William F. Warde

The Right Of Revolution

(August 1941)

Source: Fourth International, Vol. 2 No. 7, August 1941, pp. 209–212.
(William F. Warde was a pseudonym of George Novack.)
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2006 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: George Novack Internet Archive 2006. This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

The defendants in the Minnesota case have been indicted on the ground that the Socialist Workers Party seeks to persuade workers and farmers “that the Government of the United States is imperialistic, capitalistic and organized and constituted for the purpose of subjecting workers and laborers to various and sundry deprivations and for the purpose of denying to them an alleged right to own, control and manage all property and industry in the United States,” and that it is desirable and necessary that the workers and farmers bring about a revolutionary change in this system.

This is one point in the indictment that the Socialist Workers Party acknowledges as true. We are the Party of the Socialist Revolution in the United States. We maintain that the present capitalist government does not represent the interests of the American masses but acts on behalf of the few rich families who monopolize economic and political power. We propose that the organized workers and farmers of the United States replace this utterly reactionary regime with their own administrative power, which shall govern on behalf of the laboring majority instead of the exploiting minority of the plutocrats.

We further insist that the working people of this country have every right to take this revolutionary step and that our party has every legal and democratic right to advocate it. We advocate this openly in our publications and public meetings and not, as the FBI-Gestapo falsely alleges, by secret and conspiratorial methods. We have no reason to conceal our aims or camouflage our revolutionary position. We have nothing to hide from the American people, for our party has no interests separate and apart from their interests. Our program can be realized only through the action of the popular masses. They must first be convinced of its correctness and educated in its spirit. This requires that our program persistently and publicly confront the programs of all other parties and display its superiority over its competitors in the political arena.

There are conspirators at work today against the welfare of the American people. But they are not the Trotskyists. They are the Roosevelts, the Stimsons, the Knoxes – leaders of the imperialist plunderbund, who lie to the conscripts, who conclude secret diplomatic and military agreements, and are ready to drag the US into war against the will of 80 per cent of the people. Behind these stooges stand the Mellons, Rockefellers and Morgans, who dictate their actions and impose their private profiteering policies upon the nation. These are the real conspirators against the people!

The indictment charges us with being followers of Lenin and Trotsky and of holding up as an example to the American workers the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. We proudly plead guilty to this charge. The Socialist Workers Party consciously carries on the great traditions of revolutionary Marxism, exemplified in the teachings and actions of the Bolshevik movement led by Lenin and Trotsky. But we are not only international revolutionists; we are also American revolutionists – and we are equally proud of carrying on the traditions of revolutionary struggle that created the United States and made it in many respects paramount among the nations of the earth.

The American Revolutionary Tradition

It is no exaggeration to say that no other section of humanity has had a more revolutionary career than we Americans. No other people has displayed more revolutionary energy.

We Americans won our independence through a revolutionary uprising. We gained and preserved our democratic rights by militant measures. We eliminated chattel slavery from this continent by civil war. If ever any people had reason to trust in the effectiveness of revolutionary methods to attain their ends, it is the American people.

The history of the American people is a history of uninterrupted revolution. The original settlements on this continent were offshoots of that great social revolutionary movement of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries which transformed Europe and was eventually to change the world. This was the struggle of the rising capitalist system against the dying feudal order. The breakup of the old Europe under the impact of the new capitalist forces gave the impetus to the discovery, exploration and exploitation of the New World and supplied the elements for building up its colonies. Early American history derives its world-historical significance from the part it played in this process of continuous world revolution that accompanied the expansion of capitalism.

That bourgeois-democratic revolution, which started out from western Europe in the 15th century, marched forward from city to city, from country to country, from continent to continent, until by the end of the 19th century it had conquered and joined together the whole globe from its most civilized centers to its most remote and barbarous regions. This social revolutionary movement was fundamentally responsible for the existence of American civilization as we know it today. Without that international revolution, the Indians might still be enjoying peaceful possession of North America, the Roosevelt family might never have left Holland nor Tobin’s forebears Ireland.

In the further course of their historical development, the American people passed through two tremendous national revolutions: one at the end of the 18th and the other in the middle of the 19th century. These revolutions marked great steps forward in the lives of the American people.

The First American Revolution won independence for the oppressed colonists, eliminated many vestiges of feudalism, united thirteen colonies into one nation, and set up a democratic republic. It gave the United States of America the most advanced form of government, which became a model and inspiration for progressive forces throughout the world in the following century.

But that did not end the need for revolutionary action. In order to maintain the social gains and extend the political conquests acquired through the First Revolution, it became necessary to initiate another in 1861. This Second American Revolution preserved the unity of the United States against the attempts of the secessionist slaveholders to split it in two. It defended the plea of equality at the base of American democracy against the degenerate counter-revolutionary clique which made slavery the cornerstone of the Confederacy. It emancipated the slaves and destroyed the economic and political power of the slaveholders who had misruled the country for 60 years. The victory of the North helped safeguard not only this country’s independence but the independence of the rest of the American peoples from the vultures of European imperialism.

