Max Shachtman

“New Group” for a “New Party”

The Gitlow Group and the Field Clique Form a “Principled Bloc”

(May 1934)

From The Militant, Vol. VII No. 21, 26 May 1934, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The crisis in the international labor movement has assumed such formidable proportions that no group or current, not even the smallest one, has been able to escape its effects. Some of them have been forced forward, as is the case with sections of the socialist movement. Others have recoiled to an even more reactionary position, as is the case with the bulk of the Stalinist movement. None has been able to stand completely still. Even what seem to be the most inert and obscure little groups have at least been compelled to rim around in circles in order to create the illusion of motion.

Essentially in the latter category is the “Organization Committee for a Revolutionary Workers Party”, formed by the Workers Communist League (Gitlow group) plus B.J. Field and Co., a group expelled for treachery from the Communist League of America. A few preliminary remarks on this union, which do not pretend to exhaust the question any more than is sufficient for the moment, will not prove to be unilluminating.

* * * *

The Negotiations with Gitlow Group

The last issue of the Voice of Labor, organ of the Gitlow group, contains a report of its Negotiations with the Left Opposition. The report is not only startingly inaccurate, but it bears such an interesting relation to the subsequent Gitlow-Field fusion, that it requires refutation.

The report reproduces three documents: 1) the brief outline draft submitted by our delegation to the representatives of the Gitlow group as a basis for discussion; 2) the draft resolution submitted to us in its place by the Gitlow group; 3) a formulation against the theory of socialism in one country, proposed by us, and with slight amendments, finally agreed to by Gitlow.

So far, so good. But the Voice of Labor’s account of the negotiations, and what happened to these three documents, belongs to the school of fictitious literature.

The facts are as follows:

1. The first document to be submitted was our outline draft, which contained, among other declarations the proposal that the two groups “endorse the joint declaration of the four organizations (the committee for the Fourth International which emerged from the Paris conference – S.) and will participate in the further work of the joint commission established by the four organizations for the further development of their work and the elaboration of ait international programmatic manifesto”. After having examined this draft, Gitlow and Becker proposed to submit one of their own for discussion. Awaiting this document, we held our own in abeyance, but at no time did we withdraw it from consideration in the negotiations.

Fundamental Questions

2. Upon an examination of the second document submitted in the discussion, the Gitlow group resolution, our delegation decided not to lose itself in a discussion of it point by point without first attempting to establish agreement upon one after another of those points which we considered fundamental – agreement upon which would have facilitated enormously a discussion of the secondary questions, and possible agreement upon them, too. This was essential because the Gitlow document, being more detailed ant pretentious than our first draft was such a muddle of confusion half-truths, ambiguity and downright semi-Stalinism, as made its consideration as the draft for a joint statement inconceivable. A few examples will suffice:

The theory of the united front from below is rejected, but not a word is said about its complement equally Stalinist, which yielded such disastrous results in the Anglo-Russian Committee, in the alliance with the Kuo Min Tang – in the period between 1924 and 1928. Why? Because with Gitlow the crisis in the Comintern really begins with the expulsion of the Right wing in 1928–1929. He is against the “third period” of Stalinism fundamentally in the same sense as is Lovestone as is (or was) Bucharin.

Ambiguous Formulations

The theory of socialism in one country is not even mentioned, its place being taken by the ambiguous, and by no means accurate term: national Bolshevism. Becker at first denied that the Stalinists have ever stated their advocacy of the theory in print. Gitlow refused to reject the theory specifically because Max Eastman is right: you can’t win over the workers with negative slogans! (Compare the social democratic argument against the Communist contention that you can’t win socialism by casting ballots for parliament.)

“Stalin’s break with Marxism and Leninism on the Russian question” is confined exclusively to those points where Gitlow is really at one with Bucharin: against super-industrialization, bureaucratic collectivization; premature abolition of the N.E.P. The break with Marxism and Leninism of the joint Stalin-Bucharin period – against industrialization and planned economy, the alliance with Kulak and Nepman – is studiedly ignored.

“Socialism in One Country”

3. We therefore politely laid aside the Gitlow draft and proposed instead a concise formula on the fundamental question of “socialism in one country”. In its final form, jointly accepted after considerable debate, it read:

“The theory that the building of socialism can be completed in a single country, according to which a classless society can be constructed in one hand, without the spread of the proletarian revolution to the advanced capitalist countries of the world, which presupposes an uninterrupted coexistence of the workers’ socialist state and capitalist countries, has had the consequence of a break with Leninism in Soviet internal policy, and in practice on the international field – the abandonment of the world revolution”.

