Max Shachtman

National Tour Finds
League Advancing

(June 1934)

From The Militant, Vol. VII No. 22, 2 June 1934, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

For the first time since its formation, the Communist League has been able to organize a successful national tour which actually took a representative of the National Committee from one end of the country to another, Canada included. Up until now, the farthest west we had ever penetrated was Minneapolis and Kansas City. Connections with Communist militants had indeed been established on the West Coast before, but in most of the western localities no public meeting of our organization had yet been held. Now, as a result of the systematic pioneer work that has been effected, together with the tightening up of the organization which the speaking tour of comrade Shachtman helped to produce, it is established that outside of the official Communist and Socialist parties, the Communist League of America is the only one of the radical groups which can lay claim to a truly national organization, to a very solid framework of one at the very least. Our movement is no longer confined to the eastern and central part of the United States.

In virtually every city that was visited, the estimates of the local comrades were that this time the public meetings were the largest ever held by the League. In some places the mass meetings were anywhere from two to three to four times as large as those organized several years ago during the first national tour organized for Shachtman. This feature of the tour not only bespoke the growing organizational strength and influence of the League, but especially the keen interest of increasing numbers of workers in the slogan raised by us for a new Communist party and a new International, the problem which was dealt with most prominently at practically every one of the meetings.

League Views Receive Serious Attention

Another striking feature of the tour was the obvious fact that among the class conscious militants at least the views of the Communist League are regarded with the utmost attention and growing sympathy, in contrast with our first tour meetings, where the audience was for the most part composed of curiosity seekers who wondered what the “Trotskyists” have to say about themselves. The interest of the audiences, their highly representative quality, the questions asked and the discussion which always followed, revealed this time that the ideas of the League have taken deep root wherever we have been able to penetrate with our organization and literature.

The Chicago mass meeting was typical in this respect. Where some years ago we spoke only to a narrow circle of our own sympathizers, this time there were over 250 workers present, with representatives of virtually every trend and current in the radical movement. One after another they took the floor to speak for their respective standpoints as against that of the League. The national chairman of the Young People’s Socialist League, the Stalinists, the Lovestoneites, the S.L.P., the United Workers Party and its broken-off minority, the I.W.W., the Proletarian Party, the anarchists – all of them sought to counter the offensive of the League at the best meeting we ever held in Chicago. (This time, by the way, the Stalinist hoodlums did not make the efforts to break up the meeting that they tried at Comrade Swabeck’s meetings a few months previously. The burnt child fears no hooliganism; he is too well prepared for that!)

S.P. Members Attend Meetings

Another significant feature of the meetings was the almost universal contacts we have established with militant revolutionists in the Socialist Party and the Young People’s Socialist League. There was hardly a single city where they were not substantially represented at the meeting. In Southern Illinois meetings, it was largely to Socialist militants that we spoke – revolutionists to the core who are ready to fight (and side by side with us!) for a genuinely Marxian movement. In St. Louis, the local branch of the Young People’s Socialist League voted to call off its own meeting and come down in a body to help defend our mass meeting from a rumored possible attack by the Stalinists. In Waukegan, Illinois, the meeting was held under the auspices of the latest branch of the League, organized by the bulk of the members (all the young and active ones) of what was three months ago the local branch of the Socialist party.

The Stalinist Party in Decline

Our progress with the official Communist party has not come to a halt either. In Winnipeg, San Francisco and the Bay District, Salt Lake City, Plentywood (Montana), and elsewhere, our branches are made up largely of comrades whom we have only yesterday won over to our side, or else the contacts established yesterday, who will be in branches tomorrow. The shocking state of the C.P. is clearly revealed by a visit to the principal cities from coast to coast. Tens of thousands come to its demonstrations – gratifying proof that great numbers of American workers are not frightened back by Communism but are ready to support it militantly. But into the official C.P.? – No sirree! And when they do go in, they are again in less time than it takes to tell. Bad as are the official reports of C.P. membership fluctuation, they are still far from telling the whole story. Another aspect of the C.P. which really deserves more extensive comment and analysis, is the growing ratio of slum-proletarian elements in its composition – the elements it can always count upon for tough-guy tactics against what they know least about: “Trotskyism.”

