Co-operatives Confer at Superior

(May 1930)

From The Militant, Vol. III No. 20, 17 May 1930, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The annual board meeting in Superior, Wisconsin, of the Cooperative Central Exchange has just registered a severe defeat for the official Communist Party and at the same time put squarely the problems of the immediate future of the Finnish revolutionary movement in the United States.

We have previously described the features of the crisis in the Northwest cooperatives, which are in many respects a pivot of the Finnish labor movement in the country. For virtually ten years, this powerful movement has been dominated by the Communists. For at least half that time conflicts of greater or lesser severity have gone on constantly between the leaders of the Finnish Communist (and cooperative) movement and the Communist Party to some extent because of the important role played by the Finnish Party members in the various Party factional fights, but essentially because of the increasing weight of conservatism, sluggishness and opportunism developing in the Finnish movement and restraining its revolutionary progress. Nevertheless, the Party managed to retain its influence and hold on to the movement for quite a time.

Conflict Comes to a Head

The conflict came to a sharp point only in recent times. The victory of the Lovestone faction in the Party resulted in the violent imposition upon the large Finnish movement of discredited and incompetent hacks (Puro, Heikkinen, Suvanto and Co.). Then the impure chemical concoction recently foisted upon the Party as its Stalinist leadership (Browder, Bedacht, Foster, Minor, Amtier, etc.) together with their irresponsible ultra-Leftist course, brought the mess to the boiling point. In a sudden, Leftist outburst, disfigured by adventurism and criminal unconcern about results, the Stalinist crew created such a state of affairs in the Finnish movement that they not only alienated the great bulk of the Finnish workers in the Northwest but enabled a group of opportunists (and Halonen in particular) to win these workers to their side against the Party. What is worse ,the Stalinist freebooters succeeded in lining up on Halonen’s side some of the best elements in the Finnish revolutionary movement – a fact of considerable significance for the future.

The struggle centered around the annual meeting of the Cooperative Exchange Board, with both sides mobilizing all forces. When the delegates assembled, the Party at best had 20% of the delegates, with the opposing forces holding the rest. The majority was not even swayed (such is the loss of C.I. prestige!) by the cable from the Cooperative Section of the Comintern, whose, slogan was: “Wrest the leadership of your Central Exchange from the hands of Halonen and place, it in the hands of a reliable fighter for a proletarian class policy.” “Reliable fighter” is apparently the pseudonym of Matti Tenhunen, leader of the Party forces at the meeting, and as unreliable an opportunist as ever led the Finnish movement.

The “Reliable Fighters”

It is characteristic of the “reliable fighters” who were entrusted with fighting for the Bolshevik line that they were quite careful to do no such thing. Corgan spoke on policies only once, and that in connection with a motion to remove him. Tenhunen fought with the greatest violence on technical questions but he assiduously avoided the “Left wing program” as though it were poison ivy. Vainionpaa took tie floor only once to make a defense not of the Party line, but ... his ability as a functionary who has been trustworthy and efficient. Corgan, Tenhunen and Vainionpaa are waiting – waiting to see how the line-up will look when things settle a bit.

For all of that, the Halonen forces were a thousand times wrong, and set an even worse precedent, by removing the three named above from the Board, although it was found possible to elect one I.W.W. and one socialist to it. That is the method used by the Stalinists, in reverse English, and indicates a profound weakness and fear in the Halonen group. The meeting of the Board, with more than 250 representative delegates attending, was unmistakably a bitter defeat for the Party which a competent leadership and correct policy might have avoided. The manner in which the Party conducted its side of the fight was literally blockheaded. The Finnish Party press was simply filled with outrageous lies, misrepresentations, personal slander, scandals and the like, probably under the impression that this was the way to win workers from the other side. It accomplished just the opposite – as was easily predictable – particularly since the Party had only a weak leg to stand on to begin with and had compromised itself in the eyes of the workers by absolutely indefensible gangster methods against Halonen’s group. It succeeded in pushing genuinely revolutionary elements over to Halonen; it is “making up” for this blunder by calling them all “a pack of social-fascists”. All the worse for Stalinist confusionism.

What Next?

But the fact that these fine workers are temporarily with Halonen and the group of officials around him – people primarily interested is substantial labor cooperatives, not in the revolutionary class struggle and its basic principle – is of the highest importance. Some of these officials had a very platonic and fleeting interest at one moment for the Left Opposition, as a sort of cover for their essentially Right wing fight. That’s gone, of course. And just as water finds its level in the end, so a section of these functionaries is already leaning towards Lovestone, who conducts a very democratic group, open to all stages and varieties of opportunism.

It is the younger elements, however and the workers, who have a decisive word to say. Many of them have waited before speaking on the fundamental principle questions, on the basic disputes in the revolutionary movement (of which the cooperative situation is only a reflection) until “the crisis is over”. The organizational victory over the Stalinists confronts them more than ever with the necessity of defining their perspective in clear words and firm deeds. Not even the cooperative movement, not even Halonen, can remain “neutral”. The differentiation that must take place in the ranks of the confused, and so to speak, “all-embracing” Halonen group is of greatest consequence A position must now be taken on the political questions of the hour. Right wingers will inevitably go with the organized Right wing. What is urgently needed is an organized, outspoken group of revolutionists, a Marxist core in the Northwest movement that knows how to fight and what to fight for. That is the guarantee for the movement’s future.

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