The Conflict in the Muste Group

(October 1929)

From The Militant, Vol. II No. No. 16, 15 October 1929, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Young as it is, the Conference for Progressive Labor Action, or the Muste Group as it is commonly referred to, is already experiencing storms. Since this movement is a reflection of a significant trend in the American labor movement today, it is important to consider what is transpiring within it, so that the Left wing and the Communists may have all possible material before them in outlining their own course of action. The prevailing official Party method of analyzing everything in a “simple” (in reality, a simple-minded) way, by “simply” dumping all who disagree with its momentary line into one huge pot – fascism, social-democracy, Hoover, Woll, Green, Hillman, Muste, Lovestone, Trotsky and whatever and whoever else happens to be handy – obviously leads only to confusion and sectarianism. Now, as to the C.P.L.A.

Muste’s initial attempt to organize such diversified elements as the Right wing needle trades bureaucrats (Hillman, Schlesinger, Dubinsky, etc.,), Norman Thomas, Justus Ebert, Ludwig Lore, Muste, Oneal, Tom Tippett and others, and pass off this multi-colored conglomeration as a progressive faction in the A.F. of L. has already hit the reefs of struggle and cracked. The Socialist Party bureaucrats saw in the movement growing up around Muste and his colleagues a chance to infiltrate and annex a socialist trade union wing in the official labor movement. So long as it was quiet little sect, which vented only the meekest criticism of the dominant A.F. of L. bureaucracy, it was, not difficult for the S.P. priests to flirt with it and even become a little enthusiastic over it. The result was the foundation conference of the C.P.L.A. a number of weeks ago.

The Sentiment in the Ranks

While the conference was a victory essentially for the more reactionary elements of the S.P., particularly in the condemnation of the Communists and Communist methods, the problem was neither solved nor ended. The C.P.L.A., unfortunately for many of its administrators, is an expression of the growing hostility in the ranks of the A.F. of L. to the class collaboration methods of Green, Woll and Co., and a simultaneous demand for more militant policies and action. This pressure from the ranks exists for Schlesinger and his type, for instance, only as something that must be suppressed or guided into harmless channels. Such people can – and will – no more carry on a struggle against Woll and Green than Hoover will against Morgan.

Muste and Tippett, who appear to give a clearer reflection of the sentiment in trade union ranks, are failing entirely to do this. They cannot understand that such hopelessly discredited elements as Schlesinger and the whole Jewish Daily Forward gang are completely incompatible with even the mildest of progressive movements. It was the Right wing needle trades leaders who allied themselves with Woll and Green to crush the Left wing movement. It was these same leaders who came down to the New Leader and raised the Old Nick over the mild criticisms of Woll it had been printing serially, with the result that the New Leader very courageously toned down its criticism until it was almost invisible to the naked eye. Muste’s pitiful pleading with these fakers to give him support, his apologies to the cynical officials of the United Hebrew Trades, will never gain the movement an ounce of genuine militant adherence, or arouse confidence in him. Nor, for that matter, will his tenderness move the stone hearts of the Right wing gang. Vladeck has already quit the C.P.L.A. and Thomas’ support to it becomes perceptibly leaner every day. And more of the same can be expected in the future as the movement takes on flesh and the genuine sentiments of the workers break through the timidity and vacillation of the leaders.

Muste and Tippett can no more organize a militant movement against Woll and Green that will not “antagonize” the latter than they can eat their cake and have it. The C.P.L.A. supporter, Alfred Hoffmann, may have walked out in disgust from the conference between the bosses and the union officials which arranged the shameful sell-out of the Elizabethton strikers, but he never dared call upon the workers to repudiate it or to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the U.T.W. and A.F. of L. traitors. Because, you see, Messrs. Woll, Green and Co. must not be offended too much, else they will denounce the progressives! The same holds for the messianic hopes that many of the leaders place in John Fitzpatrick to “come out into the open” to lead the progressive movement. Fitzpatrick, however, already gave us his measure as a “progressive” back in 1924, when he crawled cravenly before Gompers.

The Fear of Green

This nightmare of fear for the thunderbolts of the Executive Council of Mr. Green possesses the trembling progressive leaders to the point of paralysis. A progressive movement that does not meet with the condemnation of such as Woll; that is, on the contrary, tolerated by the bureaucracy; that does not throw overboard the Hillmans and Schlesingers and proceed to clean their houses of reaction – is not a progressive movement at all. A progressive movement that does not include in its ranks the Communist workers who know how and why to fight for the class struggle in the trade unions; that has, on the contrary, an officially antagonistic standpoint towards them – is not a progressive movement at all. A progressive movement that plays fondly with the idea that some “respectable” and authoritative” leader, some Fitzpatrick, will be able to lead it to victory over Wollism, instead of relying basically upon the fighting spirit of the workers in the ranks, instead of mobilizing them for direct struggle against class collaboration and its spokesman – is not a progressive movement at all.

If the C.P.L.A. does not remain a little sect of leader[s], but grows as a representative of the stirrings of revolt in the ranks of the unions, it will undoubtedly develop only by ridding itself of leaders who cannot or will not lead and of apologetic and timid policies that only make the A.F. of L. officials laugh in derision. The present attitude of sterile, aristocratic aloofness from the progressive movement which is held by the Communist Party only retards this development, so essential before any real forward step can be made. A change of course by the Party, and entry into this movement regardless of who says No, will spell progress for Communism and the labor movement as a whole in the United States.

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Last updated on 15.8.2012