nature of world capitalist society, specifically the nature of reformism and the proletariat. These errors have nothing to do with national psychology, conditions, etc.

From such a false starting point, the A.W.P. moves, not in the direction of a revolutionary international, but of a loose league of national parties like the Second International. Once the “feel” of the country is identified with “fundamental principles of revolutionary strategy”, and it is asserted that “This cannot be communicated to it (the party) from the outside” (outside – what a word to describe the world proletariat!) we cannot but expect that the whole question of the international will be put in terms alien to the Communist tradition. Here “are the crucial sentences of the A.W.P. Program:

“Unquestionably, international machinery is needed through which the labor and revolutionary movements may exchange views and organize joint activities to advance the ultimate object of a workers’ world. Under certain circumstances, the most direct and practical kind of cooperation between the labor and revolutionary movements of two or more countries is possible, and may profoundly influence world developments, as e.g. a general strike against war in several countries. Joint revolutionary movements may conceivably be carried through simultaneously in several countries in some international crisis, and an international revolutionary general staff is required in such a situation.” (pp. 27–28) (my emphasis)

This passage is full of fundamental errors. We shall consider them under two points: 1. The discipline of a revolutionary international. 2. The role of an international revolutionary general staff.

  1. Just what is meant by the two references to “labor” is not clear. Let us hope that it cannot mean labor parties, for no revolutionary international can include reformist organizations. Now, no party can belong to a revolutionary international without adhering to its principles and decisions. Decisions are to be preceded by thorough discussion throughout the parties – but the “exchange of views” is to be followed by conclusions by vote of the majority; and :he conclusions must be binding on all parties in the International. For what revolutionary parties seek is not the mere unity of the workingclass in and of itself – which is correct, and valuable, on the trade union level – but a fighting unity for revolutionary overthrow; and for this, the highest type of uniform discipline is necessary. To say, as the A.W.P. Program says, that parties “may exchange views” – and to say nothing about coming to conclusions, and the binding nature of the conclusions – this is to be ambiguous about the essence of a revolutionary international.
  2. The A.W.P. Program borrows the term “international revolutionary general staff” from the communist tradition. But what does it do with the term? In communist tradition the term is a synonym for ... the International itself. The work of the International is a continuous work. Its task is the grand strategy of the world revolution. What is the relation between the general staff and the party leadership of a given country? The party eadership is itself part of the general staff and participates in aying down the grand strategy. But this communist conception of the general staff has nothing in oommon with that of the A.W.P., which makes the general staff into a united front committee. “Under certain circumstances”, “joint”, “simultaneously”, “staff is required n such a situation” – these are phrases which describe temporary united fronts. They do not describe the role of the revolutionary general staff.

Whether we nan agree with the A.W.P. eventually or not, let us at least begin with clarity. Where terms are used without specific meaning being given to them, they have their historical meaning. The general staff is a term of the communist tradition meaning a permanent, continuously functioning, organ of the world party. If all that the A.W.P. proposes as international machinery is the united front, temporary, and occasional, let it say so; but let it not give to this instrument – a useful, but limited and transitional one – the title which is historically associated with the highest organ of the world proletariat.

Were the foregoing quotations all that the A.W.P. has to say on the question of the international, there would be nothing more to say, for such views are not those of a truly revolutionary party. But on the very same pages with the foregoing quotations appears the explanation of them. The whole section of the Program dealing with the International is, in fact, pervaded with a fear of contradictions arising between the development of the American party and the work of the International. Here, again, it is clear that the A.W.P. has not thought out thoroughly the differences between the perversions of internationalism practiced by the Stalinist bureaucracy, and the necessary principles of a genuinely Communist International. This is what is behind such formulations as this in the Program:

“The problem of developing an effective International is an exceedingly complex one. The American Workers Party will be concerned to do all that is in its power toward its solution, and remain in sympathetic contact and engage in discussions ... Emphatically, however, we assert that our absorbing concern ... is ... on our own doorstep ...”

“Emphatically, however” is the crucial phrase. This counterposing of the two tasks – the International and the party – is then resolved by declaring that “we shall best serve the toilers of all lands” by making the American revolution. This would indeed be a great service – but has it occurred to the A.W.P. that the internationalism de-man(ded of them is not a question of social service on their part to help the workers of other lands – such, indeed, is the flavor of this section of the A.W.P. Program – but that the cooperation of the workers in other lands may play a decisive role in the American revolution?

It could easily be shown that the indifference toward the role other peoples will play in the American revolution arises from a still unclear theory of the state on the part of the A.W.P. The Program states: “State power is national, not international. It has to be taken in Berlin, London, Paris, Washington ...” Remember, the power of the American class extends across the two American continents, into China (now becoming as important to America as it is to England), and creeping across Europe. Who shall say, at this moment, that the opportunity for the American working class to overthrow the state, will not come because the Chinese revolution will break out just when the American bourgeoisie is most dependent on China. (Of equal weight with its role for China, had it been successful, was the role of the Chinese Revolution of 1923–1927 in facilitating the English revolution). And if the South American, Caribbean and Asiatic workers are part of the domain of the American bourgeoisie, should they not be united with the American workers, not in temporary agreements or mutual expressions of good will, but by a general staff? Once this is agreed to, the relation between two imperialistic regimes logically leads to the inclusion of all workers under the one general staff.

Wrong as the international perspective of the A.W.P. is, however, and dangerous as the consequences of the position might be if held on to, it would betray a lack of insight if one were not to see the healthy instinct behind such a remark as Muste’s at the recent A.W.P conferences: “The 1917 Revolution was made with no international aid.” Of course Muste is wrong; of course he ignores the extraordinary international experience of the Bolshevik leaders; he ignores the international aid of ... Marx and Engels. But the healthy instinct is there, nevertheless. What Muste is saying is that the American Revolution can be made with no more aid than the Russian, if necessary.

But this healthy instinct has nothing to do with an attitude which may seem to be similar but is poles apart. Muste is wrong; but by his own principles he can be shown, I think, that they logically require a genuinely revolutionary international, a permanent general staff of the world revolution. When, however, at the same conferences, J.B.S. Hardman spoke, he said: “Russian interference with other countries was invariably bad – precisely because of the things which made the Russian Revolution successful: Lenin’s knowledge of Russia was only surpassed by his lack of knowledge of other people.” This is not only to rewrite falsely the history of the Russian Revolution, making it depend on the “feel” of the country. This is also – for Hardman is talking here of the Comintern from its first days – to renounce the possibility of internationalism. For to designate the heroic internationalism of 1919–1924 as “Russian interference” – this is but a step away from chauvinism.

It is to be sincerely hoped that the A.W.P. turns its steps away from this false road, and moves instead in the direction of the new revolutionary party and international.


Last updated on: 13 May 2016