Max Shachtman


American Communism

A Re-Examination of the Past

(Fall 1957)

From The New International, Vol. XXIII No. 4, Fall 1957, pp. 207–245.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The radical movement in the United States has been shattered by a cumulative crisis. If we define the radical movement, for the purposes of this review, as the organized expression of those who avow the goal of socialism, it would be an exaggeration if we said that it lies in utter ruin, but not if we said that every section of it has suffered a debacle.

The oldest of the organizations in this country, the Socialist Labor Party, leads a hermetically-sealed vegetable existence, uninfluenced by the world and without influence on it. The I.W.W. is nothing more than the dream of a gloried but irretrievable past. The principal traditional organization of socialism, the Socialist Party, which had well over 100,000 members almost fifty years ago – in 1912, to be exact – and still had over 100,000 members forty years ago, is reduced to a small regiment now trying again to rebuild the party into a significant movement. The Communist Party, which managed to build itself up in the Forties to a membership of almost 100,000 and a tremendous influence outside its immediate ranks, is now a wreck that is not only ridiculed but discredited and despised. The Trotskyist organization, after three decades of existence, remains a wing without a body, unable to fly, unable to land. Of the multiplicity of groups that broke away or were broken away from it in thirty years, only the Independent Socialist League, the American Socialist group and a subgroup exist, all the others having vanished without trace or regret. To complete the picture by adding the names of any other groups that exist would only make it more dismal.

Where does this picture present itself, and when? In the United States today. Practically every other capitalist country in the world has an influential and even a powerful socialist (or Communist) movement; in the United States, the most advanced of all the capitalist countries, the one materially ripest for socialist reorganization, there is none. Wherever a significant labor movement exists, there is also a socialist movement which finds in it its political nourishment and not only the historical bearer of its ideas. But not in the United States which now has the largest and most powerfully organized labor movement in the history of the world. Here, support for an organized socialist movement from trade unions embracing eighteen million men and women is next to zero. Here, the most militant and significant mass movement of that tenth of the population made up by the Negro people is unfolding without any serious socialist influence upon it.

These are the realities. They are bitter ones. The socialist worthy of the name must be ready and able to acknowledge even the most dismaying facts, to examine them with sober objectivity and the utmost of critical freedom, to reconsider and re-evaluate the past in the light of the present. There is no other way to decide on those steps which are necessary and possible for changing today’s reality into a reality more favorable to the advancement of socialism.

To reconsider and re-evaluate the past does not automatically imply the necessity of rejecting and repudiating it. It does mean such a critical re-examination as makes it possible for those who have not been inundated by helplessness and hopelessness, for those who are both confident of the socialist future and determined to bring it closer, to choose from among the elements of the past. It should by now be a commonplace that much in the past of the socialist movement – of its theories, its policies, its conduct – has been proved faulty. But not everything – indeed, far from it – has proved to be sterile, fruitless, worthless. Two outstanding facts refute such a belief, if anyone seriously holds it: one is that before and during the first world war a significant socialist movement was built up in this country under the banner of the Socialist Party; and the other is that what appeared to millions to be a socialist movement was built up in this country in the Forties under the banner of the Communist Party.

We do not therefore believe for a moment that there is some divine law, or some law of nature, or some singular magic about the nature of American capitalism and its working class, that automatically exempts this country from the operation of those persistent forces that have built and sustained socialist movements everywhere else. That is not to say that American capitalism is identical with European capitalism and must travel exactly the same road in exactly the same way. On the contrary: American capitalism is indeed unique and so it has been from its earliest days. It is indeed – to employ a once unjustly-scorned term – “exceptional,” even if within a definite and limiting framework. It can even be said that the distinctive national peculiarity of the historical development of American capitalism, and therefore of its working class, and therefore of the socialist movement and its problems, has never been fully or adequately thought out by the very socialists who possess the analytical instruments required for the task. This fundamental task is one of the most important and urgent ones to be performed by those concerned with the reconstruction of socialism in this country. To the extent that it is conscientiously performed, we will be armed with an understanding of the objective conditions, historical and contemporary, that created the barriers to American socialism in the past as well as of those that indicate its encouraging prospects for the future.

It is to these objective conditions that the Marxist assigns the primary and principal cause for the difficulties of the socialist movement in this country in the past and to its dispersal and feebleness today. To explain so tremendous a political phenomenon as the absence of a socialist movement in this country to the malevolence of Smith or the blunders of Jones or the crimes of Robinson, or even of many Smiths and Joneses and Robinsons, is ludicrous not only to a Marxist but can not be taken seriously by any intelligent political person. Only objective conditions, only the interaction of great social forces which no person or group of persons can arbitrarily determine, provide the basic explanation.

WITH THIS FUNDAMENTAL CONCEPT always well in mind, the problem of the socialist movement here must nevertheless be examined in another aspect. The various theories, ideas, analyses, policies, tactics practises adopted by one or another section of the movement – what part did they play in contributing to or in averting its present sorry state? We cannot assign everything to objective conditions over which we have little or no control at any given moment, above all to the conditions of the historical past. The socialist movement has as its purpose not merely to understand conditions but to alter them. And while we cannot jump over our own heads, let alone over society as a whole, we can and must work out those policies best calculated under given conditions to achieve the socialist goal. The socialist movement is not primarily a theoretical movement but a political movement; or more exactly, it is a theoretical movement only to the extent required to become an effective political movement. Right there is where political mistakes and crimes of the past demand judgment and re-judgment. The judgments that concern us are not moral or personal, but political.

To reconsider the past of the movement from this standpoint is not, it cannot be emphasized too often, a substitute for the more fundamental problem referred to before. Be it understood that it is not within the purpose of these lines to deal with it. That is for another time and it is not a task for any one day or for any one person. These lines aim at treating only one aspect of the movement’s problem: what has it itself done to help in the debacle? Even this question must be limited, on this occasion, to a deliberately one-sided treatment. No claim is made here of a rounded consideration of all the forces involved.

The “one side” to be examined is the Communist Party. For this bias, there is more than a little justification. The Communist Party has been the dominant section of the radical movement in this country for forty years. In addition, the Communist Party is unique in that, among other things, it embraces within its own history a wider range of theories, policies and practices than any other organization avowing socialism has ever known. It has run the full gamut, up and back, from insurrectionism to parliamentary opportunism, from revolutionary trade-unionism to collaboration with the most conservative of trade-union officialdoms, from revolutionary boycottism in elections to support of the most conservative of capitalist candidates, from extreme opposition to war to extreme chauvinist support of war, from extreme or apparently extreme inner-party freedom to extreme bureaucratism – and everything imaginable in between. So that, even if there had been no other section of the socialist movement in existence during this period, the courses pursued by the C.P. alone would provide more than ample matter, and in more than ample variety, for reconsidering the past of American socialism.

Furthermore, most socialists who regard themselves as “left-wingers” or Marxists, look upon the C.P. as having been, if not at one time then at another, the historically-justified successor, with all its defects, to the S.P. as the authentic socialist movement in the country. In fact, some even propose that the reconstructed socialist movement of tomorrow must take its inspiration, if not its model, from the Communist Party in its “early days,” or its “best days.”

What then has the Communist Party contributed to the progress of American socialism, or to its retardation?

The answer to the question is necessarily based to a large extent upon hindsight. This is admitted without apology. Hindsight has the advantage of dealing with conditions established, known and tested in the flesh. And, after all, without hindsight, preferably judicious hindsight, foresight cannot be equipped with much wisdom. In arriving at the answer, the writer claims some advantage from direct personal participation, knowledge and experience in the Communist movements, both as supporter and then as opponent. Yet this advantage is not of overwhelming importance and certainly not indispensable; it merely helps. The documentation by itself should be enough for the critical student and analyst.

