More on the Cannonites and the United Front

How Not to Make a United Front

(March 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 11, 17 March 1941, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The united front of all workers, regardless of their basic political views or affiliations, is one of their strongest weapons. Democratic, Republican, Socialist, Communist, Anarchist workers, members of the CIO or the AFL or the unorganized, workers with and without political affiliations – all have in common the fact that they are members of the working class and have the same class interests. Whatever differences there may be among them are or should be subordinated to the difference between all of them, jointly, and the capitalist class. Therefore, the united front – class against class!

At the same time, however, there ARE differences of opinion in the working class, political and organizational divisions. If it were not for this fact, there would be no urgent need of a united front. Every organized section of the workihg class has a program of its own. A separate program is not only a declaration of where one stands and what one advocates, but it is an implicit criticism of all other programs and organizations, if the criticism is not meant seriously in the first place, then the program and the organization have no right to independent existence. What right would people have to form “another” organization if they did not seriously disagree with an already existing group? Such conduct would be irresponsibly divisive in an already badly-divided Labor movement. But if the criticism is meant seriously, then it is worth while and necessary to maintain it at all times. Greater or lesser emphasis may be given it, depending on circumstances, but it cannot be abandoned entirely at any time, or even concealed or suppressed, without proving that it wasn’t very important to begin with.

Therefore, a prime principle of the united front is this: the right of everyone in it to retain his beliefs and criticisms, to express them openly. If this right is exercised loyally, the workers have everything to gain. The educational value of a comparison of freely presented views is enormous. What’s more, this right is a test of all the sections of the united front. Only those will fight for it who have nothing to fear from putting forward their program openly, who have full confidence that they can stand up in any fair discussion.

Several Recent Cases

In the light of these considerations, how have the Cannonites – the Socialist Workers Party – fared in their recent applications of the united front policy? It is a subject worth reviewing, not so much in order to dispose of their pompous pretensions as to indicate how the united front should not be made.

Before the split in the SWP, about a year ago, we tried in vain to prevent the Cannonites from following an opportunistic united front policy in the unions. The problem was an election in the Philadelphia ILGWU. On one side, the Stalinists; on the other side, the extreme right-wing tip of the Dukinsky machine. And in addition, a smaller but organized and very influential group of left-wing and progressive militants. In spite of our warnings, Cannon and his trade union “experts” jammed through a policy of complete, uncritical support of the right-wing gang in return for a couple of trifling positions for the militant group. The price paid? The reactionaries laid down an ultimatum to the militant group that before they would accept its support (!) the group would have to dissolve and promise to issue no literature or election material of its own. Cannon insisted that the ultimatum be accepted; he insisted, furthermore, that not even the SWP press should have a word of criticism of the Dubinskyite bureaucrats. Result: a triumph for the reactionaries, who conducted a savage red-baiting, 100 per cent pro-war campaign, without encountering any criticism from the dissolved and humiliated left-wing. The Philadelphia story was not an isolated example of Cannonite policy.

A 100 Per Cent Turn

In the fall of 1940, the Cannonites made an almost 180-degree turn in their united front and trade union policy, hesitantly at first but with really worked-up ardor by now. Unfortunately, the new policy is scarcely an improvement over the old. Two outstanding examples will show what we mean.

A few months ago, the New York Food.Workers Union, Local 302, was faced with an election. On the one side, a semi-conservative, semi-progressive group which began making “100 per cent patriotism” and red-baiting its main planks. On the other side, the Stalinists, supported by many militants. In addition, a large important bloc of real left-wingers, progressives and militants. The Cannonite experts first tried to get their local fraction to support the patriots in the election. The militants of the fraction balked. The writer, for his part, in discussions with these militants, urged upon them the propriety and necessity of a bloc with the Stalinists. The experts finally retreated and the policy of a bloc with the Stalinists prevailed. We still believe the bloc we advocated was correct. It united the bulk of the militants, of the most class-conscious elements, of the most underpaid workers. In the given instance. It was a distinct service to the union’s best interests. But the way the bloc was made by the Cannonites was not so correct.

Having flopped over at the last minute, but still in time, the Cannonites went the whole hog. They drew up a program with the Stalinists in which the latter were given a nice, thick coat of whitewash. The program of the united bloc described the Stalinists as traditional and stout fighters against the gangsterism and racketeering that once flourished in Local 302! This in face of the commonly known fact that the Stalinists passed through a whole period when they were as thick as thieves with the racketeers, supporting and defending them literally to the last minute. Why was the whitewash necessary? And why was it necessary for the Appeal, in describing the installation of the new officers, to give such extravagant compliments and praise to the new Stalinist administration, without giving the slightest hint to its readers of what this bureaucracy means to the workers?

