Max Shachtman

Two Years of the
Workers Party in Review

(May 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 18, 4 May 1932, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Two years ago, in April, 1940, the Workers Party was formed. It was a party of young militant socialists determined to propagate the ideas of revolutionary Marxism and Trotskyism as they believed them to apply to our day.

Since then, the Workers Party has undergone that most crucial test of all working class parties – its reaction to the war. In its ability to continue to hold to its revolutionary socialist opinion on the war – regardless of the fact that for the time being it found itself a small minority – the Workers Party proved that it was a serious organization composed of militant workers ready to fight to the last for its ideas.

Now, two years after its formation, Max Shachtman, the national secretary of the party, reviews the reasons for its formation, its development and history, as well as its prospects for the future.

The Workers Party, like Labor Action, which was its official organ up to recently, is now two years old. They have not been quiet years, but those who founded the Workers Party, did not expect them to be. Yet they felt an entirely justified conviction that the organization they were launching would successfully weather the storms of the second world war because although small, it was staunchly built from the beginning and equipped with the sound and tested principles that would serve it at once as compass and rudder and chart.

The Workers Party was born in a struggle over internationalist principles as applied to the problems raised by the second world war. All of us who founded the Trotskyist movement in this country in 1928, before then in the Communist Party and after that year in the period when we built the Trotskyist movement, were deeply committed to irreconcilable opposition to the new imperialist world war which we knew would break out unless the workers first succeeded in taking over power.

At the same time, however, we stood by the position that the Soviet Union which, under Stalinist rule, we called a “degenerated workers’ state,” would be supported by us in any war which it would fight with a capitalist state regardless of what other capitalist state might be the allies of Stalin. It was a position which we did not, of course, have the opportunity to test in practice for a long time, in fact, not until the war broke out so dramatically with the signing of the Hitler-Stalin Pact and the invasion and partition of Poland that followed right on its heels.

Refused to Defend Stalin’s Invasions

We, a minority in the leadership of the then Socialist Workers Party, not only condemned the Pact, but we likewise condemned the imperialist conquest of Poland carried on jointly by Hitler and Stalin. We took the same position towards the attack upon Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, upon Finland and later upon Romania which the Stalinist army undertook when, for a period of time, it occupied the place of Japan in the Hitlerite Axis. Having condemned these reactionary moves, we naturally refused to support the Stalinist army or to call for the “defense of the Soviet Union” in the war.

For if, as Trotsky so rightly said, these moves were carried on by the Stalinist rulers at the behest of Hitler, We, as opponents of the imperialist war, were not going to support either one of the two imperialist camps or any subordinate division of such a camp. Our unshakable opposition to the war would not permit us to support any element in it even if an untested policy we had held before the war had to be abandoned.

A different position was taken by our international leader, Leon Trotsky, and following him by the majority of the S.W.P. leadership. They condemned Stalin’s invasion of Poland as “shameful and criminal”; they condemned everything about it; even what they saw as a progressive act in it, namely, the nationalization of property by the G.P.U., they declared to be outweighed by far by the reactionary aspects of the invasion. And from all this they concluded that it is necessary to be ... for the defense of the Soviet Union!

They denounced the invasion – and defended the invaders! It was a position we could not understand or support at that time, and reflection on it at this distance in time makes that position seem even more fantastic.

Demand for Public Expression

We of the minority could not remain silent while the name of revolutionary socialism was being publicly and exclusively associated with such a reactionary position. We demanded the right to be heard. We demanded the right to make our views public – a right taken for granted more than once in Lenin’s time and in Lenin’s party and in far more delicate situations, but which the S.W.P. hierarchy feared to grant us.

After a convention in which they had a slight majority of the delegates (if the youth organization were counted in they would not have had even this slight majority), the leadership sought to apply the gag rule to us. They made a slight mistake there. They thought they could succeed in doing what the Stalinist party leadership had failed to do. Then, without a single one of us having committed a single breach of discipline, a single act for which we could be reproached, we were kicked out of the party simply because we would not vote for a yellow-dog resolution of “loyalty” presented to us by Cannon.

For the first time in the history of the Trotskyist (but not in the Stalinist!) movement, we had a motion presented which provided that anyone voting against it is, in effect, kicked out of the party. No wonder the S.W.P. leadership has failed to make that motion public at any time – even to the party membership. It was and remains a shameful document.

It was then that we brought out the first issue of Labor Action. Simultaneously we proclaimed the organization of the expelled and their supporters into the Workers Party, a revolutionary socialist organization committed to the fundamental principles of the Fourth International as expounded from the days of Marx and Engels down through the time of Lenin and Trotsky.

The war, even before the United States formally entered it and certainly since that time, put a tremendous strain on our small movement. But it did not crack or break us, or move us a single inch from the Marxian internationalist principles which have always been at the heart of our thinking and activity.

We Meet the Supreme Test

One organization after another has succumbed to the war, altogether or in part. The Lovestoneites turned social-patriots; the Socialist Party under Thomas followed suit because there is “no practical alternative”; two or three smaller groups disintegrated under the impact of the war. That is not surprising. Next to the revolution itself, war is the supreme test of a working-class organization, of its program, of its integrity, of its viability. Nobody but pompous bureaucrats can give guarantees for the whole future. But if the record so far is any gauge of what it will be tomorrow, we may rightfully say it is solid and a source of real pride to us.

We do not mean that there have been no defections. We have had, like other sections of the revolutionary movement, our share of cowards who flinched and traitors who sneered. But when we think back on the dire predictions about the terrible degeneration and disintegration that was alleged by our adversaries in the S.W.P. to be our impending fate, we can afford, even in these unpleasant days, to smile. We are still alive and throbbing with firm vigor, even though we were supposed to have died a good two years ago. We are still opposed to supporting one of the imperialist camps just because Stalinist Russia is part of it. We are no more for the “defense” of Stalin’s empire now that it is on the side of the “democratic” imperialists than we were when it was serving the interests of the totalitarian imperialists. We are unmoved by epithets like “sectarian” and “deserter” today as we were in the first period of the war when we were called “petty-bourgeois” and “deserter” by the same people – as unmoved as we have always been when the Stalinists hurled epithets just as furious at us.

We Keep to Our Road

We keep serenely to our road – the road of revolutionary socialist Internationalism. We travel it now with a surer foot, if anything. Our comrades, like the rest of their generation, have been taken into the armed forces or are in the mighty industries of the land. They are not cynical and tired old men, they are not case-hardened and irritable two-bit bureaucrats; they are for the most part young, enthusiastic militants who are learning and who are teaching, too, and their teachings are not without influence.

And Labor Action although it was compelled to sever its official relationship with the Workers Party, is also not without its influence. Its readers number enthusiastic thousands, ninety-five per cent of them workers in the hearths of American industrial, production. They are the friends we are proudest of all to have. They know that nobody can buy our views, that nothing can force us to sacrifice our views; and that our views simply boil down to this – Everywhere, everything and always for the interests and the progress of the working class. No lie, no frame-up against us will convince our growing regiments of friends of the contrary.

Everywhere, everything and always for the interests and progress of the working class! That sentence sums up our program. It is what Labor Action stands for today as it begins its third year of struggle for socialism. It is what the Workers Party stands for today, as it always, has and always will.

No claim we could make would be more easily demonstrated by us.

No claim we could make would give us greater pride.

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Last updated on 14.6.2013