THE JOB OF EXAMINING IT has just been vastly facilitated by an independent and invaluable study, The Roots of American Communism, by Theodore Draper. [1] It is a volume in the series on Communism in American Life, under the general editorship of Clinton Rossiter, part of a project sponsored by the Fund for the Republic. It deals with the origins of the Communist Party in this country and carries the subject to the year 1923 when the “underground” party emerged again as a legal and public organization under the name of the Workers Party. (Another volume is promised soon which will bring the party’s history up to the year 1945.)

Draper’s work is an extraordinary success. Anyone who does not exhibit a thorough acquaintance with the material he has so ably assembled in this volume, deprives himself of the right, and certainly of the ability, to speak seriously about the American Communist movement. There is nothing in existence to compare with it. The official histories manufactured by the Communist Party itself are notoriously untrustworthy, for the innermost nature of the Party guarantees the quality that it demands. It is the only party in the world whose history can be written only by ex-members or opponents. The conclusive proof of this fact, while not the aim of Draper’s work but only a natural by-product, is one of the many merits of his book. It relegates to their proper places – if there is a proper place for them – police romances about the C.P. such as have been written by government spies like Jacob Spolansky or spicy confessions by ex-members of the Party like Ben Gitlow in which the facts groan under the burden of pushcart gossip and enough lubricous tales are told to excite the philistine’s fantasy. Even such a serious work as James Oneal’s American Communism, written thirty years ago and covering about the same period of time, is far surpassed by Draper’s.

The author does not fall into the easy trap that awaits the historian who relies on documentation. He has gone through all the available written material of the period, most of which is extremely difficult to find, and checked it with exceptional scrupulosity. But he has also checked and crosschecked it, in turn, with personal interviews granted him by a number of the party leaders of the period who had worthwhile information and opinions to offer, and the freedom to offer them. As a historian of a movement in which he did not actually live and work among the people he deals with and thereby actually know their thoughts and feelings (Draper’s membership in the C.P. came at a distinctly later stage than the one covered in his book), he has achieved a rare measure of success in recreating for himself and for the reader, the life and unfolding of the C.P. He shows a full sense of responsibility toward his subject; conscientiousness without pedantry; the enlightening warmth of understanding with no less of the mandatory critical spirit; and a complete freedom from the vinegary sneer-and-snarl with which so many appraisers of the early Communist movement approach its history.

It is not always possible to agree with the weight he ascribes to this or that element that played a role in the Communist movement. He attaches too great a significance to the part played in the early days by the members or leaders of the Lettish Federation of the Socialist Party which became the Lettish Federation of the Communist Party. It is perhaps a natural tendency in a historian to ascribe exaggerated importance to a phenomenon which he has rescued from unmerited obscurity. The same applies to the exceptional regard he manifests for Louis C. Fraina (known also as Lewis Corey when he reappeared publicly after leaving the Communist movement). Perhaps this is also a reaction against the attempts of the later leaders of the party to denigrate his name, if not to consign it to oblivion. Fortunately, these misjudgments, and some inaccuracies of other kinds, play no important part in the book and do not detract significantly from its value. Even more gratifying is the fact that, although the author is obviously not a Marxist and has a familiar bias against the Bolshevik revolution, his work remains first-rate.

It is not a mere heavy-handed, routine compilation of relevant and irrelevant facts. Draper exercises the historian’s right (and obligation) to choose the facts that are important as well as relevant, to separate them analytically, and than to assemble them into conclusions appropriate to his thesis. His thesis (the term is really not exact, in so far as it may suggest that the view obtrudes itself all over the book and that the facts are stretched and squeezed to fit it) is formed out of two related views:

The first is a denial of the

opinion that the American Communist movement was totally unrelated to the Socialist Left Wing of 1912. This view seems to minimize historical continuity. The Bolshevik revolution transformed the Left Wing, but it did not create a new one out of nothing. On the contrary, the leading roles were played by men and women who were prepared for them by past inclinations and experience. The Bolshevik revolution came to fulfill, not to destroy. The peculiar development of American Communism can be understood only in terms of the way in which the new Bolshevik influence impinged on American radical traditions. The interaction of the two was a long, painful, complex process. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that something new was born with the Bolshevik revolution. It was born precisely because the old Left Wing was famished for something new, different, more successful. But as with all newborn things, the flesh out of which it came was not new.

The second, including a re-statement of the first, comes at the very end of the study. It is its summary and the implied preface to the concluding volume to come. It refers to the aid given by Moscow – by the Communist International leaders – to the early American Communists to resolve fruitfully those problems of theory and tactics that they seemed less able to resolve by themselves:

In addition to all the other boons which Moscow held out to them – the reflected glory of the Russian Revolution, the international glamor of the Comintern, the desperately needed subsidies and other technical assistance – this last discovery of Moscow’s usefulness was the most seductive and the most ruinous ... Something crucially important did happen to this movement in its infancy. It was transformed from a new expression of American radicalism to the American appendage of a Russian revolutionary power. Nothing else so important ever happened to it again.

If we were to restate this second view in our own terms, it would only be to put it more emphatically, and the rounded reasons for it will be set forth later on. Agreement with the first view, however, is not so simple a matter. It is stated so loosely and vaguely as to invite ambiguity. Every other sentence evokes strong disagreement; and the sentences in between permit agreement only with challenging reservations.

If the matter were only of academic historical importance, it would barely be worth the paper needed to discuss it. From the standpoint of present-day politics, it has even less importance: the Communist Party of 1957 has as much in common with the Bolsheviks of 1917, let alone the Socialist Left Wing of 1912, as dishwater has with well-water. But from the standpoint of the development of the early Communist movement and its consequences, the question does have instructive importance.

WHAT IS “PECULIAR” ABOUT the development of American Communism which “can be understood only in terms of the way in which the new Bolshevik influence impinged on American radical traditions,” when the development of German (and French and British) Communism – substantially identical with the American – are likewise understandable “only in terms of the way in which the new Bolshevik influence impinged” on German (and French, and British) radical traditions? In the European countries, the “interaction” was an even longer, more painful and more complex process. There too the “Bolshevik revolution came to fulfill, not to destroy,” and surely not less so than in the United States.

There was a peculiarity about the early Communist movement in this country (one among several others, it may be noted), but it lies in precisely the other direction from that indicated by Draper. It was peculiar precisely to the extent that it was not related to the “Socialist Left Wing of 1912” or more generally to “American radical traditions.” Draper is not altogether wrong in denying that the Communist movement was “totally unrelated” to the old Left Wing, for within very narrow limits the relationship is obvious; but he is quite wrong in his emphasis.

The difference may be pointed up by contrasting the German movement, for example, with the American – always with due respect, as the French say, for the difference in proportions. The first Communist Party in Germany, the Spartakusbund, could trace its origins clearly and unmistakably to the Left Wing of the Social Democracy and, theoretically and programmatically, to a traditional revolutionary Marxian position. Its leadership incarnated the continuity: Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, Franz Mehring, Klara Zetkin, even Karl Radek, as well as younger men like Paul Levi, Wilhelm Pieck, Heinrich Brandler, August Thalheimer. Correspondingly, the leaders of the Left Wing of the Independent Social-Democratic Party who won the majority of the organization at its Halle congress in 1920 for affiliation with the Third International and then merged it with the Spartacists to form the United Communist Party, represented prominent and undebatable continuity with the Left Wing positions they had occupied in the pre-war Social Democracy (there were and always will be individual and accidental exceptions).

