Max Shachtman

For Socialist Democracy!

Independent Socialist League Launched on May Day

(26 April 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 17, 25 April 1949, pp. 1 & 6.
Transcribed &anp; marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

May Day Greetings!

This is the day when we proclaim again the international solidarity of workingmen and workingwomen all over the world.

This is the day when we take stock again of our position and our problems.

The world has barely emerged from the bloodiest and most destructive war in history. We were told that on one side of the conflict stood the nations that loved peace and democracy, and on the other the nations that loved war, conquest and oppression. We were told that if victory crowned the efforts of the Allied powers, that if the Axis powers were crushed to. earth, the whole world would at last enjoy peace, freedom and security.

To gain these ends, the people were called upon to make such sacrifices of blood and wealth, to endure such sufferings, as have no parallel in the past.

Let us remember all the solemn promises that were made during the war to win the support of the people. Let us remember the solemn promises that were made to achieve the Four Freedoms, to carry out the lofty principles of the Atlantic Pact, to establish the peace and brotherhood of all peoples in the United Nations.

Let us remember them well, because the only way in which our rulers and their governments can continue to trick and deceive the people is by counting on our short memories.

They’re Preparing War

The war ended in a smashing defeat of the Axis powers. The rule of Hitler, of Mussolini, of the Japanese militarists, no longer exists and therefore can no longer threaten the peace of the world. Yet, although the Second World War has come to an end, there is no real peace but only an international armed truce.

Everywhere the people tremble with fear of another world war. Everywhere the governments are preparing another world war. The graves of the millions of war dead have not yet had time to turn green. The mothers of the world have not yet had time to raise a new generation of cannon fodder. The cruel, deep war wounds from which half the world is still bleeding have not yet had time to heal.

Yet, once again, for the second time in ten years, a new world war is being concocted before the very eyes of the helpless, unconsulted millions of every nation, a war even more unspeakable and sinister in its consequences than the one that has only just ended.

What has happened to the peace which we were assured would be ours if the Allied powers were triumphant?

The United States now has the largest standing army in its peacetime history. It has peacetime military conscription for the first time in its history.

It has the largest military budget in its peacetime history and more and more billions of dollars are added to it every few months. It is pouring still more billions of dollars into militarizing and arming countries of Europe which have hardly begun to recover from the ghastly sufferings of the Second World War. . |

It cannot find a miserable few tens of millions of dollars for the building of homes because it is spending billions to produce atomic bombs, with which it threatens to destroy whole cities and industries and peoples. It forces its satellites everywhere – its hungry, groaning satellites – to engage in the same exhausting and fiendish armaments race.

The Russian Tyranny Arms

Russia is likewise preparing for war. Its great and long-suffering people are still held in an iron vise by a totalitarian ruling class which has added almost half of Europe and much of Asia to its slave empire.

It maintains the largest standing army in the world and the largest police machine.

This land, devastated by an invader with whom its own rulers allied themselves to launch the Second World War, and kept in poverty and wretchedness by these same rulers, is being drained of its energies and wealth for the upbuilding and maintenance of a war machine of such vast dimensions as to assure privation in permanence for its people.

In the satellite countries under Russian rule, reconstruction also means first and foremost the building of military-industrial arsenals and military training.

Thus the world, which was promised peace, has been divided into two irreconcilably hostile camps preparing feverishly for war.

From both camps, the people are hearing at least part of the truth about the Second World War, a part of the truth which should help us understand the whole truth about the coming world war.

The Stalinists tell us now that their closest allies of yesterday were not really fighting for world peace and freedom, that they were not really champions of democracy. Now they tell us that the Western powers are rapacious imperialists, enemies and oppressors of the people, secret and not-so-secret friends of fascism, warmongers who aim at the conquest and subjugation of the world.

The American government, the spokesmen, the statesmen, the editors of both of its political parties, tell us now that their allies of yesterday, the Stalinists, are not and never were democrats or fighters for democracy, that they are no better and probably worse than the Nazis, that they are and have always been a menace to world peace and world freedom, that they must be exterminated before they can carry out their long-standing plan to exterminate the liberties of the rest of the world.

Fools and Liars

Each side, in its own way, is telling the truth about the other! But even if only half of what they say about each other is true, they stamp themselves as criminal fools or criminal liars.

Fools – if they did not understand these things while they we’re allied in the last war and were proclaiming each other’s great virtues, each other’s great solidarity, and the justice of the war they were jointly conducting.

Liars – if they did understand these things while they were allied in the war, and yet kept silent about them, duping and traducing the millions who listened to them and followed them in the international slaughter.

Why should people anywhere entrust their fate, their very lives, to these confessed fools or liars, to the rulers of both camps who promised us lasting peace after the war with the knowledge that they could not and would not keep their promise?