The victorious revolution of the Union over the Confederacy paved the way for the prodigious achievements of that Golden Age of national progress and world prosperity which followed the Civil War. It encouraged the virile young European labor movement and the democratic forces in Latin America.

Such have been the accomplishments of the American people in their revolutionary vigor!

Whatever else they may be taken to signify, these mighty events testify that revolution is no less native to our soil than to Europe. They confirm the fact which lies at the basis of Marxist theory, that fundamental social problems involving antagonistic class interests cannot be settled fully and finally by mutual accommodation but must find their solution in life and death battles between opposing social forces.

The Written Heritage of American Revolution

In line with their bold and heroic struggles, the most cherished traditions of the American people are permeated with the spirit of revolutionary democracy. Take the text of that extremely subversive document, The Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson, to whom Roosevelt’s so-called “Democratic” Party pays homage yearly. In its second paragraph there is this categorical justification for the right to revolution:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Further, “It is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government and to provide new Guards for their future security.” To our militant forefathers, revolution was not simply a right but, under certain circumstances; even a duty!

The history of the Republican Party is likewise tainted with revolutionary doctrine. In a speech before the first Republican state convention in Illinois in 1856, Abraham Lincoln, the idol of the Republican Party, declared:

“The government, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it.”

We Trotskyists take our stand beside Jefferson and Lincoln in defense of the right of revolution. This is the most precious and inalienable of democratic rights, the foundation and safeguard of all others. If the patriot leaders of 1776 had not acted upon this right against the cries of the conservatives and the Crown, the American people might today still belong to the British empire. If the Radical Republicans had relinquished their revolutionary rights during the Civil War, the slave-holders might not have been crushed.

In prosecuting us as revolutionists, Roosevelt ranges himself alongside of King George, the slaveholders and all the other tyrants in American history. The Smith Act which Congress passed in 1940 under White House pressure and under which the Socialist Workers Party members have been indicted, makes it a state crime to republish these words from the Declaration of Independence or these speeches of Lincoln. Will Roosevelt’s Department of “Justice” arraign Jefferson and Lincoln together with us for asserting the right to revolution?

Ruling Class Always Acts This Way

Throughout history, the ruling class has sought to set limits upon the action of the masses in defense of their legitimate rights and well-being. Thus today workers are told: “You can beg the bosses for higher wages but you cannot strike to get them.” Or – “You can strike in peace-time but not during war.” Or – “You can strike against a private employer but not against the Federal Government.” Or – “You can strike in non-essential plants but not in war industries.” The one purpose of all these admonitions is to restrain workers from exerting their full strength to improve their status.

Reactionaries have always been even more concerned with setting limits upon the political activities of the working class. “We will permit you to vote for one of two capitalist parties, but you cannot have your own class Labor Party. You can ask us for reforms but you cannot remove us from power. We demand the privilege of dictating governmental policy, and if you attempt to take this supreme power away from us, we shall not abide by your majority decision.” Such are the haughty ultimatums ruling-class politicians always have issued to the people.

Fortunately, the progressive sections of the American people have never been intimidated by such dictatorial threats, nor have they heeded the prohibitions of would-be master classes for long. Whenever the entrenched powers of reaction

have placed signs across the road to revolution, marked: “No Thoroughfare,” the masses have knocked aside both the obstructions and the obstructors and they have not done so in a polite and peaceful manner.

This is the main lesson to be drawn from American history – and it is one that the present capitalist rulers of the country wish above all to keep the people from learning. Just a few months before Roosevelt tried to remove the proletarian revolutionists of the Socialist Workers Party from the ranks of labor by means of trumped-up accusations, he endeavored to efface these revolutionary lessons from the course of American history. In a speech on January 6th of this year, Roosevelt set forth this falsified version of the permanent revolution in American history.

“Since the beginning of our American history, we have been engaged in change – in a peaceful perpetual revolution – a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly, adjusting itself to changing conditions...”

This official picture of American history, purged of all its mighty struggles and class conflicts, of all its progressive revolutionary content, no more resembles reality than does a Hollywood scenario. The American people have not moved forward in “peaceful, perpetual revolution,” as Roosevelt would have us believe, surmounting obstacles in their path as effortlessly as a millionaire’s Cadillac climbs hills. Nor have they, “steadily, quietly adjusted themselves to changing conditions.”

The Real Course of American History

On the contrary, at every stage of their progress, the American people have experienced other than peaceful struggles. The armed forces of half a dozen European powers fought against each other and against the aborigines throughout the Colonial period. The English colonists waged war against the Indians, the French, the Spanish, and finally against the mother country itself. As an independent nation, the United States warred against France, the Barbary Coast pirates, Canada, England, Mexico, Spain, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, China, the Soviet Union – and, as Roosevelt himself can best testify, its military adventures have only begun.

