An Opportunist Campaign

The Communist Party
in the Elections

(September 1930)

From The Militant, Vol. III No. 30, 15 September 1930. p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Two declarations of the Left Opposition, intimately related to each other, are being confirmed with greater rapidity than many expected. The first is that Centrism has no independent or consistent political line of its own. The second, that the stormy ultra-Left zigzag of Centrism is only a prelude to a new rampage in the direction of crass opportunism. The contentions are already being confirmed in all the important parties of the Comintern, including the Russian. In the United States, it is most crudely manifested in the present election campaign of the Party.

Conditions for Election Work

Why and under what conditions do Communists participate in parliamentary activities? Among the many conditions, these stand out: To utilize the interest aroused among the workers during election times for revolutionary agitation and organization of the workers. To point out that the Communists do not seek seats in order to use the bourgeois state apparatus as an instrument of the workers, but to use it as a forum where the decadent bourgeois parliamentarism is exposed and the illusions of the workers in it shattered. To utilize election periods in particular to mobilize the workers against the stifling farce of the polling booths and for transferring their demands and attention outside parliamentary boundaries and into the open field of struggles, (demonstrations, strikes, etc., etc.). To advocate such minimum (immediate) demands as do not reform capitalism (that is the job of the social democrats) but as entrain masses in struggle outside the ballot box deception, and incessantly to combine the minimum and maximum programs of the revolutionary proletariat, the immediate demands with, the final aim of the seizure of power. To point out to the workers that parliament and elections are a sham and a deception practised upon them by the bourgeoisie and their reformist lieutenants, that reforms cannot improve their wretched lot which is produced by the system as a whole.

In the United States, where so many millions of workers participate in elections, where parliamentary illusions are deep and strong, where reformist quackery has been so prevalent and nefarious, and socialist reformism has assumed (for decades) such a crude bourgeois character, the observance of the above-mentioned conditions are imperatively needed guarantees for a Communist movement against a degeneration into opportunism. In the present elections campaign, however, they have been honored more in the breach than in the observance and that with calamitous results.

Our Proposals

A few months ago, the Left Opposition, through the Militant, proposed a number of concrete issues as a program of action for the Communist movement. Leading them was the need of a campaign for social insurance that would set a broad class movement going and involve masses in struggle. At that time the proposal was not only strictly taboo in the columns of the official Party press and all Party documents, but it was looked at with a glaringly suspicious eye by the Stalinist mannikins as something akin to if not worse than “social fascism”.

We never conceived such a campaign in the sense of a vulgar parliamentary comedy – that goes without saying. We urged it upon the Party, which finally accepted it when word had come from Moscow that even in the “third period” such a proposal was not entirely a bad one. It was from then on that we were presented with an almost incredible performance which reaches new depths with the passage of every day. From yesterday’s hardly concealed contempt for “social fascist insurance”, the Party leaders swung around their customary 180 degrees, and turned the issue – which can have a serious significance only as a demand for which workers actually fight – into a cheap electoral game.

To begin with, a “social insurance bill” was formally drafted by the Party, in the best manner of skilled parliamentarians. We are even ready to acknowledge that the bill is perfectly legal and its language irreproachable. Too legal and irreproachable, in fact. It tells us that “a national public (!) emergency now exists in the United States of America”. A leaflet of the New York Party District informs us that the “Communists offer a remedy” (!); and the Daily Worker adds: “Society owes these categories of workers a living.” In fact, the only essential difference between the “Communist Bill” and the Socialist party’s panaceas is that the C.P. demands $25 a week per unemployed worker, to be paid by the government, while the S.P. does not demand so much. A very cheaply purchased “radicalism”, indeed!

How the Opportunists Write of Their Bill

This very parliamentary “bill” has become the very acme of the struggle for social insurance conducted by the Party, the “center of the election campaign” as the Daily Worker says. We refrain from quoting much from the Daily Worker, but a few sentences must be cited here. They are breath-taking.

“A vote for the candidate of the Communist Party is a vote for the enactment of the Unemployment Insurance Bill” (8-29-1930).

