Felix Morrow

The “Socialist” Critics
of the CIO

They Provide a Pseudo-Radical Alibi
for Hillman and the AFL

(14 December 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 50, 14 December 1940, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

(This is the third of a series of articles on the Atlantic City convention of the CIO.)

At the convention – more accurately, in the corridors one heard a type of pseudo-leftist criticism of John L. Lewis and his allies which, upon examination, turns out to be merely a cover for a pro-Hillman, pro-AFL line. This was the line common to both the pro-war Social Democratic Federation and the “anti-war” Norman Thomas Socialists.

These two “socialist”’ groups arrive at their pro-Hillman orientation by arguments which appear diametrically opposed to each other. The New Leader complains that Lewis is hostile to aid to Britain, is in league with “communazis,” sabotaging national defense: therefore the New Leader is for Hillman. The Call says Lewis is as much a war-monger as anybody, his Stalinist friends will shift to the war camp tomorrow, etc.: therefore the Call is for Hillman. How can the New Leader and the Call both favor Hillman, but for opposite reasons?

They Hate the CIO

Little need be said about the New Leader’s attitude toward the CIO, for the motivation for its line is very clear; one has but to read its strikebreaking stories against the Vultee aircraft workers. The New Leader is now under the editorial control of a group of demoralized and disoriented refugees, whose lack of understanding of the American labor movement flows from their failure to understand how fascism in their Social Democratic policies assured the victory of fascism in their European homelands. In their impatience to get home to their old well-paying posts, they out-jingo the Dies Committee; nothing must slow up the U.S. armies which will blast open for them the path home; hence their viciousness against strikers and against the basic labor movement, the CIO.

The case of Norman Thomas’ Call is somewhat different. It is not (yet) yelling for war. It supported the Vultee strikers. Hence its “socialist” arguments are likely to carry much more weight than those of the New Leader. It is necessary, therefore, to take apart the Call’s case for Hillman.

Bitterness Dominates Scene at Atlantic City; Lewis-Communist Bloc Tries to Bait Hillman. Such is the Call headline (Nov. 30 issue). Lewis’ dignified challenge to

Hillman on the key question’ of continuing the fight for industrial unionism – to call this “baiting Hillman” constitutes a distortion of what happened. And to describe the majority’s reasoned argument as “factionalism” and “bitterness” – that disqualifies the Call’s correspondent as a reporter.

Ignores Real Issue

The Call works up a case for lining up with. Hillman by the device of denying that the maintenance of industrial unionism is the point at issue: ... “the Communist Party and Lewis are allegedly the defenders of industrial unionism against Hillman and his forces who are advocates of peace between the two great bodies of organized labor. But the truth of the matter is that Harry Bridges, the main pillar of the C.P. structure, is now engaged in efforts to raid the warehouse fields in complete disregard of industrial union jurisdiction.” This is followed by a paragraph to prove that the Communist Party is opposed to AFL-CIO unity for unworthy reasons. Then the Call passes on to other business, as if it has proved that there is no difference between Hillman and the Lewis group on industrial unionism.

Note that the Call blandly identifies the Lewis forces with the Stalinists. A false, and pretty stupid, assumption. Will unity be a blow to industrial unionism? The Call avoids this, the real question.

Its case comes down to haying: if Hillman, is no friend, of industrial unionism, neither are Lewis and the Stalinists. In that case, logic would demand that the Call denounce both Lewis and Hillman and call upon the CIO workers to mobilize under a third banner in defense of industrial unionism. But these Norman Thomas Socialists know only one method in trade union “politics”: pick which one of the big shots you’ll back.

The Call’s New Invention

Having thus dismissed the real issue – industrial unionism – the Call goes on to find “socialist”’ reasons for supporting Hillman. “The contention of Hillman’s enemies is that he is a war monger and is interested in ‘national defense’ to the exclusion of labor’s interests.” Aha, says the Call, Lewis and the Stalinists are no better. Does the Call, therefore, propose to support neither Lewis nor Hillman, which would be the logic of that argument? No. Instead the Call proceeds to tip the scales in Hillman’s favor, with the aid of a delicate recording instrument invented by the Call editors. Lenin once said, making fun of people who talked about whether or not an opponent was “sincere,” that nobody had ever invented a sincereometer. But the Call editors have done just that, it appears:

“The outstanding weakness of the convention and of the CIO generally has been the lack of an effective policy on honest belief. Both in the Hillman camp and in the Lewis camp, there is much hypocrisy. Hillman’s forces are more honest ... Lewis and his boys are so marked with Communist alliances, Willkie deals, burocratic trade union practices and unprincipled vindictiveness that they constitute an even more repulsive force to increasing sections of the CIO.” (My italics).

And with this type of argument these “socialists” justify supporting the opponents of industrial unionism against Lewis and his allies who, whatever else they are, are on the progressive side in the key issue which at the present time forms the dividing line throughout the entire trade union movement.

The voice of the Call doesn’t travel far. But its “socialist” case for Hillman and the AFL may be picked up by the pro-Hillman cliques in the newer industrial unions. In the United Auto Workers, for example, where the militant membership wouldn’t listen for a moment to Hillman’s own line, but might be confused by a “socialist” stooge for Hillman. Such “radical” arguments for Hillman’s policy must be exposed for what they are: a “left” window-dressing for the most reactionary tendency in the labor movement today.

Last updated on 14 November 2020