Max Shachtman


The Problem of the Labor Party

(March 1935)

Source: The New International: A Monthly Organ of Revolutionary Marxism, Vol.2 No.2, March 1935, pp.33-37.
Editorial Board: James Burnham, Max Shachtman, Maurice Spector.
Transcribed & marked up: Sally Ryan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive, June 1999.

A GREAT CHANGE has come over the policies of the communist party in the United States, in consonance with the Rightward swing of the whole Third International. Where, only yesterday, the party elders thundered against the blasphemous suggestion that the united front should be made from organization to organization, that the leadership of the socialist party and other labor organizations should be directly and formally approached – they now pant pathetically at the heels of the National Executive Committee of the SP. Whereas the CP convention as late as the spring of 1934 set itself the task of building up the “revolutionary TUUL” and of establishing the “Independent Federation of Labor”, it now hastens to dissolve every non-AF of L union it ever had its hands on. But nowhere is the change as startling, both for completeness and abruptness, as in its policy with regard to a Labor party.

Best evidence on this score is offered by examining its old policy. In 1928, the prevailing line of advocating a labor party was laid on the table. By 1930, that is, at the height of the now totally ignored but unforgettable “third period”, it was taken off the table and slashed to ribbons. In the theses and resolutions presented by the March-April 1930 Plenum for the 7th national convention, we were told that the results of the economic crisis “destroy the reformist illusions with which the bourgeoisie attempted to deceive and pacify the workers [and] continually accelerates the narrowing of the very social basis of reformism” (p.8). Reformism and its illusions are not only dying of social inanition, but “a revolutionary upsurge grips the working masses” (p.9). There is precious little difference among the tottering “reformist organizations and elements, some of which (AF of L) are outright Fascist, while others (socialist party, Muste group [!]) cover their Fascist activities with pseudo-radical phrases” (p.11). The reactionaries have tamed “the labor unions from instruments of struggle on behalf of the workers into instruments against the working masses and into Fascist troops of capitalism” (p.11). If the CP has been at fault at all in this situation, then only because “it has been a mistake on our part that we did not sooner clearly analyze and characterize the open Fascism of the AF of L” (p.33).

Conclusion: “Any Labor party crystallization at this moment could have only [only!] the AF of L unions, the socialist party and other social reformist organizations as a basis, or would be composed only of those already in sympathy with the communist party. A Labor party made up of social-Fascist organizations would not mean political separation of the workers from the capitalists but would mean the delivery of the workers to capitalist politics under the guise of a Labor party.” (p.15)

Neither the analysis nor the conclusion could be more sober lucid or unassailable. Be that as it may, here was the CP policy on the Labor party till the end of 1934. It was so completely interred, that neither in his political report nor his summary at the April 1934 convention of the CP, did Browder so much as mention the words “Labor party” or hint that it was or might become an issue. At the end of that very year, however, finding himself by chance in the city of Moscow, the same Browder war suddenly stunned by the realization that the workers of the United States, till then in the grip of a revolutionary upsurge, had begun to break away from the capitalist parties and were at the same instant in the equally merciless grip of a Labor party upsurge.

Bursting with the new knowledge, he rushed home with such an effervesceing anxiety to impart it to the masses that he felt it would be unjust to keep it from them long enough to consult with the presumable leadership of the party, the Central Committee, or the membership, much less to wait for their decision. The first revelation of the fact that the “party” had changed “its” policy and now favored the formation of a Labor party, was made at a public gathering in Washington on January 6. The Central Committee of the party, subsequently convened, put its predestined stamp of approval on the new line about two weeks later. Whether the formal detail of discussion and approval by the membership was attended to in the hustle and bustle has not yet been fully established – in any case, it could not have been considered very important. Only an incorrigible petty bourgeois democrat, we are now taught, wants to discuss a policy before executing it; your modern revolutionist carries it out first and then discusses it, if at all.