We socialists, who were independent of both camps in the last world war and maintained our independence, opposed the war on both sides from the very beginning. We opposed the war because we knew that it was not a just war, not a genuine people’s war, not a war for democracy, that it was a war between two rival imperialist combinations to decide which one would rule the entire world, all its peoples and all its wealth.

The outcome of the war decided that neither Germany nor Japan would rule the world, or any part of it. But it left undecided who would rule – the combination headed by American imperialism, or the one headed by Stalinist imperialism.

It is precisely to decide this question that the frenzied preparations are being made for the Third World War. And for the same reasons that we socialists opposed the second imperialist world war, we are opposed to the third imperialist world war and summon all the people, starting with the working class, to bend every effort to combat the cold-blooded preparations that are being made for it.

No Security

The people were not only promised peace, but also security, freedom from fear and from want. Where is this security today, even in the United States?

Security means freedom from economic uncertainty for the worker and his family. It means the guarantee of a good job, the guarantee of a comfortable annual income, the guarantee that the many good things of life that our highly advanced industry can produce so easily will be enjoyed by all, the guarantee that the life and future of the family, especially of the children, can be planned with confidence for years ahead.

Why should this security be so difficult to achieve in the richest country in the world, in the country of the highest productivity of labor and the highest production capacity?

Yet the working class of this country enjoys no such security. There is still a prosperity period in the United States, but it is a false and perilous prosperity.

It is true that the working force in the country is practically at an all-time high, but what is the bases for its size and how long can it last? Not even the government officials dare to speak on this point with assurance, and even if they gave assurances it would be foolish to take them seriously.

How many workers feel confident that they will continue to have their present jobs a year or even six months from now? Millions of workers are already unemployed. Many others are already working only part time. Still others are being driven, especially in the automobile industry, to work under the old backbreaking speedup system – with the justified feeling rising among them that the faster and harder they work, the more they produce, the closer they come to the day when production slows down or stops altogether.

How is it possible to be free from fear under such circumstances? How it is possible to plan ahead the life of the family, to think of a home, to think of advanced education for the younger members of the family, when economic conditions are so uncertain and precarious?

Just as we have no real peace, so we have no real security. The promises made to us were fraudulent.

Prosperity for Destruction

The only reason why the United States has its present boom, deceptive as it is, weakening as it is, is the growing concentration on the war economy.

The government talks endlessly about low-cost housing and even then it can only propose a ridiculously tiny, grossly inadequate fraction of the national budget to tackle the problem of the great national housing scandal. But it has no difficulty in voting for billions upon billions of dollars for war purposes.

It talks endlessly and makes fine promises about what it will do, some day, to tackle the other great national scandals – the tremendous shortage of educational facilities and the criminal inadequacy of health, medical and hospital facilities for the bulk of the people. Its promises remain promises, its bills remain bills which are talked to death, and even what is proposed for dealing with these problems is a paltry sum.

Except for altogether minor differences of opinion between them, both Republicans and Democrats do not hesitate to vote more and more billions of dollars for armaments, for warships, for bombers, for the most terrifying weapons of destruction, and still more billions to mobilize other countries which are dependent upon the United States for militarization and war. More than three-fourths of the national budget of the United States is allotted, directly and indirectly, to military purposes.

Put an end to the war budget, put an end to this monstrous pouring of the national wealth and national energy into paying for war, past, present and future, and the economic boom in the United States would be shattered overnight by the most colossal economic crisis in its annals! The American economic boom is maintained only by the growth of the war economy.

If American industry is still operating at a relatively high capacity, if employment is still at a relatively high point, if the standard of living of the American working class is still higher than in other countries, all this is now due first and foremost to the war preparations.

Could the bitterest critic of capitalism make a more annihilating indictment of it than it is now making of itself?

What good is a prosperity that piles up the highest national debt that any country in the world has ever had? What good is a prosperity that piles an even higher tax burden upon the people, especially upon the shoulders of those least capable of bearing it?

What good is a prosperity bought at the price of the happiness and even the lives of millions of people of this generation and the one to come, who will be called upon to perish like cattle in a slaughterhouse, whose homes and industries and entire cities will be threatened with utter extinction, whose very civilization will be imperiled by a new barbarism?

How can a thoughtful worker or housewife rest content even if he now has a job and a half-decent income, when he realizes that this frail prosperity is only the prelude to the most horrible holocaust the world has ever seen, which will surely engulf whole nations and leave not one of them, not even the United States, intact?

What comfort can the plain people get from the assurance of some of our experts that the Russians do not yet have the atomic bomb, or that they will not have it for another while yet?

