Max Shachtman

Six Years of the Workers Party –
Our Record of Triple Vindication

(1 April 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 12, 1 April 1946, p. 1-M.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

A POLITICAL party, especially a working-class party, cannot always be judged by its material successes. That standard can be applied only in the long run. If it cannot be applied at every given moment, or for every given period, it is because such a party does not always have control over the development of the working class or of the general political situation.

But a standard that can be applied to any party and in any period, is this: Was it right in its analysis of the situation, in the way it put the problems of the working class, in the course of action it proposed? Was it right in what it said and what it did, and in what it called upon others to do? Only if the answer to these questions is in the affirmative does a political party justify its existence and deserve the support of the working class. To put it differently, a party must be judged primarily on the basis of its program and of those of its deeds in carrying out the program which its strength makes practically possible.

From this standpoint, the Workers Party, which celebrates its sixth anniversary this month, can proudly record a triple vindication.

Our Vindication in World Events

Ours was the only party which, from 1939 onward, when the Second World War broke out, as well as the day after Pearl Harbor, when the United States openly entered the war, told the working class the whole truth. Ours was the only party in this country which issued an official declaration after Pearl Harbor opposing the war as a struggle between imperialists for the domination of the world. Throughout the war, week-in week-out, we continued the struggle against imperialism and its war which we proclaimed in our Anti-War Manifesto. It was not a “popular” position. The whole weight of the capitalist class and its government was against us. The trade-union officialdom fought us with even greater vigor. The well organized Communist Party machine was active all along the line in demanding our suppression and in trying to suppress us by itself. But we did not compromise an inch or for a single moment.

We said: It is an imperialist war. It is not a war against fascism or for democracy. It is not a war for national liberation or. the preservation of civilization. The war will only bring us a long step closer to barbarism.

They said – all of them: the capitalists, their government, their press, their theaters and their pulpits, their labor leaders and the Communist Party – they said just the opposite.

The war is over now. We live in the imperialist “peacetime.” It is much easier for everybody to see now what the war was fought for. Who was right – we or they? World events give their tragic but unmistakable answer.

Europe and Asia are in ruins. The peoples have neither freedom nor security. The plagues of the Middle Ages never brought such devastation as we see in Europe today. There is not even a sign of that “freedom from fear” about which we heard so much during the war. There is fear of death by starvation; there is fear of death in the Third World War which is already the terror of the peoples before the terror of the Second World War has been dispelled; there is fear of slavery under the yoke of imperialists armed with tanks and pistols of the secret police or those armed with blackmail food, blackmail capital and blackmail atomic bombs.

Now that the “war-loving nations” have been ground down into impotent misery, the “peace-loving nations” are sharpening their claws to get at each other’s throats. Imperial England fights like a mortally wounded beast for the plunder it accumulated all over the world in centuries of rape of the peoples. Stalinist imperialism, swollen with arrogance and livid with greed, fights to snatch from the British the Empire they snatched from hundreds of millions of defenseless people. American imperialism, with the bludgeons of food and capital for “reconstruction” in each hand and a stockpile of atomic bombs at its back, fights to become the supreme master of all the peoples and governments of the earth, dictating the lives of them all, and apportioning to each what is left over from the master’s table. The plundering and enslavement of the peoples is open and shameless. That is what the millions died for.

Who was right? Every parent whose home and family were ruined; every worker who gave up his rights and suspended his fight for a decent life, all the people can see the truth for themselves and say: We were deceived. They lied to us. The dead and we who lived suffered so that imperialist rapacity might triumph. The Workers Party alone told the truth.

Our party stands vindicated by world events.

Our Vindication in the Labor Movement

Throughout the world, ours was the only party that said, openly and boldly and consistently: Workers, this is the war of the imperialists. It is only in the nature of things that they should fight it their way. But why do YOU have to fight their way? You have a war of your own to fight – the war for your advancement and freedom, which is the war to emancipate all those who toil and suffer. Fight it your way, by your own class strength, with your own class program and aims, under your own class leadership. You have an advantage that they can never have – you number in the millions and your rulers number only in the thousands.

We warned the working class: The capitalist class and its government will, as always, utilize the war to strengthen their position and to weaken yours. Break with their way. Adopt the socialist way, which is not only the struggle for the greatest ideal in human history, but the struggle for your needs and interests now, today and tomorrow.