The difference in the United States is positively striking. Especially so if the reference is back to Draper’s unhappily chosen “Socialist Left Wing of 1912.” At the Indianapolis convention of the Socialist Party in 1912, the maximum number of delegates the loose, variegated Left Wing and its sympathizers could muster on the key division (Hillquit’s proposal for Article II, Section 6 of the party constitution that provided for the expulsion of advocates of “sabotage,” directed against members of the I.W.W. inside the Party) was 90, against the 191 who supported Hillquit. Less than ten per cent of the 90 delegates ever found their way to the Communist Left Wing or Parties in 1918–1919 or afterward; and of that fragment, only two minor figures ever played a role in the Communist leadership – C.E. Ruthenberg and Edward Lindgren. If you go back two years, to the 1910 convention in Chicago, there are not even half a dozen delegates out of the more than one hundred who ever joined the Communist movement or became leaders in it. Of those who dropped out of the Socialist Party after 1912 in anger over the adoption of the famous Section 6, we know of only one individual who rejoined it, supported the Left Wing in 1919, and became a prominent Communist leader, Earl Browder. Of Left Wingers who remained in the S.P. after 1912 and later joined the Communist Left Wing and the party (or rather, parties, for the split in the Socialist Party in 1919 simultaneously produced two of them, the Communist Party and the Communist Labor Party), there were remarkably few. The Communist Labor Party convention had perhaps a dozen or two who came out of the old Socialist Left. Only a fraction of these stayed with the Communist movement. The Communist Party, completely dominated and overwhelmingly composed of the Slavic-language Federations, had even fewer.

The peak strength of the S.P., as well as of its Left Wing, was reached around 1912. The Left Wing had the support or sympathy of a good third of the Party. It was composed overwhelmingly of native-born, or at least English-speaking, members, who could count on foreign-language Federation support mainly from among the Finns – the “Red Finns” – in upper Michigan, in Minnesota, and generally in the Northwestern and Mountain states. Many Left Wingers quit the Party after 1912, but there was a resurgence of their spirit at the time of the St. Louis Emergency Convention of 1917 at which the famous militant anti-war manifesto was adopted.

How many of them came into the Communist movement? A sufficiently good guess can be made on the basis of the English-speaking membership of the two Communist Parties at the end of 1919, right after their founding and before they were driven underground by the “Red Raids” of Attorney-General Palmer. A generous estimate of the total membership of the two parties at that time would not greatly exceed 30,000. Of this figure, no more than ten percent and probably somewhat less was represented by the English-speaking membership. Of these a good 800 were members of the Michigan state organization (which later became the Proletarian Party), who soon withdrew from the C.P. They were no more Communist than were the people the old Socialist Party of Canada (or its inspirer, the S.P. of Great Britain) from which they took over their weird theories. Even of the very few old Socialist Left Wingers who joined the Communist Parties, we can think of only two who had attained national prominence in the pre-war S.P., L.E. Katterfeld, who once directed the Lyceum department of the S.P. national office (the speakers’ bureau) and Ruthenberg, the latter really only in 1917. And even of these two it cannot be said that either one of them was prominent in the intellectual or political leadership of the traditional Socialist Left Wing. (The name of Louis Boudin cannot be added, even though he was nationally and even internationally known, for while he supported the Left Wing, he steamed out of the convention of the Communist Labor Party and never joined it.) Most of the other leading Communist Left Wingers were barely known outside their own localities before the Bolshevik Revolution; many of them had no past at all to speak of in the socialist movement.

What had happened to the old Socialist Left? It nullified itself, came apart and lost its bearings before the Communist Left Wing came on the scene. That was inevitable. In so far as the multiplicity of strains that composed it could be called a Left Wing, it was characterized, positively, by a fervid revolutionary spirit and an uncompromising attachment to the principle of the class struggle. But in every other respect – theoretical, political and tactical – it had no cohesive platform that could be defended from the standpoint of Marxism in general, or that could stand up against the policies of the leadership that was gradually developed by and around Morris Hillquit, the political leader of the Party. The gnawing discontents of thousands of rank-and-file militants over the moderation of the dominant party policies rarely rose above the primitive radicalism, at one stage, of opposition to “reform” or “immediate” demands in the party program, and at a later stage, of support or sympathy for the aggressive syndicalism of the I.W.W. Against such radicalism, Hillquit and his comrades had fairly easy sailing, and understandably so. It did not take too long to prove that the political focus of the Left Wing was not enough to hold it together, let alone move it forward. It sterilized its attachment to the basic principle of the socialist movement, the class struggle, by its sectarianism – that dread curse of every Left Wing in the history of radicalism in this country, and not this one alone.

When the United States entered the war (in 1917), the principal leaders of the Left Wing, the ones best known nationally, the ones who had done the main theoretical and political work of the Left Wing, collapsed almost to a man. They not only abandoned the Left Wing; they abandoned the Socialist Party altogether. Many of them joined with Sam Gompers in an organization to stimulate support of the war in labor and socialist circles. Some of them even went to the length of public agitation against Socialist Party candidates, and even called on the government to take police action against the party. Right- Wingers contributed their good share to the war-supporters who quit the party. But to the Left Wing, it was its own former leaders who counted, and that disastrously: William English Walling, Frank Bohn, A.M. Simons, Henry Slobodin, J.G. Phelps Stokes and Rose Pastor Stokes, Robert Rives La Monte – in a word, most of the prominent intellectual leaders of the Left Wing who had set the tone in its unofficial organ, the old International Socialist Review. In no other section of the Second International did its Left Wing suffer such a blow from its own leadership. In almost every country, there were individual cases of such extreme reversals: Hervé in France, Cunow in Germany, Mussolini in Italy, some Russian Bolsheviks in Paris, Hyndman in England. But in general the continuity of the European Left Wing was maintained. In the United States, it was almost completely disrupted, at least so far as its principal traditional leadership was concerned. The effect upon the Left Wing here could not but be shattering. Its rank and file, without nationally-known and experienced leadership, was partly demoralized, largely disoriented. We need only recall that the famous St. Louis convention anti-war declaration was jointly produced and sponsored by C.E. Ruthenberg ... Morris Hillquit ... and Algernon Lee; and that the I.W.W., which valiantly pursued the class struggle on the economic field during the war and suffered from brutal repressions at the hands of the war mongers, remained so true to its syndicalist unconcern with “politics” and “the state” that it did not find it necessary to adopt a declaration against the war (or, to be sure, in support of the war).

What remained of the Left Wing had the task of reorienting and reassembling its ranks. It did not even make a serious attempt until the February 1917 revolution in Russia startled the world and uplifted the spirits of all socialists, the Left Wingers in particular. Its most notable and authentic reappearance was marked by the publication of the first issue of The Class Struggle. Its editors were Louis B. Boudin, Louis C. Fraina and Ludwig Lore. Boudin was the only personal connection with the old Left Wing, but as already mentioned, he never joined the Communist movement. At bottom, he was an inflexible Kautskyan, whereas Hillquit was a flexible Kautskyan, a distinction so trivial as to generate in the former a throbbing animus toward the latter. Fraina, practically unknown in the party, had a brilliant but restless theoretical mind which never alighted on a definite theoretical position for longer than a year before flying to a radically different one. He was a perfect example of that familiar figure in the radical movement who swims like a fish in the sea of theoretical disputation and gasps like a fish on the sands of politics. Lore was beginning to attain prominence in the German Federation and the New York organization. He possessed a rich socialist culture, a far higher degree of political intelligence than any of the other Communist-leaders-to-be, an intellectual independence and critical faculties that distinguished him from all the others. These fatal gifts guaranteed his expulsion from the Communist Party after only a few years in its ranks.