“We must change our negative position towards the Labor party question,” Browder explains, “which was determined by the absence of a practical mass movement which made it a practical problem.” (Daily Worker, Jan. 19, 1935.) But it was determined by exactly opposite considerations in 1930; the mass movement was indeed there, but the Labor party then could have as its base merely the AF of L, which, was “outright Fascist”, the trade unions, which had been turned into “Fascist troops” and the “social Fascist” SP. Trusting to short memories, Browder continues to point out that “Now there is a mass movement and it is a question of our party’s participation among these masses and influencing their course”.

With that gift of contempt for consistency which elevates Browder above the common run of men, he nonchalantly denies the above assertion a few weeks later, and points out: “There does not yet exist a clearly-defined Labor party movement. There is only the beginning mass break-away, within which a struggle is going on between two main class forces.” (Daily Worker Feb. 14, 1935.)

But regardless for the moment of whether the mass movement for the Labor party does or does not yet exist, the new policy of the CP most certainly does. It merits an examination which we think will not prove fruitless.

One need not go far afield to study the background of the question: what is the relationship between a revolutionary Marxian party and a Labor party? The American movement has a rich and instructive history in this field, and even a condensed recapitulation of it here will greatly facilitate an appraisal of the problem as presented today. Indeed, the latter cannot be achieved without the former.

In 1922, the just organized legal communist party (the Workers Party) put forward for the first time the slogan for a Labor party and launched a campaign to realize it. The reasons for the new policy were fourfold: 1) there was not only a strong Labor party sentiment among the workers, but a national Farmer-Labor party, strongly supported by many trade union bodies, actually existed; 2) the railroad Brotherhoods, together with other national unions and farm organizations, had launched the Conference for Progressive Political Action in Chicago in February 1922; 3) the recently adopted united front tactic of the Third International; 4) Lenin’s advice to the British Communists to seek affiliation with our party.

Better to understand in retrospect than to have perceived it at that time the so-called Labor party movement developed simultaneously and in significant combination with the so-called Third party movement. The former may be summed up as the first post-war reformist political expression of the discontent of the workers with the capitalist regime and its two parties, dissatisfaction with the hoary official policy of “reward your friends and punish your enemies”, a groping towards independent working class expression on the political field. The latter was the movement of middle class protest, chafing under the yoke of the parties of monopolist capitalism, dominated by the labor bureaucracy, the survivors of Bull Moose Progressivism and the latter-day representatives of western Populism, all of whom piously abhorred the idea of independent working class political organization and action with sufficient zeal to counteract any movement in that direction. Anxious to break with the sectarian past of their underground existence, apprehensive lest they remain isolated from the political development of the masses, the communists flung themselves into the campaign for a Labor party, with a rising overestimation of its hold upon the masses, its distinctive class character, its possibilities and its virtues.

The original conception of the Labor party was that it would be, roughly, the American equivalent of its British namesake, based on the trade union movement whose political organization it would be, reformist in character, affiliated with all the fundamental defects of its British counterpart, but representing, as did the latter in its early days, the separation of the working class from the bourgeoisie on the political field. In it, the communists would play the role corresponding in this country to that suggested by Lenin to the communists in England. “A Labor party will grow because of its formation by the organized workers,” read the official party pamphlet in October 1922. “A Labor party would deserve that name only if it were formed by the trade unions. A Labor party of any other form would be a mere caricature, a political swindle, and a miscarriage. A Labor party should be launched only if it is created by the trade unions.” The basis for such a Labor party seemed to exist in virtue of the fact that the idea had been formally endorsed by any number of international unions, state federations, local unions, central bodies, etc.

In December 1922, the second conference of the CPPA took place in Cleveland, where the labor bureaucracy in control, with the collaboration of the socialist party, kicked out the official communist delegation which had come there to advocate the formation of the Labor party. The CPPA, which really danced at the end of strings held in the grip of the LaFollette gang in the Senate, rejected the Labor party idea out of hand. From that time on, the Workers party’s conceptions underwent an imperceptible but important modification. Whereas it had originally been thought that if not the whole then at least the bulk of the AF of L would launch the Labor party, a turn was now made according to which the new party would be launched upon the initiative of the WP and the pro-labor party minority in the AF of L. The center of the latter was the leadership of the Chicago Federation of Labor – Fitzpatrick, Nockels, Buck – who were also the leaders of the existing Farmer-Labor Party. With this somewhat altered policy, the WP commenced what became known as the “Chicago orientation”.