The Party called together a “mass unemployment united front” for the purpose of discussing ... “the enactment of the Workers’ Social Insurance Bill as proposed by the Communist Party” (9-10-1930).

“This bill must not only be brought to the workers in the shops, trade unions, for their endorsement, but the Party must also consider the utilization of the initiative and referendum laws as a means of struggle for this bill.” (8-2-1930).

In what way does this destroy the parliamentary illusions of the workers, or direct their attention and efforts to the extra-parliamentary field? The answer is: In no way! Instead of telling the workers bluntly and honestly that even their simplest and most elementary demands can be attained – not by “bills” and ballot boxes – but by genuine mass demonstrations and strikes (we do not mean the kind the Daily Worker organises at its headline desks), by arousing the mass organizations of the workers to fight for these demands, the Party glues the eyes of its followers to a ... bill. What has suddenly happened to the “third period”, to the “revolutionary upsurge”, to the “crisis worse than 1914”, to the “possession of the streets”? They have been dissolved into a legally perfect, irreproachably worded “bill” to be presented for “enactment” to Congress.

That is not all. Combined with this miserable campaign of opportunism, is similar reformist nonsense, subsidiary in form but no less harmful.

“The funds necessary for such insurance,” writes the Daily Worker, “can be provided by 1. Stopping armaments and other war preparations and assigning the funds hitherto spent for these purposes to a social insurance fund.” (8-29-1930). No “genuine” pacifist could fail to be delighted with such a proposal, which is also advanced in the form of a slogan: “Not a cent for war.”

Petty Bourgeois Pacifism

Not once but a hundred times did Lenin excoriate the petty bourgeois pacifists in the ranks of the socialist movement who advanced these and similar proposals and slogans. His strictures remain just as correct today, even when they must be directed against the chameleons of the “third period”. Not so very long ago, the whole Party was stirred up against Bittelman for his petty bourgeois slogan: “No more cruisers!” Does the new pacifist slogan of armaments and war differ in any essential from Bittelman’s? It does not. Like its predecessor, it has no place in a Communist movement.

It may be objected that these are “isolated quotations”. This objection is not valid. The quotations are only typical of what can be read every day in the Daily Worker and the rest of the Party press. The “bill” itself was drafted by the Party leadership – evidently with the practised aid of some of the present “leaders” who not so long ago studied how to be good parliamentarians under Victor Berger, Algernon Lee, Louis Waldman, Meyer London and Morris Hillquit. The editorials cited are written by no less a figure than C.A. Hathaway, graduate cum laude of the “Lenin” school, and now member of the almighty Party secretariat. The turn from ultra-Leftism is quite official.

* * *

This is not the first time this has happened. After the Fifth Congress of the Comintern, which followed the collapse of the Right wing leadership in Germany (1923) and Czecho-Slovakia, the International Centrist regime also embarked on a short-lived “Leftist” zig-zag. It was the period of Ruth Fischer and Treint leaderships and policies, of “playing at soldiers” as it was later termed. But this ultra-Leftist jag was only the prelude to the worst period of opportunism in Comintern history: the adventure with Chiang Kai-Shek, with LaFollette, with Raditch and other “peasant” leaders, with Messrs. Purcell and Co. The indications are that such a catastrophic swing is to be repeated now.

Centrism has no consistent policy of its own. It is a parasite which lives on the pieces it bites of from the Left and Right alternately, but it always ends by sinking a foot deeper into the swamp of opportunism. As in 1925-1927, it is carrying through a turn to the Right with an accompaniment of ultra-Left trumpets.

A turn from the prevailing ultra-Leftist course, embodied in the spurious philosophy of the “third period” is essential for the Party. But Centrism cannot execute such a turn without springing back to its old Right wing positions. The vigilance and comradely criticism of the Left Opposition must assist the Communist workers in the ranks of the Party to make the turn from the present line to the positions of Marxism.

(The next issue of the Militant will further discuss concrete election problems. – Ed.)

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