In total, four efforts were made by the Stalinists to break up meetings on the road. In Youngstown, on the first night where Shachtman spoke on the Roosevelt program, the two young Stalinist commissars present profanely thundered that this was the last meeting the counter-revolutionary Trotskyists would hold in the city. We invited them to mobilize full force for the meeting next night, and to come down and try to break it up as they threatened. With the invitation we extended them a promise of a free lesson in workers’ democracy. They came – 30 strong, the full Party and Y.C.L. mobilization (Youngstown was once 200 strong in the C.P.) – the next night when Shachtman was to talk on the new party. But our comrades from Newcastle (where an excellent meeting had been held two nights before) came down to Youngstown, including in their detachment one boxing instructor and one amateur boxer. Twenty non-League members, Socialists included, had volunteered to help us defend the meeting the night before; and another comrade had brought to the meeting three quarter and half-backs, with three-foot shoulders, from a local tin mill workers’ football team, friendly to us. The Stalinists did try to break up the meeting. Result of the encounter: 1. The meeting was not broken up; 2. The Stalinists got their lesson in workers’ democracy; 3. The prestige of the League shot up.

Other Hoodlum Tactics Fail

Again in Los Angeles, which has already been adequately described in the Militant’s sum total of the scandalous episode in which over 60 Stalinist hoodlums – picked up on the skid road and out of the missions and stewpots, and who didn’t know what it was all about except that they were supposed to break up our meeting in Boyle Heights – sought in vain to batter their way through our guard of eight comrades, was that the C.P. did succeed in welding together a united front of virtually every other radical organization in the city, determined to help us defend our right to meet and speak. Another result: two C.P. sympathizers joined the League on the very same night; that the Stalinists disrupted our meeting, that is, when they were substituting for Mr. “Red” Hynes’ notorious “Red Squad”.

Once more in Salt Lake City. The orderly and excellent meeting of 100 workers was suddenly disrupted by a gang of several score hoodlums led by (and carefully surrounding) Paul Crouch, C.P. organizer. The meeting was broken up by them, it is true. The three un-uniformed Silver Shirts who were present simply sat back in their seats at the rear of the hall and grinned with the utmost satisfaction at the sight of their own specific work being done for them, gratis, by the Stalinists who supplement their criminal disruption of “Trotskyist meetings” by leaving Silver Shirt meetings unmolested. Their courage was of course heightened by the fact that they outnumbered our comrades twenty to one. We did, however, adjourn to a meeting place furnished by a sympathizer, where a smaller, but more, sympathetic, audience attended. Result: a good deal of liberal (and by the way, the C.P. depends to an increasing extent upon liberal and friend-of-Russia support) and working class support was surgically cut away from the Stalinists and transferred to us.

Excellent Recruits for the League

In Davenport, the ingenious Stalinists kept telephoning the owner of the hall we had engaged, day in and day out for a week before the meeting. The burden of their anonymous calls was that if we were allowed to hold the meeting, somebody would see to it that the place was wrecked in a fight. It is hard to get a hall in Davenport for a radical meeting, and it was only by scurrying about madly that we were finally able at the last minute to get another meeting place, after the owner of the hall first engaged broke the contract with us out of fear of a riot. Even here a small gang of swaggering Stalinists came up with the intention of showing the Trotskyists what’s what. They disappeared in an inexplicable hurry when one of our sympathizers from Moline came to the door and asked them sharply what they intended to do. The sympathizer weighs 250 pounds.

With these exceptions, the Stalinists at the meetings everywhere listened attentively and for the most part, with a comradely spirit even when they disagreed with our standpoint. Many of them will yet be heard from, especially in the western parts of the country, where we have barely scratched the surface of the C.P., in which many a good rebel is running his head futilely into the bureaucratic wall. The sight of our comrades in the ’Frisco-Oakland district, who have come to us so recently from the C.P. (and some fine elements from the S.P., too), is itself a promise of tomorrow’s recruitment of similar elements from the official party: American revolutionists, militant and trained workers, accustomed to working among the masses, impatient of fraud, bluff and bureaucratism, able to take care of themselves and of the building of the new revolutionary party in America.

(To be continued)

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