Significantly enough, the closer the communists came to an organizational realization of their slogan, the further away from it moved the fundamentally pro-Labor party elements (that is, those who did not regard it merely as a tactical step forward, but as the all-sufficient goal – the “pure and simple” Labor or Farmer-Labor partyites). The enthusiasm of Fitzpatrick and Co. for the Labor party, in which they saw the communists participating ever more actively if not decisively, waned in direct proportion as the enthusiasm waxed in the Workers party over the enchanting prospect of getting rich quickly by maneuvering the non-communists into forming a Labor party dominated by it. For the convention called to launch the new party, the WP toiled like Trojans to round up delegates from all conceivable organizations under its control. The Fitzpatrick crowd came to the July 4, 1923 convention only with credentials from the masses behind them – that is, whatever masses there were – whereas the WP came with masses of credentials. And credentials were trumps. Horrified by the red monster they had nurtured and the prospect that now stared them grimly in the face of forming a Labor party controlled by communists who demanded little more than an endorsement of the dictatorship of the proletariat, Fitzpatrick, Nockels and their associates made a right-about-face, denounced their friends of yesterday for having “injected themselves into the picture” and – in a word – withdrew from the whole enterprise. Unabashed? – no, that is too negative; let us rather say: deliriously enthusiastic over the conquest, the WP and its assembled communist auxiliaries founded the famous “Federated Farmer-Labor party”.

The estimate of 500,000 organized members of the FF-LP, arrived at by counting communist noses over and over again in a closed circle, did not help the still-born product of the July a parturition break out of the increasing isolation that hemmed it in from all sides of the labor movement. Where yesterday, the average trade unionist or third-rank union official had spoken quite favorably about a Labor party, the mere appearance of the FF-LP in the vicinity now brought him (unless, of course, he was already sympathetic to the communists and their party) to a frigid silence or, in many cases, to a heated repudiation of his old pro-Labor party views. The actually formed party was, alas! not at all like the robust creature of the first communist conception, and it shivered in the icy atmosphere that encircled it. Indeed, it painfully resembled the WP in too many respects, and the political or organizational distinction between the two was not heightened by the fact that the national secretary of the FF-LP was a prominent communist or that its weekly paper was written in the same office, printed in the same plant, and contained the self-same views as the weekly paper of the WP. In the Moscow discussions later on, Karl Radek said that the Federated was seven-eights fantasy. The other eighth, be it added, was composed of the communists trying to look respectable.

The real father, mother and midwife of the Federated was John Pepper, international adventurer, intriguer par excellence, destroyer of revolutions and movements in Hungary, Germany, America and China, man of many principles and none at all, and in that period the political leader of the WP. At the meeting of the party Central Committee on August 24, 1923, he presented a document which was at once a justification of the Federated and a rationalization of its narrowness unique in the radical movement. Not only because of its cabinet history at the time, but even more because it has such a direct bearing on the Labor party discussion today, the document, known thenceforward as the “August thesis”, deserves a few explanatory remarks.

“The development of the Labor party in America,” it read, “takes a different form from that in Great Britain. The British Labour party was formed ... from above by the officials of the trade union movement ... The Labor party movement in the United States today is a rank and file movement.” The large trade union movement which was expected to be the base of the party was not represented in the Federated? Yes. “The July 3 convention revealed the fact that the big International unions did not come, that only local unions and city central bodies were represented, that in fact the Labor party today is a rank and file proposition. It also showed another fact, namely, that the rank and file is permeated with communist influence.” It also showed, he added, that “not a single organized political group outside of the Workers Party exists today which wishes to take up the fight for the Labor party on a national scale ... The Workers Party has the historical task of becoming the leader of the Labor party movement in America”.

What about the socialist party, and the rueful remnants of Fitzpatrick’s organization, both of which continued to defend the idea of a Labor party? Let them go their way and we go ours, answered Pepper.

“In America we have a number of political groups which fight for influence within the trade union movement. The attempt to gain influence upon the workers assumes in America the organizational expression of forming various labor parties. The socialist party tries to form a Labor Party. The old Farmer-Labor Party tried to form another Labor Party, the Workers Party has helped in the formation of the Federated Party.”