Throughout the war, through our press, our meetings and above all in the organizations of the workers themselves, the labor unions, our party advocated a program for adoption by the labor movement. This is not yet socialism, we said, but it corresponds to the interests of the working class as much as it does to the interests of socialism – there is no conflict there.

Our program during the war and today can be summed up in one sentence: LABOR, RELY ON YOUR OWN STRENGTH IN ORDER TO ACHIEVE YOUR OWN AIMS. We pointed out that the workers, especially in this country, are strong enough to take over the leadership of the nation. We pointed out that progress, real progress, is possible only if labor takes over the leadership of the nation and reorganizes its economic and political life in the interests of its useful citizens. Otherwise, we said continuously, there will be chaos – wild and uncontrolled chaos or “refined” capitalistically-controlled chaos.

To take over the leadership of the nation means to proclaim that we, the working class, will organize economic life in an orderly and rational way so that there is plenty for all. It means that the tremendous economic plant set in motion for wholesale destruction, be organized and utilized for the benefit of all the people. It means that the capitalist bankrupts, who have admitted their inability to provide a high and rising standard of living for all, to provide a year-round job and a minimum annual wage for all, be replaced by the working class, which has the confidence that it can accomplish such elementary aims.

The only way to achieve such a program is through independent working-class political action which aims – what else can it seriously aim at? – to establish a workers’ government.

Formation of CIO-PAC

The formation of CIO-PAC is the beginning of a break with the miserable old capitalist politics inherited from the epoch of Sam Gompers and his AFL. It is not yet independent working-class political action, but it is unmistakably a move IN THAT DIRECTION. Labor, alas, still pursues capitalist politics, but the advance lies in the fact that labor is for the first time ORGANIZED FOR POLITICS AS A CLASS. There is still much work to do. It is still necessary to get the labor movement, now organized for politics as a class, to take part in politics as an INDEPENDENT class, as a class for itself, as a political power which openly lays claim to the leadership of the nation. But it is inspiring to see that the old political moorings are no longer holding labor so firmly rooted to its ineffectual place.

The demands made by many labor organizations are likewise encouraging. The miners demanded that the industry – the industry they created and the industry they maintain – provide for them in sickness and in health. The GM workers demanded even more, much more. What the union meant by these demands, is one thing. But what these demands represent in themselves, is quite another and a much more important thing. The GM workers said: We, labor, declare that this industry can provide a higher living standard for us without increasing the price of automobiles to the consumer, and without even wiping out a “fair profit” to the corporation. They said further: We don’t take your word for anything any longer. Open your books and we’ll prove that our demands can be met. – No wonder the entire capitalist press roared like stuck pigs. They felt the knife at their jowls.

If that’s what labor demands today, tomorrow it will see and have to say: If the du Fonts cannot meet our demands, let the auto industry be nationalized. And if this government will not nationalize it, let us establish a government that will. That’s when labor will be on its last lap in the race for freedom and security.

We need the Workers Party precisely in order to make all this perfectly clear to millions. We need it to see that the “tomorrow” comes not in twenty or forty or a hundred years, but in the shortest possible time.

Therein lies our vindication in the labor movement.

Vindication in Revolutionary Movement

We are a part of the Fourth Internationalist movement. We are what is commonly referred to as Trotskyists – the revolutionary socialist internationalists of modern times. However, inside the Fourth Internationalist movement, our Workers Party has, from its inception, occupied a distinctive place.

Our party was established as an independent organization following a bitter struggle in the old Socialist Workers Party which culminated in a split. We, as champions of workers’ democracy in general and of party democracy in particular, carried on so successful a fight against the bureaucratism of the leadership of the SWP that it found no other way of “settling” the fight than arbitrarily running us out of the party in which we were supported by almost half the membership. The founding of the Workers Party in April 1940 was the result

The fight we led against bureaucratism and conservatism in the SWP was coupled with our fight on the “Russian question.” When the Second World War began, with Stalin in the camp of the Axis, we declared that we would not support or defend Russia in the war. This was admittedly a change in the traditional position of the Trotskyist movement. But, we argued, Russia could not be defended in this war not only because she was part of one of the imperialist camps but because she was pursuing imperialist aims of her own.