Stalinism is the syphilis of the Labor movement, said Trotsky. The Thomasites, for example, think it can be disposed of by sunning and lifting their pretty noses at the workers who are infected with this political malady, instead of going among these workers, drawing them into the struggle on the progressive side, and fighting along with them whenever it helps the Labor movement. The Cannonites, on the other hand, who realize the need of united front with the Stalinists, think that the malady can be eliminated by not mentioning it, by concealing the fact that it exists – at least in those cases where their united front is involved! – and by suppressing all warnings of its ravages in those concrete cases.

There, in practice, is the trade-union united front policy of the SWP, the policy which, according to Cannon at his latest plenum, must become more militant, more outspoken, more critical, less ambiguous, less compromising ...

The Connolly Campaign

An even cruder example of opportunism is the policy of the Cannonites in the recent election in the 17th Congressional District of New York. Here they could not even offer the feeble excuse that “this is a trade-union united front, not a political front.” In the midst of the campaign, the SWP announced the withdrawal of its candidate, who was not on the ballot, in favor of Eugene Connolly, candidate of the Watson section of the ALP (the only other contestants were a Democrat and a Republican). Now, what is the “Watson section” of the ALP? it is exactly 100 per cent Stalinist controlled; is composed of Stalinists, their stooges and a few dupes. Who is Connolly? An unavowed but nevertheless confirmed Stalinist. Whoever else does not know these facts, the Cannonites certainly do know them.

Now, no revolutionary or working-class principle is violated in endorsing a Social-Democratic or Reformist or Stalinist candidate for office in an election. Given certain conditions, it is right and necessary. But one of the first duties of a revolutionary Socialist, when he calls upon the workers to vote for a Reformist or a Stalinist, is to tell these workers WHO and WHAT they are voting for, and WHY. Without this, you don’t have a united front. All you do is blow the horn for a dangerous element in the ranks of the working class; you blind the workers to their interests and their duties.

We did not think the interests of the workers would be served by endorsing the Stalinist candidate in this particular election. It would not serve to mobilize substantial sections of the working class against capital, against the war, and for genuine independent political action. Without going into detail on this, we point only to the fact that the arch-reactionary appeasement rag, the Daily News, found it possible to endorse Connolly in the 17th District.

On Giving the Facts

The Cannonites, however, did endorse Connolly. Oh, critically, to be sure! For what? For his “purely pacifist” program! But not one single word about the fact that Connolly is a Stalinist. On the contrary, the Appeal goes out of its way to denounce indignantly the capitalist press for a “deliberate attempt to smear Connolly as a Stalinist and to drag in issues which have absolutely nothing to do with the campaign.” Not one single word about the fact that Connolly is the candidate of the Stalinist wing of the ALP. On the contrary, the Appeal describes it as the “New York County (left wing) ALP.” The Stalinists are now the left wing! By virtue of what consideration? It would be interesting to read an explanation by the SWP experts on just what it is that makes Stalinism and the Stalinists the left wing of teh labor movement, or even of the ALP – very interesting.

Why does the Appeal so deliberately hide the fact that it is the Stalinists who are involved “in this case? What purpose is served? Is it to help workers orient themselves in a confused situation? Or is it because the Cannonites are shamefaced about a united front with the Stalinists? The Appeal rightly answers the criticism of the Social Democrats by pointing out that revolutionists have even proposed a united front with a party led by Scheideniann and Noske. But they never hid the fact that it was Scheidemann and Noske they proposed it to. They never hid the facts about Scheidemann and Noske. They didn’t paint them up artificially, embroider them with lace, to make them appear attractive to the workers. They always followed the good rule: Say what is. The Cannonites abandon that rule – there is the difference. And to cover their tracks, they launch a violent attack – not against the Stalinists, but against us!

Now we understand, in all its clarity, what the SWP monthly magazine means when it writes in its current issue: “Lenin, and Trotsky and Cannon after him, defined the united front as a tactic of struggle against the opponent to whom the proposal is made,” and again, “Lenin, and Trotsky and Cannon after him, do not view the united front as an end in itself ...” When the Stalinist press used to write, “Lenin, and Stalin after him,” we used to blush for shame at the thought of the vulgarity and bureaucratic idolatry to which the Communist movement had been degraded. But Trotsky reminded us of the philosophical Japanese proverb that even the head of a sardine can be worshipped – by some people. Now, when the Cannonite press suddenly brackets its boss – whose voluminous contributions to the arsenal of Marxian theory have steadily enriched the revolutionary movement for the past 20 years – with Lenin and Trotsky, there is evidently no one around who will even blush. If the head of a sardine can be worshipped, why not Cannon, the genial continuator of Lenin and. Trotsky, the “after-them” theoretician and practitioner of the united, front?

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