Every party would have a Labor party of its own! Not only would each of them vary in the degree of its revolutionism or reformism in accordance with its patron, but – in view of the fact that the Federated was also trying to form a “wider” Labor party – the possibilities for expanding the number of rings in this bewildering circus were positively unlimited. But if the Federated did not become the mass Labor party originally dreamed of – what then? The fascinating genius of Pepper had a reply even for those who were being gnawed at by insidious doubt: “Its development may be the nucleus around which the mass party of labor will be formed or as a mass communist party.” Come what might, you couldn’t lose: a more air-tight proposition could not be imagined. If God were with us and somehow the masses did stream to the Federated – why, we would have control of the mass party of labor; for had we not been thoughtful enough to get a communist majority elected to the executive committee in advance? If God were not with us but with one of the other Labor parties – why, then we would throw off the now needless disguise and reveal the Federated as the mass communist party! ...

Some of the startled party leaders had by that time begun to meditate on what must have been the theme of the play on Napoleon which Pepper had written for production on the Budapest stage several years earlier. More important was the fact that they also meditated on the great changes that had come over the old Labor party policy of the party, the changes in the Labor party movement itself, and the concomitant growth of the distinctly Third party movement, The “August thesis” appeared more and more fantastic and devoid of reality, to say nothing of revolutionary Marxism. The thesis was vigorously defended by Pepper, Ruthenberg, Lovestone, Wolfe and Gitlow, and just as vigorously opposed by Foster, Cannon, Browder, Bittelman and Dunne. At the November 1923 meeting of the Central Committee, the thesis, under the barrage of the opposition, was reluctantly shelved and what later proved to be an unsatisfactory compromise resolution was adopted in its stead.

From this meeting on, however, the WP entered the third phase of its Labor party policy, subsequently designated as the ill-fated “Northwestern orientation”. The original trade union,that is, proletarian support considered by the WP as the basis for the Labor party (which had, in passing, now become a Farmer-Labor party), had experienced such a drastic decline since the Federated convention as to be virtually non-existent. Labor party sentiment, and even more so Labor party organization, had never been more than negligible throughout the highly-industrialized, proletarian East – in New England, along the Atlantic Seaboard and as far inland as Pennsylvania and Ohio. Now, even the central western Labor party movement had waned. In pursuit of what was becoming more and more of a will-o’-the-wisp, the WP and its alter ego the Federated, turned feverishly to the agrarian Northwest.

All that was left of an organized movement (they had always been the really organized force) were the so-called Farmer-Labor parties of Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Washington, with groups of various sizes and importance in other agricultural states. As the ally of the communists in founding the national movement, the farmers now appeared ill place of the Chicago Federation of Labor. The substitution was highly significant. The WP and its shadow continued to write emphatic resolutions about how quintessential it was for the new party to be a “class Farmer-Labor party” and “not a Third party”, but the weighty theses left no visible impression upon the northwestern successors to the classic movements of middle class agrarian protest. Regardless of the speeches that may have swayed them at this or that meeting, or even the carefully prepared resolutions for which they may have been cajoled into voting, these groups were and remained – it could not have been otherwise – adjuncts of LaFollettism, a Third party movement. In real life, they no more fitted into the grandiose, over-clever maneuvers of Pepper to concoct a mass Labor party or a mass communist party behind the hacks of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, than Pepper fitted into the communist movement. The incompatibility of the two partners in the new plan was realized dimly and even with some uneasiness by the WP leaders. Yet they hoped to cheat their way out of an inexorable antagonism of social movements by a bureaucratic opportunist maneuver. The results of it are a lesson and a warning to this very day!