What comfort can we get from the scientific experts who assure us that the atomic bomb cannot really destroy everything at one blow but only destroy a few million people and a few billions in wealth – that not all of us will be murdered overnight but only some of us?

Imperialism – American imperialism and Stalinist imperialism – is robbing us of whatever security we have and of the possibility of achieving real and lasting security.

If imperialism is to live and conquer, the people must be destroyed. If the people are to live and prosper, imperialism must be destroyed.

Democratic Promises

We were also promised democracy and a greater flowering of democracy. The promises have remained promises.

All over the world, on the pretense of combating Stalinist totalitarianism, the United States government has allied itself with and is promoting one reactionary force after another. Yesterday, the Greek fascists and monarchists; today Peron; tomorrow Franco.

In France and Italy, the United States is the patron and prop of Catholic political reaction. In Germany, the industrialists, the reactionaries of all stripes, including the former Nazis, count firmly on American collaboration.

In the United States itself, thanks primarily to the existence of a large and powerful labor movement, reactionary assaults upon democratic rights have not yet advanced very far. But these same democratic rights are being constantly and insidiously undermined.

The government bureaucracy has grown stupendously in the last generation and so have its arbitrary powers. For all the protests that are made by many capitalists against the government crutch on which their system must lean more and more, they cannot do without the crutch.

The government has been forced, by the anarchy of capitalist production and by the needs of imperialist policy, to concentrate more and more economic power into its hands. Correspondingly, it concentrates more and more social and political power and control over the lives of all the people.

More and more, the important political decisions in the country are made without the knowledge of the people, against their expressed wishes, and without their control. The economic power and the political influence of the people are declining; the profits, power and privilege of the monopolists mount.

Either the monopolists will tighten their stranglehold on the people through the government and its bureaucracy: or the people will fake over the monopolies through the establishment of a workers’ government.

That is the dilemma. Those are the choices, in this country as in all others.

Labor Has a Job!

The whole future of this country depends upon the working class. The curse of the working class is the modesty of its demands, the modesty of the role it has assigned itself up to now. The American working class must awaken to a realization of its power and its duty.

Its duty is to take the leadership of the nation, and for its fulfillment it has all the power it requires.

No more numerous class exists in the country. None is more compactly organized. None is as democratic or as representative of the interests of all the plain people. None has so mighty an organized movement as the workers have in the form of the unions which already embrace 15,000,000 men and women.

If this class becomes the predominant political power in the country, then peace, democracy, prosperity and security are assured. It could and would organize the economic and political life of the country not in the interests of the monopolists, the profiteers, the timeserving arrogant bureaucrats, but in its own simple interests of all the people, who want to oppress nobody, to exploit nobody, to war on no other people.

It would organize production not for the profit of a handful of capitalists but for the use and enjoyment of all. It would build homes, instead of bombs to destroy homes; provide for the health and life of all, instead of armies for the destruction of life. It would set such a living example of well-being and democracy that no tyranny on earth could withstand the uprising of its own slaves who would be immediately inspired to follow the example.

For this, the working class needs nothing but the consciousness of its task in society and of its irresistible power to perform this task.

Up to now, however, the working class, and especially the organized labor movement, has been content to leave its own fate and the fate of the nation in the hands of the twin parties of capitalism. In the main, it has tagged behind the Democratic Party and provided it with indispensable voting strength.

In exchange for its renunciation of its own political banner and its political independence, the capitalist parties – which fear this independence more than anything else in the world – have graciously consented to throw the workers a couple of crumbs from time to time. But now even the crumbs are become smaller in size and fewer in number.

Our all-powerful labor movement, which could win anything it wants by its own strength and effort, now waits humbly with hat in hand while the capitalist politicians it elected to office laugh in its face.

For a Declaration of Independence

The administration, the Congress, whose election was hailed as such a great triumph by the labor leaders only a few months ago, find no, difficulty in voting almost like one man, and with tremendous speed and efficiency, for the expenditure of their war billions – one billion this week, five billion next week, another few billion a little later.

But the infamous Taft-Hartley Act, so clearly repudiated by the people in the election, so unanimously condemned by the labor movement, still stands on the statute books. All that labor has is the usual promises.

All the capitalist parties and factions have no trouble uniting on the war program of imperialism. But the civil-rights bill, and all legislation proposed to put an end to the sickening stink of Jim Crow, is talked to death or dies in committee.

The vicious loyalty boards, and all other forms of government persecution of labor militants and political opponents, continue in all their evil flower, unitedly backed by both parties. But improved minimum-wage and social-security legislation, housing legislation, progressive health and medical-service legislation, progressive educational legislation, road building, rural electrification, and similar legislation – these cannot get past the politicians who so lavishly squander our substance on war.