Side by side and interwoven with these external conflicts, there have unfolded profound and prolonged struggles between antagonistic sections of American society. Landless colonists against landed proprietors, indentured servants and slaves against their masters, small farmers against wealthy planters and capitalists, Patriots against Loyalists, plebeian revolutionists against reactionary patricians. In the first part of the 19th century American history revolved around the contest between the pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces, which culminated in civil war. Between the Civil and First World Wars, the exploited petty-bourgeois masses of city and country contended against the trusts and monopolies. In our own day, the strike struggles of organized labor against Big Business have involved greater numbers than the soldiers engaged in the Civil War. And, as the Memorial Day massacre at Chicago so recently reminded us, these battles exact many victims.

Those who condemn all use of force and violence thereby condemn the whole course of American history. For that history is the greatest of all advocates of force and violence. The present capitalist masters of the United States did not acquire state power by legal or peaceful means; they conquered and defended it arms in hand during the Second American Revolution. To establish their supremacy within the nation, they had to suppress the slave-holders on their right and the workers on their left. They have maintained power since against

foreign rivals and against the working masses at home through force and violence. Only force and violence keep the Cubans, Filipinos and Porto-Ricans under American domination.

What We Teach the American Workers

The Federal indictment accuses the Socialist Workers Party of advocating the overthrow of the government by force and violence. This is a lie. We work to win the majority of the American people to our ideas by education and propaganda and we would prefer to have socialism established by peaceful means. This would undoubtedly be the most economical and desirable method of effecting the social changes which are needed to assure peace and security.

At the same time, we point out to the American people the lessons of their own history. The British Crown would not permit the Colonists to obtain their just rights and national independence without the most violent struggle. When the Republican Party was first elected to national power, the slaveholders would not abide by this democratic decision but sought, like Franco’s regime, to find salvation in counterrevolution. In both these national crises, the progressive majority was obliged to resort to measures of revolutionary self-defense in order to repel and crush the counter-revolutionary minority.

Therefore, we say to the American people: Do not yield up your elementary right of self-defense. Strikers have the right to protect themselves against the attacks of employers’ thugs and strike-breakers. Unions, like Local 544-CIO, have the right to defend themselves by union defense guards against fascist bands. The American workers and farmers have the right to safeguard themselves both from foreign and from domestic fascists.

Indeed, Roosevelt and the warmakers invoke this very principle of national self-defense in justifying their impending participation in the imperialist conflict. Violence is permissible in their code when it serves plutocratic interests but it is forbidden in defense of the rights of the people.

Where are the real practitioners of violence to be found? Not amongst the Trotskyists but amongst their prosecutors. The Department of Justice uses the force of the FBI and the courts to persecute revolutionists for their opinions and to deprive them of their constitutional right of free speech. Daniel Tobin hurls 300 strong-arm men against the Minneapolis motor transport workers. Franklin Doublecross Roosevelt sends 3,000 troops against the North American strikers. And then they accuse the Socialist Workers Party of advocating force and violence!

The capitalist statesmen are extremely inconsistent in their attitude towards the right of revolution. Roosevelt himself approved Churchill’s call to the German people to revolt against Hitler. His administration gives shelter and recognition to governments-in-exile, plotting revolutions in Poland, Czecho-Slovakia, Belgium and half a dozen other conquered countries. Recently Roosevelt appealed to the French people over the heads of their present rulers, asking them to repudiate Vichy’s policies.

To the upholders of the present capitalist regime in the United States, therefore, revolution is not always and everywhere so reprehensible an affair. Some highly useful technical processes are excluded from this country because they endanger the vested interests of great corporations. They are, however, permitted to be used in other countries. So it is with revolution, as far as Roosevelt is concerned. A revolution would be bad for home consumption; it is good only as an article for export!

Revolution Is Still the Motor of History

At this point some citizens may object: Revolutions were permissible and profitable here in the 18th and 19th centuries, but we Americans have no further need for a revolution. This aversion to revolution is scarcely original. The defenders of the status-quo have never at any time admitted the need for revolutionary change desired by the masses. The Loyalists of 1776 condemned resistance against King George’s men; the patriots answered these defenders of British oppression by reciting the ideas and recalling the deeds of the 17th century English revolutionists from Locke and Milton to Oliver Cromwell. The conservatives of John Brown’s day were willing to have the American people remain slaves of the slave-holding oligarchy. But that did not prevent the revolutionists from fighting for their liberty and saving it for the nation.

Whatever repressive governments and short-sighted individuals may say or do, the revolutionary annals of the American people did not end with the 19th century. On the contrary, all signs point to the approach of another and greater revolutionary crisis here in the not too distant future. To those who have eyes to see and minds to think, the Third American Revolution is now being born.

This 20th Century revolution can only be proletarian in its leadership and socialist in its aims. It will complete the tasks of social reconstruction left unfinished by the great bourgeois-democratic revolutions of the two previous centuries. The Socialist Workers Party aspires to guide the workers and farmers of the United States through this inevitable revolutionary struggle and to lead them forward to victory and to a better world.

“If this be treason, make the most of it!”


Last updated on: 24 March 2019