TO READ THE FIRST, DECLARATIVE, issue of The Class Struggle is to see how far removed it was from the old Left Wing and from the political issues that concerned it, and, on the other hand, how far it was from the Communist Left Wing that was soon but so unexpectedly to arise in the Socialist Party. It can also be seen that the Left Wing was not continuing but recommencing. It was unsure of its own foundations (its old ones had practically crumbled), and, as a definite tendency, all but isolated in the Party. The editors did not hesitate to proclaim unpleasant truths:

There is practically no independent Socialist thought in this country, and the Socialist ideas elaborated abroad usually reach us only as soulless and meaningless formulae and often as mere reflexes of old-world racial and nationalistic sympathies, animosities and struggles ...

The bulk of the Socialists of American stock, whom the currents of European Socialist thought have hardly reached, are steeped in ... vulgar pro-allyism ...

Opposed to this is the offensive and degrading pro-Germanism of a large proportion of our membership and the party bureaucracy ...

There was no reference to any existing Left Wing in the party, but only to saving the Party by revolutionizing “the concepts and modes of action of our movement.” This meant no more than a rejection of the notion of “national defense,” and a return to the class struggle and internationalism. Where indeed was the once powerful Left Wing? The position of “the bulk of the Socialists of American stock” has already been cited, and so has the position of the “pro-Germanism of a large proportion” of the other members and leaders. Of the foreign-language Federations of the Party, the Lettish alone was distinguished by a Left-Wing position. It was confined pretty much to Massachusetts and was virtually unknown elsewhere. Its inspiration was not the Bolshevik theories but the mystical abstractions of the Dutch radical sectarians, Pannekoek, Gorter, and their representative in this country, S.J. Rutgers (who exercized a tremendous but inevitably brief influence upon the volatile Fraina). The Germans, under Lore’s influence, were moving to the Left in a general way. In an even more general way, this was true of the South Slavs. But the Jewish Federation was moderate and even pro-war. The Polish Federation was pro-Pilsudski. The Finnish Federation, having lost the “Red Finns,” was conservative and unobstrusive in Party affairs. The Russian Federation, formed only in 1915, was weak, uninfluential, and overwhelmingly inclined to the Menshevik position – and not the Left Menshevik position, either. None of the other language groups of the Party was particularly marked by radicalism.

If, then, it is true, in the literal sense, that the Bolshevik Revolution “did not create a new [Left Wing] out of nothing,” as Draper says, it is not true, or it is “misleadingly true,” that the revolution “transformed the Left Wing” – if he is speaking, as he is, of “the Socialist Left Wing of 1912.” There was not enough of it left by 1917–1918 to be transformed into anything. It would be far truer to say: the Bolshevik Revolution created the Communist Left Wing and its program and its leadership.

From this fact it does not follow, as some epidermal thinkers have put it, that the ideas of the Revolution were “alien” and “unacclimatizable” to the American social soil. The same epidermal reasoning held for a long time that the importation of Marxian ideas in general by German immigrants a hundred years ago proved the incompatibility of these ideas with American problems. The reasoning is false, but the original fact is not. It is with its consequences that we are concerned. By virtue of what we insist is “the fact,” we can understand the “peculiar development” of American Communism which caused it to be transformed, more easily and more rapidly than any other Communist movement of importance, “from a new expression of American radicalism to the American appendage of a Russian revolutionary power.” Draper’s first “thesis” is wrong to the very extent that it makes such an understanding difficult.

THE COMMUNIST LEFT WING in this country was formed, swelled, led and dominated by the Slavic, primarily the Russian, and East European Federations of the Socialist Party. It did not come into existence as the natural product of militant rank-and-file revolt against a party leadership prosecuting the war in intimate collaboration with an imperialist government and steeped in chauvinism, as was the case in Germany with the Spartacists and then with the Independents. It was not the product of a movement of workers to the left of the traditional socialist party who found in its imperialist position an obstacle to the fight for their interests and ideals, as was the case in France with the Left Wing Socialists and their allies among the non-party syndicalists who jointly formed the Communist Party. (In the United States, the workers’ movement that stood to the left of the Socialist Party was represented only by the I.W.W., which played, it is important to note, no role at all in the formation of the Communist Left Wing and the Parties founded by it.)

It came into existence in a fervently enthusiastic response to the victories of the two Russian revolutions in 1917, especially of the second. The response reached its highest intensity in the Slavic Federations, which experienced a hypertrophic growth surpassed only by the growth of self-esteem among their leaders, again, especially and primarily the Russians. Literally overnight, they became the leaders of the Left Wing with whose past struggles and traditions they had had nothing whatever to do. They stoked it, poured it, forged it, rolled it, cut it apart, stamped it, wrapped it up, sealed and labeled it and tied it in knots. The solemn and earnest Letts, authentic radicals of the day before, ceased forever after to play a leading role and were confined to providing the Left Wing with a solid bloc vote in the party dispute. The leadership was entirely in the hands of the “November Bolsheviks,” the pashas of the Russian Federation, Hourwich, Stoklitsky, Tywerousky, Missin, Lunin, Ashkenudize and others. Only the mellowing influence of time allows us to speak of them gently as political babblers. Their like was never known to the American movement since the riotous days of Johann Most, from whom they differed only in lacking his talent and character. They scorned the superficial qualifications for socialist leadership: personal integrity, attachment to principle, critical independence of thought, comradeliness, serious study and analysis of problems of the movement, and above all the authentication of all these by years of positive experience in the political struggles of the working class and the struggles within the movement itself. None of these was in them. They relied instead on the more fundamental qualifications: their birth certificates, and the ability to read Russian in the original and translate it badly for “socialists of American stock” whom they enfieffed. These entitled them to all the letters of mark and reprisal they needed, and they used them without wince or scruple.

And the others – the Left Wing “socialists of American stock?” It is hard even for their contemporary to recreate in his mind the nightmarish reality of the intellectual, political and organizational terror exercized over the entire Left Wing by the Russian Bashibazouks. In exchange for their position as the Russian Federation of the American Socialist Party, they wanted to establish here an American Federation of the Russian Party, [section of text missing] -eration” was under rigorous obligation to adopt all the theories and policies of Bolshevism and its revolution, and apply them to the radically different soil of American social relations and political developments. Still worse, the Federationists knew practically nothing and understood absolutely nothing about the history of the Bolshevik party, about its political and theoretical evolution, about the developments and conflicts in its course during the revolution itself or about the problems of its further unfoldment. If that is how it was with the Russians – and that is literally how it was – it is not hard to guess how it was with the native Left Wingers.

The latter, it goes without saying, knew far more about American class realities and political problems than did the Federationists; indeed, it was hardly possible to know less. All their best political instincts and experience urged them on to create a movement that could function effectively for class-struggle socialism under American social conditions. They therefore rebelled against the rule of the Russians from the very beginning of the Communist Left Wing and throughout the early days of the Communist Parties. But their rebellion was caught in a triple trap and could not get out of it.

First, even though the native Left Wingers were not the continuators of the old Left Wing, they took over most of the negative, that is, the sectarian, traditions of the old Left Wing which were in turn the transmuted inheritance of impotent American agrarian radicalism: opposition to “immediate demands” and “reforms,” hemi-semi-demi-opposition to parliamentary activity, opposition to the existing labor movement, the unrequited amour passionel for the I.W.W., and radicalism of language which passed for radicalism of thought. The Russians had all of that – and more. Both groups looked upon the Bolshevik Revolution as the unquestionable, last and authoritative word, and believed, quite mistakenly, that it had come “to fulfill, not to destroy” these ideas. So the ground was taken from under any native Left Wing fight against the Russians on political or principled grounds. They were confined, and they confined themselves, to amending the Russians, changing a word here, modifying a thought there, but leaving the substance intact. They lived in trepidation of being denounced as “Mensheviks.” After forty years some people still live like that.