Labor needs its own political power! It cannot express it without having its own political party! It is time and high time that the organized labor movement, which already has the basis of its own political machinery in the form of the Political Action Committee of the CIO and the League for Labor Political Education of the AFL, issued its Declaration of Political Independence and established its own national Labor Party!

It is to our shame that the American labor movement, alone among the free labor movements of the other countries of the world, does not have a political party of its own. To organize one, to provide if with a bold program in which labor proclaims its intention to take the leadership of the nation, to provide it with militant leaders provenly devoted to the cause of the working class – that is the supreme task of the times today in this country.

It is above all else to help in realizing this task as quickly and satisfactorily as possible, that we socialists pledge our every effort this May Day.

We have no other interests save those of the working class itself. The labor movement is our movement and whatever our own political program and aims may be, we are part and parcel of the trade-union movement, its loyal socialist wing, its uncompromising champion.

Workers Party Laid the Basis

We seek nothing more than to be part and parcel of tomorrow’s political movement of labor, the Labor Party; its loyal socialist wing, but always its champion against all enemies – its capitalist enemies and Its Stalinist enemies, Its enemies without and its enemies within – because if will be our party no less than the party of the working class as a whole.

The Workers Party, founded nine years ago to give coherent voice to the socialist program of international peace, international brotherhood and international emancipation of labor, founded to express the unfaltering socialist opposition to the Second World Imperialist War on both sides of the conflict – fascist imperialism and democratic imperialism, democratic imperialism and Stalinist imperialism – has just concluded its Fifth National Convention.

The Workers Party realizes that the time when small socialist groups could proclaim themselves to be the parties of the American working class has come to an end. These are the days when the American working class is beginning its long-delayed, long overdue, breakaway from the parties of its class enemy, the parties of capitalism.

We are convinced that great and stirring days are ahead. We are convinced that the working class will soon start its mighty stride along the road of independent political action in its own name and under its own flag, with its own program and its own leadership. The Labor Party, when it comes, will be the party of the American working class.

There is not in this country today any socialist organization which is worthy of the significant name of a party, let alone the party of the American workers. Not one of these organizations is, anything but, a socialistic propaganda group. To continue to pretend that they are parties is not only to deceive themselves but to stand in the way of the formation of the real party of the American workers and to impede the progress of the ideas of socialism in such a party. A genuine socialist has no need of such self-deception.

The ISL is Formed

With full realization of the significance of its decision, our Fifth National Convention has voted almost unanimously to relinquish the name of the Workers Party, to relinquish all claim to being a political party in the true sense of the term, and to acknowledge publicly and freely that we are what we really are: a militant, working-class group engaged in spreading the ideas and program of international socialism in the labor movement, among the youth and among the intellectuals.

On this May Day, we announce the formation of our new organization:

The Independent Socialist League.

In relinquishing our old name, we abandon none of the great liberating ideas and principles that have inspired the genuinely socialist movement all over the world for a hundred years. Our convention proudly reaffirmed these ideas, and reaffirmed its unshaken conviction that the militant working class will yet champion these ideas, and bear them to victory.

We are and we remain socialists – independent socialists. We are independent of capitalism, of all capitalist governments, of all capitalist politics. We are independent of Stalinism and all Stalinist politics and affiliations.

We are democrats, consistent and thoroughgoing democrats, because we are consistent socialists. The working class, and we as part of it, need democracy, widening and deepening democracy, and we shall fight for it without compromise.

The victory of the working class can come only by winning the battle for democracy. The enemy of the working class is at the same time the enemy of democracy. That holds for capitalism and the capitalist class, as it holds for Stalinism and the totalitarian bureaucracy.

The fight for socialism is the fight for democracy. But, the fight for democracy cannot be fought effectively and cannot be won except as it is the fight for international socialism.

In the Fight for Socialism

To all those militants in and around the labor movement who are dedicated to the fight for socialism, the Independent Socialist League holds wide open its doors.

To all those who refuse to resign themselves in helplessness and hopelessness to the barbarism of capitalist decay, to the barbarism of Stalinist tyranny, to the unspeakable war horrors that these two plague bearers are now preparing for the world – the Independent Socialist League is your organization.

To all those who have a profound and solid confidence in the working-class movement and in its socialist future, and therefore confidence in the noble future of mankind; to all those ready and enthusiastic for the great work of assuring the socialist future of the working class by fighting in the front ranks of its present – the Independent Socialist League extends the welcoming hand of comradeship.

May Day greetings, workingmen and workingwomen! Peace, security and freedom are yours to take if yours is the power in the land!

May Day greetings – to all sincere, genuine, militant socialists! Unite with us to build a strong and courageous movement to spread the ideas and program of international socialism, the Independent Socialist League!

Hail the advance of the socialist working class and socialist freedom all over the world!

Max Shachtman, National Chairman

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