The Wisconsin Sphinx, carefully playing his cards, had not yet committed himself openly to any course. He had not yet even concurred publicly in the growing clamor for “LaFollette for President”. Although the “Farmer-Labor” parties of the Northwest were ever more obviously leaning in LaFollette’s direction, Pepper figured out that by racing with time, these parties could be spurred to the organization of a national “mass, class Farmer-Labor party”, together with the Federated; LaFollette would thus be cut off at the rear and the WP would not only have its national party but would ward off or weaken the possibilities of forming the “Third party”. To take care of all eventualities, the November meeting of the Central Committee decided to enter into an “alliance” with the Third party movement. The decision was an involuntary acknowledgment that the movement to form a “class” Labor party, distinct from the revolutionary proletarian party as well as from the Third party, was lost. The decision in favor of the alliance “under certain specified conditions,” wrote Bittelman subsequently, “even to the extent of supporting LaFollette for the presidency, was exclusively designed as a maneuver to combat LaFollettism and to save the Farmer-Labor elements for a Farmer-Labor party”.

This last phase of the Labor party policy of the WP created an international scandal. Under pressure from Trotsky the executive of the Third International rudely yanked the American party out of the morass into which it had plunged like a diver groping at the bottom for the pearls of a Labor party. The humiliating retreat was not made pleasanter by the fact that LaFollette himself unappreciatively launched a broadside at his self-sacrificing “allies”, the communists, and at the idea of a Farmer-Labor party, even before the St. Paul convention at which it was to be formed. On June 17, 1924, the convention assembled with the massively credentialed hosts of the WP and its standard auxiliaries, plus the ragtag and bobtail of its agrarian confederates. The communists went unsmilingly through the solemn ritual of acting like innocent Farmer-Laborites and nominated a former Illinois miners’ union official, Duncan MacDonald, for president, and a Washington cherry farmer, William Bouck, for vice-president. The Political Committee of the WP wrote a respectable, reformist program for them to run on. The first “monster campaign rally” in Chicago to launch the national campaign, was more than enough. The local campaign committee was 100% communist; the literature was distributed exclusively by communists; the hall was hired, paid for, and attended only by communists, who loyally shouted themselves hoarse for “our candidates”. On July 8, a greatly sobered Political Committee publicly announced that the Farmer-Labor party candidates would be withdrawn (much to the relief of both of them!) and that the campaign would henceforward be made by William Z. Foster and Ben Gitlow on an open communist ticket and in the name of the WP. Ninety percent of the communist workers gave their first honest cheer in months. The “Farmer-Labor” masses never noticed the change – they had all gone over to LaFollette.

“The Farmer-Labor movement which we wanted to save from being swallowed by LaFollette was substantially a LaFollette movement,” wrote a penitent and much wiser Bittelman in the official post mortem on the whole campaign. “To save it from LaFollette meant to win it for class struggle which, under the prevailing conditions, was the same as accepting the leadership of the Workers (Communist) party. And such a step the Farmer-Labor movement of the Northwest, predominantly agrarian and petty bourgeois, was very far from being ready to take. Our wrong decision with regard to the Third party, later corrected by the Communist International, was a direct result of our orientation upon the Farmer-Labor movement of the Northwest which was substantially a LaFollette movement. We attempted to save a Farmer-Labor soul which didn’t exist and in the process we nearly lost our own communist soul’” (Workers Monthly. Dec. 1924, p.90).

In the pamphlet just issued by the CP, this development is entitled by Stachel “The LaFollette Trick” (The Problem of a Labor Party, p.9). Bureaucrats accustomed to solving all problems and dispelling all obstacles by means of “tricks”, fall naturally into the same superficial explanation of social or political phenomena in which others appear to have dealt similarly with problems and obstacles. But there was not much of a “trick” to LaFollette’s easy success. Whoever hasn’t learned more than that from the 1922-1925 events, hasn’t learned much, and is sure to reproduce the same tragi-comedies in the year 1935. What appears to us to follow plainly from the experiences of the past, substantiated also by what can be seen in the country today, is the following conclusion:

There is no room in the present conditions of the class struggle for the stable, unartificial existence of a “class Labor” party (to say nothing of the fantastic two-class “class Farmer-Labor” party) which is distinct from a third capitalist party as well as from the revolutionary party of the proletariat. The only genuine labor party is the party of revolutionary Marxism. Past experiences in this country – not to mention the experiences in other lands! – show that the evolution of the British Labour party, namely, its degeneration from a great progressive force which separated the proletariat politically from the bourgeoisie to a reactionary obstacle to progress which ties the proletariat politically to the bourgeoisie, is accomplished in the United States under conditions of capitalist decline in a far more telescoped period of time.