Second, the Russians held the whip hand by virtue of numbers. They dominated all the other by-now Left Wing language Federations and thereby the Left Wing as a whole. The votes of the Federation members were cast in bloc. The S.P. leadership was first to rue this discovery. The native Communists found it out for themselves a little later but no less ruefully. The native Communists had no access to the Federation membership; neither one could speak the other’s language – and that in more than one sense. In the Left Wing, the language groups represented a good ninety percent of the strength, and that strength was almost entirely at the unrestricted disposal of the Russian Federation leaders. It is to this overwhelming majority that the S.P. administration had refused to bow. To prevent the Left Wing from capturing the party convention, the party national office, under the public inspiration of Hillquit, had suspended or expelled Left Wing organizations before the Chicago convention assembled in 1919. The violation of democratic procedure was unmistakable. So were the reckless provocations of the Left Wing. To this day, socialists of Left Wing inclinations denounce the 1919 leadership for its abuse of democratic procedure, and there is no lack of proof for the charge. It is ironical, however, that the day after the Chicago split, which produced the two competing Communist parties, the native Left Wingers, who were dominant in the Communist Labor Party, acted in substantially the same way as had the old S.P. administration. They refused to bow to the decided majority of the Communist movement, that is, to the Federation-ruled Communist Party which they had insisted on inflicting upon the S.P., but which they declined to inflict upon themselves.

This was true not only during the period when the Communists were only the Left Wing of the S.P., although it was most true during that period. It was true even after the formal organization of the two Communist Parties, and during the several splits and partial re-unifications that followed. It was true, in painfully diminishing degree, until end-1922– beginning-1923, when the millstone of foreign-language-group domination was finally lifted from the neck of American Communism.

IT IS WORTH WHILE NOTING that during the five years from 1918 to the end of 1922, what may be roughly called the “native Communists” were never really in the majority in the movement, were never really the decisive force in its leadership, and found it necessary to fight against a majority – a diminishing majority, but a majority – until the very end. They did not fight in strict accordance with the proprieties of democratic procedure. In this respect they followed essentially the same course that the S.P. leadership had pursued in its defense against the whole Left Wing in 1919. The condemnations of the Hillquit leadership for thwarting the will of the majority by bureaucratic measures were effective factional war-cries of the Left Wing in the 1919 fight. But the Communist movement itself resorted to substantially the same measures. The minority of native Communists, some of whom started by ignominious capitulations to the Federation statesmen – Ruthenberg and Fraina were the prime examples – finally broke loose, one after another, and fought their way to the top by mechanical organizational maneuvers and devices of every sort; and expulsion of the majority of the membership was one of them. If, as someone said, the method of mass expulsions was invented by Hillquit as a solution to thorny party problems, it certainly was perfected in the later Communist movement.

With the third aspect of the “triple-trap,” we are at the end of the key to an understanding of the “peculiar” development of American Communism.

The weakness in numbers of the native Communists, as compared with the language-Federation people, was only a reflection of something else. The Russians in the Left Wing enjoyed immense authority, as well as the power of numbers. That the basis for their claims to this authority was preposterous, even grotesque, is true, and not a single one of them proved his right to leadership of any kind or in any country when in the course of time they were subjected to reasonable tests. But the fact of their authority during the early period remains nevertheless.

The native Communists enjoyed no comparable authority. There were a few exceptions, but only a very few. All of them, even those who humbly dissolved their kneecaps before the Russians, were regarded by the latter with hostility or suspicion, at best with wary tolerance. Except for two or three already mentioned, none of them was known as an experienced national political leader with a political past as spokesman for the traditional Socialist Left or as a leader of workers outside the socialist movement. None of them, in a word, had the authority that such a record would invest him with. None of them had a “constituency” of followers from the older movement which would have been the natural complement and mark of this authority.

Had they really been the modernized representatives and continuation of the old Socialist Left, we would have another story to tell or read. The trouble was that, on the whole, they were not.

From the Socialist Party, as we have indicated, the new Left Wing got only a meager, unrepresentative, even accidental fragment, at least so far as the native old Left Wing was concerned.

From the I.W.W., which represented the most compact and extreme group of the broader pre-war Left Wing, the Communist movement got astonishingly little. Bill Haywood took out a card in the C.P. later, just before going to Moscow to die of heartbreak, but he played no part whatever in the American Communist movement, let alone in its leadership. Of the handful of other Wobblies who joined the C.P., Harrison George became a minor Party journalist, George Hardy and Charles Ashleigh were swallowed in the apparatus of the Profintern (Red International of Labor Unions), George Andreychine also went to the Profintern and was later murdered by the G.P.U. for supporting the Trotskyist opposition. Sam Hammarsmark ran a party book shop. Perhaps there was a handful of others whose names escape us, but they left no mark anywhere. Foster had long ago quit the I.W.W. and made a career in the A.F. of L.; his mark on the Communist movement was of course deep. The same goes for James P. Cannon, but he had dropped out of the I.W.W. during the war and, it seems, abandoned political activity for a while, to join the S.P. and simultaneously its Left Wing when the Bolshevik Revolution took place. But even he, known to the old Wobblies and highly esteemed by them, never had any success in recruiting one of them to the Communist movement. At one time he tried his very best with Vincent St. John, the real head of the I.W.W., whom he once idolized, but he didn’t quite make it. The old warrior smiled skeptically and went off to prospect for gold in the West. He tried repeatedly to win Elizabeth Gurley Flynn to the new party but in vain. She waited until it was completely corroded by Stalinism before joining it.

The Socialist Labor Party contributed even less to the Communist movements. Boris Reinstein joined the Comintern in Moscow, but he did not represent the S.L.P., was a minor figure in it in the first place, and was never in the American Communist movement. Caleb Harrison, also a minor figure, was made national secretary of the “legal” C.P. (the Workers Party) for a few minutes, and then vanished as unobtrustively as he had appeared. Fraina had of course been in the S.L.P. for a while, had even been a protegé of De Leon, but he played no leading part in it. That is the maximum we can recall of the contribution the S.L.P. made to the Communist movement and its native wing.

The anarchists? Just about nothing. Robert Minor is the only name to remember. When he joined the Communist Party, it was a case of double jeopardy and double injustice – to himself and to the party. As an anarchist he had always believed that politics is a dirty business; he does not seem to have changed his belief after he joined the C.P. But – de mortuis nil nisi bonum.

The native Communists, then, had next to nobody of authority to resist and break the hammerlock of the Federation leaders. They first had to acquire this authority in political struggle inside the party – participation in the class struggle outside the party was altogether precluded by the very nature of the party at the time. This struggle they began, one after another and each according to his lights. But while they could make the Federationists give way a step here and a step there, they could not overcome them and the solid, stolid majority behind them. Besides, time was pressing and the underground party (parties) was stifling and shriveling for lack of air. The native Communists (we are still using the term a little loosely) were unable to acquire the necessary authority and with it the strength to rid the movement from the verbiage of its ultra-radical dogmas and the dogmas of its ultra-radical verbiage, that is, to acquire it by their own efforts. They were imprisoned in the triple trap they had unwittingly sprung by the very way in which they had organized the Left Wing fight and split in the S.P. They now had their multiply-distilled revolutionary party. It was not only barren – it was a greater obstacle to the advancement of the socialist cause in the country than the austerest critic of the Socialist Party had ever charged it with being.

