Max Shachtman

The Anonymous Factional
Struggle in the Party

(September 1931)

From The Militant, Vol. IV No. 22 (Whole No. 81), 5 September 1931, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

A new factional struggle, a new type of factional struggle, is brewing in the party. It is a new type because it corresponds so perfectly with the bureaucratic, artificial “monolithism” of the “third period” in the Comintern.

In the early years of the Comintern, groups and factions took shape on the basis of clearly defined standpoints in principle, and the discussion between contending groups took place openly on questions of principle. That is how the doctrine of Marx and Lenin was clarified and strengthened in the Communist International. After Lenin’s death factional struggles began to degenerate into unprincipled combinations, mechanically concocted to serve the momentary interests of similar combinations in the Political Bureau of the Russian party – Zlnoviev’s, Bucharin’s or Stalin’s. With the final triumph of the Stalin faction, With the organizational crushing of all opposition in the parties, “factionalism was eliminated”. The destruction of a virile internal ideological life in the parties – falsely labeled “monolithism” or “anti-factionalism” – was made possible by the canonization of the system under which leaders exist only thanks to an unquestioning obedience to the infallible Stalin faction. Nobody in the leadership of any Comintern section dares to develop a “different” point of view without knowing what Stalin (or Kuusinen, or Manuilsky) has to say about the issue. And once either of the latter has spoken, then there is surely nobody in the national leaderships who dares to develop this “different” viewpoint. This is the way factional struggles are “eliminated” in the “third period” of the Comintern.

Unfortunately for this consummately bureaucratic “solution”, political struggle has a logic wihich is more powerful. The effects of it are being partly disclosed in the present struggle of the cliques in the American party.

An Anonymous Struggle

For the reasons already mentioned, the struggle has two additional characteristics to justify its designation as a “new type”. First it is carried on anonymously. Policies are mentioned, viewpoints are referred to, but the outer world is not informed as to who represents them. Second, the ranks of the party are kept in abysmal ignorance of what is going on or what is involved. For to submit the dispute to the membership of the party is to submit the bureaucracy as a whole to the decision of the ranks – which would be the beginning of the end for the Browders of all stripes. But in spite of all the disguises and camouflage and anonymity, the principal actors in the tragic-comedy can already be discerned. The first hint as to who is who and what is what was given to us by the present leader of the party, Earl Browder, in his speech to the sixth convention of the Y.C.L.:

“It is necessary that our comrades, especially the youth should have more definite understanding of the terms ‘defensive’, ‘offensive’ and ‘counter-offensive’.” (Daily Worker, July 14, 1931)

A commendable idea. How does Browder illuminate the problem?

“The capitalist class is conducting a vicious economic and political offensive against the working class. Within the working class there is widespread radicalization and upsurge of activity and beginning of struggle. The main body of the working class is, however, as yet only beginning to overcome the hindrances and to resist wage cuts, speed-up, the starvation of unemployment. The beginning of the mass actions has primarily a defensive character. Wherever this defensive movement begins to involve broad masses and sharpen the struggle, it simultaneously begins to develop the elements of a counter-offensive against the offensive of the capitalists. The general character of the small strikes that sprang up during the past period all over the country is, in the main, that of the defensive. In the miners’ strike we already see this defensive in the process of passing over into a counter-offensive.” (Ibid.)

A truckload of mud could scarcely be clearer. But what – that is who – is Browder really aiming at? Let us read further:

“It is therefore clear that it is absolutely wrong to speak of the ‘offensive of the working class and the counter-offensive of the capitalists’. An example of this wrong use of these terms, which can create an entirely erroneous political atmosphere around our struggles, may be found in a recent issue of the Daily Worker, which says: ‘increased mass picketing at Piney Fork and other mines Saturday morning checked the counter-offensive of the coal operators’.” (Ibid.)

Browder vs. Dunne and Foster

As we see, the comrade who “is absolutely wrong” remains anonymous. But he has a name which is far from unknown. We look through our files of the Daily Worker, and find that the quotation made by Browder refers to a dispatch to the Worker from Bridgeport, Ohio, signed by William F. Dunne, a colleague of Browder’s on the omnipotent Political Bureau. Having revealed the man who has created “an entirely erroneous political atmosphere around our struggles” we find that the unrelenting Browder resumes the thread of his struggle a month later, more sharply and more anonymously. In the August issue of the Communist, Browder writes:

“At the miners’ convention, there occurred unprecedentedly bureaucratic distortions of the correct revolutionary line. This was typified by the method used in making a change in the name of the Union. The miners were all for the old name, National Miners Union; the Party had never made any decisions instructing its members to try to change the name. And yet, one comrade holding a strategic position proceeded upon his personal whim and by use of personal prestige to propose and to have adopted without discussion the change of name to Mine, Oil and Smelter Workers Union (without even a discussion with the Communist fraction!) ... It was an extreme example of bureaucratism [hear! hear! This from Browder], of going over the heads of the workers – and even of the party. Further demoralization was thrown into the work of the Union at this convention by another irresponsible action, the postponement of the election of the official leadership and the installing of a ‘provisional’ committee instead. This again was an individual action …”

Once more, our anonymous, high-handed, bureaucratic, irresponsible, etc., etc. criminal proves to be Dunne, who represented the T.U.U.L. at the N.M.U. convention, making the main report and – as Browder so delicately informs us – running affairs in general. But Dunne appears to be not the only one for whose throat the rapacious Browder is itching. In the same article, we read a condemnation of

“... the idea that, because we have a splendid fighting spirit among the masses therefore we are already developing an offensive of the working class. Sometimes this is theorized ... In its least harmful form, this is no better than phrase-mongering. It is a substitution of the wish for the deed.”

Again, who is the phrase-monger in question? He appears to be no less a one than Foster himself! In the very same issue of the Communist, he writes, using the same “anonymous language” as Browder, about the mine strike:

“It would be to completely misunderstand this strike to consider it merely a defensive struggle ... While this began as a defensive fight against a local wage cut at the Avella mines, the strike is taking on a counter-offensive character,” etc., etc.

Thus, according to Browder: Dunne is absolutely wrong and, what is more, is irresponsible and bureaucratic.

According to Foster: Browder completely misunderstands the mine strike.

According to Browder again: Foster, in his least harmful form, is a phrasemonger.

To those who know the three men involved, as well as the Bittelmans, Weinstones, Johnstones, Stachels and other shadows who lurk even more dimly in the vicinity of the factional stage, what has been quoted above is enough to indicate the “line-up”. For that matter, to have imagined that Foster or the others, who have about as much respect for Browder as he has for them, would stand by silently under Browder’s managership would mean to display a callow ignorance of the party situation. If there are no issues, they will be found. Right now, they all juggle with “defensive” and “offensive” and “counter-offensive” as if the terms were so many colored balls without meaning or importance. But underneath all this word-play the cliques are busy undermining each other – anonymously, for the rank and file must not find out about it “prematurely” and the fighters must take no chances in burning their fingers in open combat. Thus it is that they serve themselves well who serve Stalin best!

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