A New Theory on Russia

Our views on Russia were almost as “unpopular” in the Fourth International as our views on the war in general were in the country as a whole. They did not become more popular when, after further consideration in the Workers Party after it was formed, we reached the conclusion that Stalinist Russia was not a “workers’ State” or a “degenerated workers’ state” in any sense of the term, but represented instead a reactionary social regime based on a unique form of the exploitation and oppression of worker and peasant. This departure from the old views of the movement brought down upon our heads all sorts of derision and curses and ominous forecasts of what would happen to us.

We persisted in our views, however, sustained by the confidence that Marxists always feel about the ample confirmation that events will supply to their analyses. Now, six years later, events have supplied the inevitable confirmation.

The last two years have seen the development of a new minority inside the Socialist Workers Party. Where we found it necessary to charge the leadership with bureaucratic conservatism, matters have reached a point in the SWP where the new minority, led by such authoritative comrades as Albert Goldman and Felix Morrow, find it necessary to charge the leadership with representing the germs of Stalinism. The new group has found considerable support for its point of view in many sections of the Fourth International. It is interesting to note that even those Fourth Internationalists who side with the leadership of the SWP do not find it possible to do so with enthusiastic conviction. Not one of them can or does defend the leadership as representing genuine party democracy. Even its warmest partisans in other countries find it necessary to urge upon this leadership the need of “doing everything” to “preserve” party democracy; and there is ample reason for this urgent recommendation which is already half-warning.

WP for Unity; SWP Against

The course followed by this leadership in the matter of the unification of the SWP and the WP is also revealing. We said six years ago that the responsibility for the split in the movement in this country rested on the shoulders of the majority which ousted us from the party. But at that time, the case was not clear at all. It is becoming perfectly clear now. In spite of an assiduous effort by the minority in this country, and of groups in several other countries; in spite of the exceptional concessions offered by our party in the interests of unity – it has proved impossible to budge the SWP leadership an inch away from its opposition to unity, an opposition which is entirely obvious but not open, which is obdurate but not courageous. It is indeed becoming clear to the International movement and to all interested workers that the SWP leadership, and not we, is responsible for the division in the movement.

So it is with the “Russian question.” It is hard to find anyone in the Fourth International who will today offer, with any measure of conviction, an argument in favor of “unconditional defense” of Stalinist Russia. Many of the Trotskyist militants in this country and elsewhere, who opposed us vigorously in 1940, are today abandoning this outlived and now reactionary slogan. Others go further in our direction by abandoning the preposterous theory that Russia today represents any kind of “workers’ state.” Among them, for example, are many of the comrades of the SWP minority, who are increasingly in solidarity with our party on all the controversial questions. If some of these comrades have not yet reached all our conclusions about Russia’s being a bureaucratic-collectivist state, we think that this is due to their failure to see the problem with all the necessary clarity. But we are confident that time and discussion will straighten out this question too.

“Workers’ State” Theory Dying Out

The important thing is that the “workers’ state” theory, in whose demolition we are proud to have pioneered, is dying in the Fourth International and there is pretty nearly nobody around with enough belief in it to try to save it. How can there be? The head of Stalinist imperialism is no less ugly, no less alive and obvious, than the head of capitalist imperialism. It not only chokes off the socialist revolution and democracy and the labor movement in the countries it conquers, but enslaves the peoples over whom it extends its sway. To attempt, consistently, to speak any longer of Russia as a “workers’ state” or of “defending’ ’this reactionary monster, can only mean capitulating to Stalinism and giving up the fight for socialist freedom. That is already happening in France, where a handful of Trotskyists and ex-Trotskyists and near-Trotskyists, basing themselves on the theory that Russia is a “workers’ state,” have proposed to give up the fight against Stalinism: it is, you see, “extending” the “workers’ state’ ’and “socialism” all over Europe! That is the kind of swamp a reactionary theory can lead into.

The actual events of Russian development and the growing strength of our views in the Fourth International, are our vindication inside the revolutionary movement.

We are far from content with this. We prepare ourselves now for the coming years with the ineradicable conviction that the working class will fight against the conditions of its existence, that it will win its way to the program of our party because we will win our way to its heart and mind by our participation in the fight, until we achieve our ultimate vindication in the triumph of socialist freedom.

Max Shachtman
Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 20 January 2019