IT DID GET OUT OF THE TRAP nevertheless. After three years, four years, five years of existence as an independent movement, the native Communists acquired the necessary authority and leadership to begin reconstructing the party in the image of ideas they had once dared only to whisper but could now confidently proclaim. But, tragedy and disaster! They emerged from one trap only to plunge with glee into another that proved to be worse. In the old one they were restless and determined to break out. The new one they hailed enthusiastically. They welcomed it with relief and then with passion. Every party leader and group of leaders thereafter sought to pull the trap more snugly around him. The trap was “the Comintern.”

The new, upcoming party leadership was invested with its authority and position by the Comintern. Once, twice, three times and then in routine repetition, “Moscow” intervened in the internal affairs of the American Party in behalf of the correct course and against the wrong one. It supported and gave its prestige to the wiser and better leaders as against the less wise and less able. It freed the party from the ludicrous dogma of undergroundism by authorizing it to form a legal public organization. It authorized the legal party to adopt a program (at the end of 1921) which the unreconstructed undergroundists labelled, not unfairly, as a “prototype of the decadent Socialist Party.” Had the Left Wing adopted that program as its own in 1918–1919 it is hardly conceivable that there would have been a serious fight in the S.P. over it, let alone a split. In all likelihood Hillquit would have “capitulated” to it cheerfully. If the new leadership of the Workers Party was aware of this profoundly significant fact, it gave no outward expression to it. It authorized the legal party to abandon the last remnant of anti-parliamentarism. It authorized it to abandon “revolutionary unionism” and to adopt a policy of working inside the A.F.L. It authorized it, later on, to promote and participate in the formation of a Labor Party based on the trade unions.

Not one of these ideas was contained in the program of the Left Wing or of the early Communist Parties – except in so far as the ideas were violently denounced. Not one of these ideas, or forward steps, was invented, as it were, by the Comintern. They were all well established in the old S.P. They were taken up again in their militant form by the native Communist leaders themselves. Yet, not one of these ideas could prevail in the party until authorized by the Comintern.

Little by little and one after the other, everybody in the Party, from the leaders down to the humblest rank and file members began to see the correctness of the Comintern’s decisions. Draper quotes from an article by Cannon, then chairman of the Workers Party, in reply to a criticism by Scott Nearing:

“The fraternal union of native and foreign born workers in our party; realistic tactics adopted to the concrete situation in America; leadership of the movement, as a rule, in the hands of the native workers – that is the sound point of view finally adopted in our party. And who said the final word in favor of it? The ‘Moscow Dictators’! We who have fought for a realistic party have found our best friend in ‘Moscow’.”

Cannon unquestionably expressed the exhilaration felt by almost the entire party. What he said was true, or so it seemed to be. But it was all an illusion. It assured, or at least helped to assure, the rapid stultification and degeneration of American Communism.

Nobody in the party saw the fatal flaw in the victory of “the sound point of view” and leadership, and one of the reasons why it was not seen was that the victory was, in and of itself, real.

It is a rule that can now be asserted (or reasserted) with the flatness of dogma: a working-class party cannot develop and fulfill its great mission unless it stands on its own feet, makes its own errors, where these are unavoidable, listens carefully to advice from good friends everywhere, heeds the direct and implied criticism of the working class itself but debates and decides its policies and its leadership freely, without coercion from within or from without. The Communist movement of the first few years at no time stood on its feet; it did not even touch the ground. Like Mohammed’s coffin, it was suspended between heaven and earth, living in Russia without inhabiting it and inhabiting the United States without living in it. The prerequisite of all prerequisites for usefulness to socialism was to stand on its feet. Because the Comintern, from 1921 to 1923, made it touch American soil, it was overcome with the toxic illusion that it was standing on its feet. It was not. It was standing only on the crutches rented to it by Moscow in full fore-knowledge of the acquiescence of the Americans. Feet, like any other organ, wither and die from disuse. By learning, and with such gratitude! to rely entirely upon Moscow (whether it was the “good Moscow” or the “bad Moscow”) for its policies and its leadership, the Communist movement lost its feet and then its head. It was not long before it ceased to have any value as a socialist movement. A head that cannot turn, lips that cannot speak, feet that cannot move of their own accord, are the necessary properties of a marionette. The lips may be made to speak words of wisdom, but just as easily to speak nonsense; the feet may be made to move forward, but just as easily to move backward; the head may smile or frown, be twisted to face behind or be removed altogether. It is all an illusion. Socialists can be turned into marionettes but no marionette is a socialist.

Countless times, Cannon, one of the best and in many respects the ablest political leader produced in the Communist movement, has told the story of his first delegation by the American Party to the Fourth Congress of the Comintern in 1922. Draper publishes it in part from notes supplied by Cannon and it is essentially corroborated by Max Bedacht who accompanied him to Moscow. Cannon was seeking support from the International for the American “liquidators,” that is, those who proposed to establish an open, public, legal Communist party, to get out of the suffocating self-imposed underground existence, to free the party from the dead hand of the people who insisted that illegality was an inviolable revolutionary principle.

It was the year 1922 – not 1952. Cannon met a cold reception. One Comintern leader and functionary after another to whom he spoke and whose support he solicited, was either noncommittal, evasive, cool or unfriendly. He was even assigned to an inferior hotel. Finally, in desperation, he enlisted the good offices of Max Eastman for an interview with Trotsky, who granted him an hour. An hour was enough. Trotsky’s support was speedily assured, which was to be expected from any intelligent political person. “He said he would report the interview to the Russian Central Committee and that the American Commission would soon hear their opinion.” Once Lenin’s support was also obtained, everything changed! All the other Russian leaders came out sternly for the legal party, and so did the rest of the Comintern Executive and all the functionaries. The undergrounders were left without a single friend or spokesman. Cannon was promptly shifted to a more pleasant hotel. The legal party was as good as established: it had been authorized in Moscow.

Cannon has always told this story with relish and honest pride in the early Comintern. He could hardly have subjected it to a more biting criticism. The fate of the American Communist movement, on a problem whose solution was so simply and obviously indicated to any rational political individual, depended entirely on the availability of Trotsky for an interview, his agreement with the obvious necessity, Lenin’s concordance, and the guaranteed rubber stamp of the Executive Committee of the Comintern. That made it a command to the American party with expulsion as the penalty for non-compliance.

THE COMMUNIST INTERNATIONAL and its Executive Committee were established with the grand aim of being “the general staff of the world revolution.” This is not the place for an analysis of the Comintern. But this much can be said: The aim, to begin with, was only a hope. It soon became a myth and an illusion. It ended as a monstrosity. It was never a reality. Even before the triumph of Stalin, the Comintern and its Executive never organized or directed or led a revolution. It did organize or bear the responsibility for several disastrous putsches, in Germany, in Bulgaria, in Esthonia. The Executive Committee began to function as the authoritative leadership of the world Communist movement, but the limits of its authority were narrowly circumscribed, it never got beyond a beginning and it lasted for no more than two-three years.

The basic policies of the International and all its important sections were decided by five men, Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Radek and Bukharin. Within the general course they laid down the actual political, organizational and administrative direction of the Executive Committee was wielded by Zinoviev. Zinoviev was an extraordinarily gifted man in many ways and many fields, as much underrated after his removal from the post of Chairman of the Comintern as he was overrated while he held the post. But he was temperamentally and politically unfit to discharge the responsibilities assigned to him as well as those he arrogated to himself.

The Executive Committee became a farce, Zinoviev became increasingly the all-determining reality. He instituted the system of plenipotentiary emissaries to the various parties with full power to dictate policies and leaderships. He introduced the practice of wiping out established party leaders and manufacturing synthetic ones out of whoever was handy among the subservient and the sycophantic. This technique he soon improved by ousting whole leaderships and imposing new ones by mere cablegram from Moscow and in utter disregard for the decisions of the membership of the party concerned. He established the system of deciding everything in Moscow, or through “Comintern representatives” to the affiliated parties, not only dictating what shall be the policy of the party (including the policy to be followed in some local strike five thousand miles away!) and who shall be its leadership, but who shall occupy this post in the party and who that one, including posts of local organizers.