Then, says the Voice of Labor, “the declaration of the Workers Communist League (i.e., Gitlow’s above-mentioned draft. – S.) including the above formulation was agreed upon by both sides”. In order to maintain our polite tone, we will simply call this assertion preposterous and incorrect. The formulation on “socialism in one country” was and remains the single, solitary document ever agreed to between the Gitlow and our delegation during the negotiations. It was just as possible for the main Gitlow draft resolution to be “agreed upon by both sides” as it would be for us to apply for membership in the Gitlow group.

Declaration of Four

4. Without returning for a moment to the Gitlow draft, we put forth again the question of the new International and the Declaration of the Four. Gitlow’s narrative reads as though we threw this question into the discussion arbitrarily, unexpectedly, unwarrantedly, like a bombshell, without previous mention. But his own report prints our first outline draft in which this question occupies no insignificant position. It had not been withdrawn at any time; it had been held in abeyance, we repent. Having reached agreement on point the first (socialism in one country), we proceeded to a discussion of point the second.

And here, let it be pointed out, we did not demand for a moment that. Gitlow endorse the Declaration of the Four out of hand, as Gitlow infers. Gitlow’s draft resolution showed us the inadvisability of such an attitude. We merely presented the Paris Declaration and said: This contains the fundamental points for fusion. Please tell us where you agree with it, where you disagree with it, and why, and our discussion will be facilitated. Gitlow did not merely refuse to endorse it (which was not requested), but even to state his views on it! Why? Because he had had nothing to do with drawing it up; he would not have some document drawn up by he knows not who, and where, and how, rammed down his throat (!); he had had his fill of the Comintern, not only in Stalin’s time, but. even in Lenin’s; it had been falsely organized from the outset, in 1919; and above all, he stood for the conception that first the national parties must be built up solidly, with a native program and leadership, and then they would all coalesce into an international of equals.

The Paramount Question

Our delegation then went so far as to offer to submit the Declaration not in the name of the four “European” groups which had signed it, but in our own name, as our own discussion draft, for comment, agreement or disagreement by Gitlow. He obdurately refused to move from his position. In the warm discussion, he revealed that his group had indeed taken a step forward in one field by breaking with the Lovestone Right wing; in other fields it still occupied the same ground, or had taken a step backward. The negotiations had come to a stalemate on that paramount question of fundamental importance: internationalism, the surest touchstone of the genuine revolutionist and revolutionary group.

Having laid bare our incompatibility in principle with the Gitlow group – at least for that stage of our relationships with it – we nevertheless continued to have relations with it consonant with the degree of political harmony which did exist between us and in that field where we come in contact. At that time, the field was bounded by the hotel and restaurant workers branch of the Amalgamated Food Workers, where a group of our comrades were members, and the Gitlow group had two of its militants functioning. But here too we encountered difficulties, not so fundamental in character, but nevertheless, as was subsequently revealed, significant enough. [1]

Policy of the League

The policy of the League aimed at the formation of a bloc between ourselves and the Gitlow group in the A.F.W., as a Communist nucleus around which a broader group of Left wing and progressive workers could be rallied for the purpose of strengthening the union, assuring it a militant, class conscious leadership and policy, preparing it for a successful strike, and saving it from degeneration in the hands of the conservative, patriotic elements on the one side, and the Stalinist vultures on the other. Gitlow and his group agreed at the outset with this conception.

Fighting this view, alternately with open and covert opposition, was the Field group, at that time organized as a faction without program or principle in the ranks of the League, and specifically in our food workers fraction. Despite repeated warnings from the League – backed by its membership, its policies, its discipline and its committees – the two leading officials of the union, Field and Kaldis conducted themselves not only in violation of our policy, but with such arrogantly bureaucratic contempt for all and sundry in the Amalgamated as was not only disgraceful for a Communist, but even for an ordinary conscientious trade unionist.

Their outrageous, unconcealed disdain for all their collaborators was displayed not only toward League members in the Amalgamated, but particularly toward two militants of the Gitlow group, Costas and Kalfides. We insisted at one fraction meeting after another upon a comradely bloc of Communist workers with a Left wing program. Field and Co. opposed the bloc with the two Gitlowites, then formally accepted it on paper, and systematically sabotaged it.

The “Pair of Deuces”

Before the strike, this bloc was broken more than once. Each time our League committees were compelled to intervene, rap Field’s knuckles, and heal the breach. On two distinct occasions, Costas and Kalfides came directly to our National Committee, begging us to intervene with Field and Kaldis, to demand of the latter that they put an end to their insufferably bureaucratic conduct which was not only driving the two Gitlowites to despair but which (according to them, and they were right in this instance) was endangering the whole prospect of the union and the impending strike. Costas, a regular official of the union, was being treated by Field and Kaldis with the insolence of Prussian officers toward a uniformed peasant. In his arguments against our policy of collaboration with the Gitlowites, Field coined the winged phrase: “They are only a pair of deuces.”