To attempt to foist upon the American revolutionary movement the obsolete advice given by Engels to the Marxist emigrants in the United States of fifty years ago, and to conclude from it that it is our task to found a Labor party now, is to do violence to the whole spirit of Marxism, is to ignore the tremendous changes that have taken place throughout the world (the United States not excepted) in capitalism, in the labor movement and in the revolutionary movement. Lovestone, for example, is perfectly willing to start at exactly the point where Engels left off in his letters to Florence Wischnewetzky in 1887, as if nothing had happened since that time!

The attempt, in theory and practise, to force the American working class, in 1935, to go through a faithful, mechanical repetition of every stage through which the British working class was obliged to pass at the beginning of the century, is to reveal a blatant ignorance of scientific socialism and the laws of development of the labor movement. The British Labour party rose and was an indisputably progressive factor in the working class in the period of the rise of capitalism. Not only was it a “unique party”, a bloc of organizations, with no program of its own, with no special discipline, with liberty of agitation for revolutionary groups within it, but, like all the reformist parties of the Second International before the war and regardless of how defectively, it contributed to the historical advancement of the proletariat as a class.

Conditionally, Lenin considered it possible even after the war to advise the British communists to seek affiliation with it because of its “unique” character, even though he emphasized that properly speaking it was a bourgeois party of workers and not a proletarian party. The opportunists are aiming to make it a “real party with local organizations and a program”, argued the Communist International in Lenin’s time, to “create a large opportunist party which is to retard the revolutionary development of the masses. If this tendency were to succeed, the Labour party would never afford the socialist organizations which form part of it the right to an individual communist policy, nor to the propagation of the revolutionary struggle. It would hind their freedom of action hand and foot. It is thus evident that no kind of organization seeking to carry out a communist policy could possibly belong to the Labour party. It would then become necessary, after a most energetic struggle against this tendency, to leave the Labour party and to endeavor to keep in touch with the working masses by means of increasing the communist activity in the trade unions, by detaching these trade unions from the Labour opportunist parties and persuading them to go over directly to communism”. (The ILP and the Third International, p.53.)

As what would the American “Labor” party start: as the British Labour party of 1906 or of 1935? Closer, far closer to the latter date and condition than to the former’ We mean of course a genuine “Labor” party, that is, a reformist party, with a reformist program, with a reformist leadership, and with the reformist unions (organizations, not individuals) at its base – assuming that one is to be established. Would such a party, in view of the British experiences and what we know to be the situation in this country, be of a kind that would meet the requirements for affiliation by a revolutionary Marxian party set out in 1920 by Lenin? In all likelihood, No. In any case, the attitude of the revolutionary party towards a genuine, mass “Labor” party would have to be determined not by what it may or may not be if and when it is formed, not by what we would like to have it be, but by what it would be once it was formed. For, it is not the business of the revolutionary Marxists, above all in the present stage of the relationship between capitalist disintegration and social reformism, to initiate or to help organize and found in addition to their own party another party for the “second class citizens” for the “backward workers”, a “Labor” party, i.e., a third capitalist party, even if composed predominantly of workers.

Wherein would that golden-haired dream child common to the aspirations of Louis Waldman, Norman Thomas, Jay Lovestone and Earl Browder differ fundamentally from a “Third party”, say from the 1924 LaFollette party or the Farmer-Labor party of Minnesota? In respect to program? Leadership? Composition? Methods? Goal? It would be interesting to learn what the concrete and detailed difference is presumed to be in all five respects!