Under Zinoviev’s direction, the “general staff of the world revolution” did not confine itself to giving counsel on the basis of wider experience and knowledge, or to employing its great moral and political authority to persuade the members and leaders of the other parties. It substituted purely disciplinary dictates. The only rights which the respective party members and even leaders were soon left with, were to approve and obey. In comparison with the Zinoviev regime which was speedily duplicated in all the parties, the machine that led the Socialist Party in Hillquit’s time was a paragon of democratism. Under the Comintern regime, first of Zinoviev and certainly of Stalin, it was absolutely impossible for the Communist Parties to develop an authentic, qualified, responsible leadership of their own – or to educate a membership capable of promoting the cause of socialism.

How illuminating and instructive it is, in this vital connection, to recall the wisdom of Lenin in the earlier days of the revolutionary movement. In December 1906 Lenin wrote a foreword to a pamphlet by Karl Kautsky on the driving forces and prospects of the Russian revolution. In reply to a questionnaire from Plekhanov, Kautsky had set down his views on some theoretical and political problems agitating the Russian Marxist movement. Lenin translated it, and published it in a Russian edition with an introduction of his own. It should be borne in mind that Lenin, at that time, hailed Kautsky as “the leader of the German revolutionary Social Social Democrats,” as the man whom “the vanguard of the Russian working class has long known as its writer,” and more of the same. In presenting his views, Kautsky had said, “Before the Russian comrades I nevertheless feel myself in the position of a student [Lernenden] when it is a matter of Russian affairs.” On this score, Lenin, who was quite content with Kautsky’s views on the controversial questions, makes the following observation:

This modesty is not the mendacious would-be-modesty of a “General” of the Social Democracy who first affects the air of a philistine only to end up by acting like a Bourbon. No, Kautsky confined himself in actuality only to answering those questions whose examination enable him to be of assistance to thinking Social Democrats of Russia in their independent examination of the concrete tasks and slogans of the day. Katusky refused to play the role of the General who issues commands: right face or left face! He preferred to remain in the position of an outside but for that a reflective comrade who shows the ways and means by which we ourselves must seek an answer.

Toward the end of his foreword, Lenin adds:

In conclusion, a few words about “authorities.” Marxists cannot adopt the familiar standpoint of the radical intellectuals who declare with pseudo-revolutionary abstractness: “No authorities.”

No. The working class, which is conducting a difficult and obdurate fight throughout the world for complete emancipation, needs authorities, naturally, however, only in the sense in which young workers need the experience of old fighters against oppression and exploitation, of fighters who have carried through many strikes and taken part in a number of revolutions, who have grown wise through revolutionary traditions and a broad political horizon. The authority of the international struggle of the proletariat is needed by the proletariat of every country. We need the authority of the theoretician of the international Social Democracy in order to become clear about the program and tactics of our party. But this authority naturally has nothing in common with the official authorities of bourgeois science and of police politics. This authority is the authority of a many-sided fight in the common ranks of the international socialist army. Important as is this authority for the broadening of the horizon of the fighter, so inadmissible would it be in a workers’ party to lay claim to deciding the practical and concrete questions of policy for the next period from the outside, from a distance. The collective mind of the advanced, class-conscious workers of every single country who are carrying on the direct struggle will always be the greatest authority in all these questions.

A year later, reviewing the work of the Stuttgart Congress of the Second International (1907), Lenin wrote:

The great importance of the International Socialist Congress in Stuttgart lies precisely in this, that it signifies the final consolidation of the Second International and the transformation of the international Congresses into businesslike sessions which have the greatest influence upon the character and direction of socialist activity in the entire world. Formally the decisions of the international Congresses are not binding upon the individual countries, yet their moral importance is so great that non-compliance with the decisions is in reality an exception ...

A few months after that (in March, 1908) in recommending the endorsement by the Russian party of the International’s resolution on the trade-union question, he wrote:

We must always and everywhere advocate the drawing together between the trade unions and the socialist party of the working class; but [the question of] which party is the genuine socialist party or the genuine party of the working class in one country or another, in one nation or another – that is a question for itself, which is not decided by resolutions of international Congresses, but by the course of the struggle between the national parties.

Every word of Lenin, as well as the spirit imbuing the whole, is clear. It is correct. It was grossly violated in the Comintern under the regime established by Zinoviev which was, alas, not repudiated or corrected by Lenin. He had discarded his old and wise position; the Americans never even knew he had held it. The argument that the Third International had to be organized and to operate differently from the Second International, was quite correct, but only within limits. These limits were exceeded in the most reckless way before they could even be properly established. We now have forty years behind us. Life has settled all the arguments of 1917–1919.

Can anyone in his right mind imagine leaders of socialism like Lenin, Trotsky, Plekhanov, Martov, Karl Liebknecht, Luxemburg, Jaurès, Guesde, Hardie, Debs, De Leon, Haywood – to name only a few that come quickly to the eye – racing back and forth between their countries and the seat of the Second International, appealing to its Executive to make the decision on what policy their parties should be commanded to adopt? Can you imagine them appearing before the Executive in the hope that its decision would appoint them and not someone else, to the leadership of their parties? Can you imagine the Executive sending a plenipotentiary emissary to the Russian party telling it how its leadership should be apportioned between the various factions, and who should be party organizer of the Moscow district? And can you imagine what Lenin (and Plekhanov, and Martov, and Trotsky, and everybody else) would have said and done to the emissary? Can you imagine, in an earlier day, Bebel, Wilhelm Liebknecht, Adler, Lafargue, Vaillant or any of the others comporting themselves in this style toward Marx and Engels, who were not altogether inferior in stature to Zinoviev and his colleagues? The very questions sound grotesque.

These men were all authentic socialist leaders in their own right. They didn’t start that way. They all began without experience and wisdom, and with native gifts that swelled with the rise of the movements they built. They were not appointed as leaders, like Walis were appointed by the Ottoman Porte for its subject provinces. They grew to the leadership of their parties in the only way that is worth a pinch of snuff, in the course of political struggle in the ranks of their parties and their class. It was the members who lifted them to their posts of eminence, and only by virtue of that fact did they enjoy the respect of the members.

But were not the leaders of the early Communist movement young, untutored and unpracticed, and needful of the wisdom of a collective leadership in the new International? That may be, but it is beside the point. Lenin was not born at the age of 50 with the owl of Minerva on his shoulder; neither were the others. There was no collective leadership in the Comintern, and the attempt to set it up never got off the ground. And if there had really been wisdom in Moscow, it would have systematically taught the leaders how to stand on their own feet, it would have offered the other parties aid and comfort, counsel and guidance, resolutions backed by the moral authority which they enjoyed in the radical movement of the early days as no leaders had ever before enjoyed in the socialist movement. Instead, they established a “General” of the Communist movement who issued commands to the far corners of the earth – “right face or left face” – and who decided who is the leader and who is not. The membership, which was rallied to the Communist movement in rebellion against the bureaucratism prevalent in the Second International? The membership was treated like serfs of the manor. What other term is more appropriate?