With this attitude towards Costas (who was but one of scores who smarted under the same parvenu impudence), Field eventually isolated himself from the League, from the Left wingers in the union, from all the progressive elements, threw the doors wide open to the Stalinists who battened on the discontentment of the workers with Field and Co., and finally provoked his desertion by the workers who, he had so superciliously admitted to everybody, sat in adoration at his feet.

“Deuces” Become Allies

But, strangely enough, in his fight against the League and its policies, as he leaned more and more upon the Rooseveltians and flag-wavers in the union, when the break with the League proved irreparable, Field abruptly converted his “pair of deuces” into allies. He rebounded from the League into the camp of Gitlow. At first, he led his few followers along that road with the explanation that there is nothing wrong with forming a bloc with another group in the trade unions. Finally he merged with the other group into a single political faction with a single political program – not Field’s, but Gitlow’s!

This faction, the “Organization Committee”, has issued its program in the form of a leaflet For a Revolutionary Workers Party. To read it is to arrive at an unmistakable conclusion: this is Gitlow and not Field. Or, more accurately, it may be Field, but it is not what Field overbearingly assured everybody he was when he broke from the League.

Example: at a general membership meeting of the League on November 26, 1933, where I reported on our negotiations with the Gitlow group, the jointly accepted formulation on “socialism in one country” was road. One motion was introduced, reading: “The assembled branches view the formulation relating to the theory of socialism in one country in the joint statement as dangerous and misleading.” Field and Kaldis were among the tiny group which voted for that motion, as well as for this one (which was also defeated) : “The National Committee is asked to reconsider the joint statement as too great a concession to the Gitlowites.” At the end of the meeting, the minutes read:

“Comrade B.J. Field abstains on account of the subordination of the role of the Party and the Labor Party question in the negotiations and also on the grounds of the X motion and resolution. Esther Field associates herself with the Field statement.”

League Not “Radical” Enough

In other words, two things at least were wrong so far as this super-Bolshevik-Leninist was concerned: our formulation on national socialism was too great a concession to Gitlow, and secondly, we had not yet proposed to Gitlow (nor did we ever, for the negotiations came to a sudden stop!) a point opposing his Right wing view on the Labor party.

Now, behold our intransigent, go-the-whole-hog Left Oppositionist, who broke from us with the declaration that he and not the League would thenceforward carry the banner of Lenin and Trotsky in the United States! He has successfully negotiated; he has successfully fused. And the joint program is a step backward even from Gitlow’s original draft resolution of October 1933! Its views in a number of fields do not go so far even as those of A.J. Muste (see his article in Labor Action on the united front) in point of revolutionary position.

The theory of socialism in one country? Not mentioned. The black sheep of Field (and the white hope of Gitlow), the Labor party? Dead silence. The Fourth International? Careful evasion. They are for a “new international composed of the new revolutionary parties of the world”. Which? Of all those to which Gitlow refers in his press with equal enthusiasm, emphasis and impartiality – the I.L.P. as well as the Internationalist Communist League, the Norwegian Labor Party as well as the Revolutionary Socialist Party of Holland? Of some of them? Of none of them? The Soviet Union? Lovestone or Stalin or a petty bourgeois liberal with his war paint on could have written that paragraph “for the defense” of the Soviet Union.

Mutual Amnesty

The programmatic manifesto of the “Organization Committee” constitutes, politically, a literary picture of Field generously whitewashing Gitlow. But the Emersonian law of compensation is not ignored. Kindness for kindness. In the Voice of Labor Gitlow does just as generous a job for Field. Two full pages on the hotel strike – not white-wash this time, but plain hogwash. The “leadership” of the union may have been a bit inexperienced, do yon see, but otherwise its conceptions and conduct were impeccable. The Trotskyists made a mess of things, but not Field, not Gitlow. They collaborated perfectly, only they didn’t get anywhere because the gods were against them ...

A new group? Not at all. An old group, the Gitlow group with its whole old program. It has merely gained a few new members, which we cannot truthfully begrudge it. It gained them by a little bit of mutual amnesty.

A new party? Not at all. It wants, not the old party, it is true, but a party concocted of political odds and ends: a bit of Brandler, a bit of Stalin, a bit of Lenin and Trotsky.

No, thank you!


1. These notes do not, of course, aim at an analysis of the hotel strike. They deal with it insofar as it is related to the subject in hand, i.e., the evaluation of the Gitlow and Field groups. – S.

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