Whoever hopes to establish or invent an essential difference is simply disregarding the unambiguous lessons of the past. What was clearly revealed more than ten years ago gives no reason for pessimism. It was not proved that the working class and even the farmers must inevitably fall under the influence of petty bourgeois demagogues of Third partyism in the struggle for hegemony between the latter and the revolutionary Marxists. Not at all! What was proved is that in the battle between the revolutionary party and the third capitalist party for the support of the masses who are breaking away from the old bourgeois parties, the slogan of the “Labor” party – or even the slogan of the “mass, class Labor party” (whatever that is)– does not possess sufficient class vitality or distinction from the Third party to make it possible to wean the masses away from the latter by means of it. That vitally important task can only be accomplished under the banner and on the fighting program of the revolutionary proletarian party. Not, it goes without saying, by mere recruiting campaigns, but by the concrete leadership which such a party is able to offer the workers (in contrast to the petty bourgeois politicians and the trade union bureaucracy) in the course of their daily struggles for immediate demands.

The Labor party is not an abstraction; it must be considered concretely. Assuming that it is formed in the United States (and its creation is by no means a foreordained certainty, an inevitable stage the American workers must experience before they can think of revolutionary struggle!), it is more likely than not that it will take shape as a directly anti-revolutionary (ergo, anti-progressive) party. With a stormy forward march of the American masses, in the course of which they may skip “stages” with even greater ease and speed than their Russian brothers, the petty bourgeois reformers plus the socialist and trade union bureaucracy might conceivably form a “Labor” party for the express purpose of thwarting the progress of the working class. Those pseudo-revolutionists who are so frenziedly anxious to see a Labor party in the US so long as it looks something like its British predecessor, undoubtedly have some “exceptional” surprises in store for them.

We speak of course of a “Labor” party in the true sense of the word. If it does not greatly resemble the fantasmagoria just brewed out of the witches’ cauldron of Stalinism, that is hardly our fault, for such a “Labor” party as the CP now proposes to inflict upon the proletariat, never has been and never will be seen by God or man or beast or the elfin folk who see pretty near everything. “There is only one revolutionary party,” declares the Daily Worker (February 16), “and that is the communist party.” So the Labor party will be reformist? No, it continues. “This does not mean that the Labor party that the communists propose would be reformist.” Then it will be revolutionary? No, answers Stachel, the “Labor party is not a revolutionary party” (loc. cit., p.19). Not revolutionary, not reformist! Won’t this be a creature compared with which a live-historic ichthyosaurus would deserve as much attention as a sparrow! Then what will it be? According to Stachel again, it wilt be nothing more or less than “a genuine Labor party”. A barrel of tar would be clearer than a Stalinist explanation. And what is its function? It will, to return to the Daily Worker, “lead the masses in their struggle for immediate demands ... Communists will point out to the workers that their revolutionary program is the further development of the minimum policy of the Labor party. They will always advocate the full revolutionary program of the communist party”. If this galimathias means anything, it is that there is to be a strict division of labor: the Labor party is to lead the workers every day in their struggles for all their immediate demands – that’s its job; the C.P. is to lead the workers on the day of the insurrection – that’s its job. Whence it is clear that neither separately nor together are they capable of leading the workers in any struggle. According to Stachel, (p.16), who drips light with every drop of ink, this Labor party, which is not revolutionary, it is true, but not reformist either, which is to exclude the trade union bureaucrats, Sinclair, Olson, the SP bureaucracy and even the Lovestoneites, which is, in a word, something we’d give a pretty penny to see in the flesh – will “really carry on the struggle for the workers for wage increases, for the Workers Unemployment and Social Insurance Bill, for the 30-hour week without reduction in pay, for the needs of the farmers, for the rights of the Negro masses, for the right to organize, strike, etc., against the growing menace of war and Fascism! The Labor party that carries on a struggle (and a real one, too) against war and Fascism! If it can do all this (and probably other things as well), what worker will ask for more? What will be his need for the communist party? What indeed?

A veritable resurrection of Pepperism is what we have here, a little cruder, a little more vulgar, a little more opportunistic in that were possible. (By the way, it is touching to hear Lovestone damn Browder’s queer Labor party policy; it is a clear case of author’s envy, for Browder has merely plagiarized the Pepper-Lovestone August thesis!) Having liquidated all the theories of revolutionary Marxism, the CP is now engaged in liquidating itself. Another “Federated” is already projected. How long before we are offered another “LaFollette maneuver”? The patient are never unrewarded. Meanwhile, in its work of self-liquidation, we cannot but wish the Stalinists god-speed.


Max Shachtman

Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 15.4.2005