William F. Warde

Clement Opposition in S.P.
Is Typical Centrist Group

(21 February 1942)

Source: The Militant, Vol. VI No. 8, 21 February 1942, p. 3.
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2021 by Einde O’Callaghan.
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The division within the Socialist Party on its attitude toward the war has been expressed in two statements, in the January 17 Call, one by Norman Thomas and the other by Travers Clement. Thomas, speaking for the majority of the National Executive Committee, favors “critical” support to the war. Clement, the minority spokesman, takes a somewhat different and apparently more radical position on this all-important question.

Clement first complains of the “ambiguity” and “evasiveness” of the official NEC statement which “may be interpreted in any way one sees fit.” This ambiguity is not accidental; it is deliberately designed to hold together the divergent tendencies within the Socialist Party under cover of a fictitious agreement, to maintain unity between supporters and opponents of the war. Thus Thomas insists upon “the general agreement of the NEC ... with regard to the war.” The dissenting Clement, however, exposes this calculated deceit by pointing out that: “I might interpret the present statement in line with my own convictions – were I not aware of the position of the NEC majority on this subject, as expressed verbally, at the NEC meeting.”

The Thomas majority voted down the minority amendment calling for a clear-cut declaration that “we ... cannot give our political support to any war conducted for imperialist aims.” What has happened within the Socialist Party? The minority wishes to continue the peacetime policy of opposition to the war while the majority has determined to discard it, accepting the Anglo-American war as a lesser evil.

Nature of the Clement Opposition

The majority openly supports the war; the unregenerate minority seems to oppose it. But what is the nature of their opposition? It consists of the same petty-bourgeois pacifism that animated the entire Socialist Party leadership up to December 8. The Socialist-sponsored Keep America Out of War Committee was the chief agency for the execution of their pacifist policies. This motley outfit grouped together all kinds of pacifist, isolationist, Socialist, and religious elements from retired generals to tired radicals on the assumption that their combined weight – inconsiderable – at best could tip the national scales against intervention in the war.

The activities and agitation of the Keep America Out of War Committee had no more in common with a genuine working-class struggle against war than the Stalinist American Peace Mobilization which was cut from the same cloth. Both separated the fight against imperialist war from the international revolutionary working-class struggle against capitalism. Both spread the poisonous illusion that a capitalist United States could be kept from entering the war.

By substituting platonic pacifist bleatings for the persistent prosecution of the class struggle, the Socialist pacifists duped their followers and left them utterly disoriented and demoralized when the war they were proposing to prevent broke out. Then? The Keep America Out of War Committee gave up the ghost, just as its Stalinist competitor passed away in June when Hitler attacked the Soviet Union. Today most of the KAOWC, like Thomas, bows down before the Washington warlords; a minority, like Clement, maintains a pacifist opposition to the war.

It is far from enough to characterize the war as imperialist, as Clement does, to lead a real struggle against it. All sorts of people call this an imperialist war Thomas himself does so – yet considers the Anglo-American purgatory preferable to the Axis inferno.

Moreover, not all the participants in this war are imperialist. The Soviet Union is waging a progressive war against Germany. But Clement places the Soviet Union in the same category with Germany and England as an imperialist power and does not urge the workers to defend it. China is conducting a just war against Japanese imperialism, just as India would be conducting a progressive war tomorrow if its people fought for independence against England.

“To Say One Thing – and Do the Opposite”

The real character of a party’s or a person’s opposition to imperialist war is determined, not by their words alone, but by the kind of political conclusions they draw from their opposition and the practical program of struggle they offer to the working masses. The least Clement is obliged to do to prove the worth of his anti-war position is to break his organizational ties with the supporters of the war in the Socialist Party. But how does he act in what he designates “a great historical crisis”? He gives up his editorship of The Call but continues as National Secretary of the Socialist Party. Are we then to assume that it is wrong to write editorials for the war but an excellent thing to organize branches on behalf of that policy?

Clement heads a group of centrists who vow that they will give no political support to this reactionary war and have rallied around “a Third Front”. (Read Lillian Symes’ masked polemic against Thomas in the Feb. 14 Call.) But these partisans of the “Third Front” support the supporters of the war, working in the same party together with them.

To say one thing and do the opposite – that is the essence of centrist politics. Who can take Clement’s declaration seriously while he himself refuses to act in accordance with it?

Clement and his co-thinker, Symes, have written reams of copy on the “unprincipled politics” and “Bolshevik amorality” of the Trotskyists. Clement himself piously talks of the “crying necessity” to tell “the simple, unadulterated truth” to the people.

“The simple, unadulterated truth” about these professional preachers of Socialist morality in politics is that they have neither the courage of their convictions about the war – nor the opposition they profess to have. They will not surrender directly arid openly, as Thomas has done. That, they say, is betraying Socialist principles. But they will, in practice subordinate the struggle for these principles to preserve their cozy relations with the patriotic majority of the Socialist Party. Pacifist Socialists who cannot conduct a struggle to the end for their ideas in their own petty party can scarcely be relied upon to lead the anti-war struggle against far more formidable forces.


Last updated on: 21 August 2021