Browder is elected to the party leadership by the totality of the membership, after having been appointed to it in the first place. A snap of the finger in Moscow in 1945, and Browder is not only out of the leadership but of the party as well, cursed, reviled, debased. Lovestone is elected to the party leadership by ninety percent of the membership. Off he goes to Moscow in 1929, for official investiture. A snap of the finger, and he is out of the leadership. He reminds the finger-snapper that he was elected by ninety percent of the members of his party and Moscow rolls on the floor laughing. In a matter of minutes, he is out of the party with a handful of followers – a hundred percent of the remaining Party members endorse everything and join in the chorus of vilification. Foster and Cannon get a good fifty-five percent of the membership and delegates to the 1925 convention and are all ready to take over the leadership from the defeated faction of Ruthenberg-Pepper-Lovestone. A trip to Moscow is not even necessary. Zinoviev sends a contemptuous cablegram to the convention which informs the American party that its majority means nothing to him, or to it, for the leadership must go instead to the Ruthenberg faction. Any doubts on the meaning of the cablegram are promptly dispelled by Zinoviev’s nuncio in Chicago who knows as much about the problems of the United States as you can fling through a needle’s eye but who proceeds to decide who shall have what post and who shall do what and when and where. Every one of the party leaders, and alas, the party members, accepts this procedure.

It is hard to say who degraded himself more: the one who accepted it with delight or the one who accepted it with chagrin. They approved it heartily when it was done by Zinoviev to other parties; they had to approve it when the shoe was on their foot.

WAS IT “AS BAD” IN THE EARLIER days as it was in the later days. No, certainly not! Pathetic consolation! It was bad, wrong, insufferable and fatal from the day the notion was so eagerly accepted that the policies and leadership of the party here would be decided not “in the course of struggle” and not by democratic decision of the membership, but “from the outside, from a distance” and by “Generals,” one or five. If this was not proved to the hilt years and years ago – that a respected and self-respecting leadership and a respected and self-respecting socialist movement cannot be established by that method – it will not be proved in another hundred years.

The Zinovievist system was resisted, to one degree or another, in the early days and by the early leaders of most of the European parties, a resistance that reached its height and its end when Zinoviev sought to bludgeon every party into uncritical support for the brutal, dishonest, reactionary campaign against Trotsky. Resistance came from leaders of the German party, of the French, the Italian, the Polish, the Czechoslovak, the Belgian, the Spanish; all of them quickly paid the penalty. Zinoviev launched the notorious “Bolshevization” drive and the Comintern was good as done for, a few short years after its formation.

In only one of the important parties of the Comintern was there no resistance in the ranks or in the leadership, the American party. Lore was the single exception. He disliked the Zinoviev regime. He sympathized with Trotsky but when he tried to publish one of his writings which had already been published in Russia, the Central Committee of the Party unanimously prohibited him from doing so – this in 1924. He disliked the practice of scurrying to Moscow to be berated and abused and ordered to come to heel. Zinoviev ordered his head on the block, and all the other party leaders, who had only the day before begged for Lore’s faction support, climbed over each other in shameless zeal to win Zinoviev’s benediction by being the first to lower the guillotine’s blade. The American party leadership in its entirety (again, except for Lore) accepted having its thinking, its deciding, and its selecting of leadership done for it by Zinoviev or whomsoever he selected to speak for him. If the Moscow decision deposed one of the leaders, it would not delight him but he would not think of resisting the decision, let alone the unconscionable and humiliating system by which the decision was reached and imposed upon the party. Nor would he think of rallying the support of the party membership against such a decision. His only thought was of what device he could employ, what contact he could make in Moscow, to cozen Zinoviev (later Bukharin or Stalin) into issuing a new and favorable ukaze.

THE “PECULIAR DEVELOPMENT” OF American Communism, as we have tried to set it forth, was such – the completeness and eagerness with which it abandoned its self-reliance and self-development for the crutches provided by “the Comintern” was such – that it was the only important party in the International where no resistance was offered, no objection was raised, but on the contrary, firm, solid and unanimous support was given from the very start (once again, except for Lore) to the crushing of the Trotskyist Opposition in Russia and in the European parties. Not even a point of information was raised. The leadership blindly endorsed everything in the Bolshevik Revolution when it had only a vague and superficial knowledge of what had taken place and against what historical and political background it had occurred. Those who remember the effect of the revolution on the entire socialist movement of that time will find this understandable, and will not judge it harshly. But just as blindly did it endorse and support the beginning of the counterrevolution in Russia, about which it knew nothing at all, had no understanding at all, and sought none. This was inexcusable. All the leaders were abjectly prompt in voting against Trotsky with the foreknowledge that to do otherwise would jeopardize the prospects of winning Moscow’s support for their factional posts and controversies, which were so quickly to prove trivial and wretched in the light of the fundamental conflict that was wracking and ruining the Communist movement of the whole world.

Its “peculiar development” was such that in a party which was more hopelessly factionally ridden than any other in the world (except for the Hungarian), Zinoviev’s “Bolshevization” campaign was clamorously welcomed. In every other important party it met with resistance; in the American party with absolutely none. Ruthenberg and Foster, Lovestone and Cannon, Pepper and Bittelman, Gitlow and Browder, each sought to outdo all the others in speech and in writing to “Bolshevize” the party, that is, to reduce it to a sodden pulp without mind, without soul, without character. At the very moment when the leaders of each faction were reaching for the jugular vein of the leaders of the other, they all loudly demanded “Bolshevization,” a party that prohibits factions (yes, yes, that prohibits factions!), a party that is monolithic with a discipline of iron (no softer metal would do) – and more and more of the same reactionary theology.

It did not take much longer before the party was saved and cleansed of factions and faction fighting and was converted to monolithism, the discipline of iron included. By the same token and in the same process it was converted into the greatest single ob- stable to the development of a socialist. movement in the United States. Draper is right, and even if we questioned his language, his essential thought is above question.

Something crucially important did happen to this movement in its infancy. It was transformed from a new expression of American radicalism to the American appendage of a Russian revolutionary power. Nothing else so important ever happened to it again.

ONE QUESTION THAT DRAPER does not deal with at all – except, perhaps, indirectly and above all in the form of the material he supplies for examining it, is this: Was the split itself justified, politically and historically? Was the formation of a separate and independent Left Wing (i.e., Communist) party correct, necessary, in the interests of the socialist movement? Was it right to plan, work for and construct a party consisting only of Left Wingers, not merely one in which the Left Wing would seek to have its ideas and leadership prevail over the Right Wing by normal means but in which the Right Wing could have no place, from which it would be excluded in advance?

The problem embedded in these questions has plagued the radical movement in this country (although not here alone) for forty years. It plagues it to this day. It is a fundamental problem. If the all-important question of reconstructing an effective socialist movement in the United States is to be solved, this problem is the first one to be clarified. Indeed, unless it is clarified, no reunited socialist movement will be effective or even remain united. It will split and split and split and split. It will be permanently menaced by the kind of factional warfare that has no fruitful issue. It will inevitably resolve this condition by turning into a sterile, petrified object, a monolith crowned by an arch-bureaucratic apparatus.

Was the 1919 split and formation of an independent Communist Party historically justified?

If we simply compare the Communist Party today with the Left Wing of forty years ago which brought it into existence, the answer is clear and obvious and altogether beyond reasonable debate: No. Let us take the formal position of the present CP. It repudiates the idea that armed insurrection is the only road to a workers’ government; therewith it repudiates the central position which the Communist Left Wing held to be its basic distinction from the Socialist Party. It repudiates the idea that Soviets are the only form under which socialism can be established, and claims adherence to the parliamentary road to socialism; therewith it rejects another basic position of its founding Left Wing. It has long ago rejected the theory and practice of anti-parliamentary, anti-electoral activity which the Left Wing foisted on itself forty years ago, and has indeed adopted a position on political action (support of Democratic Party candidates, theory of the “anti-monopoly peoples’ coalition”) which would have shaken the bones not only out of its founding fathers but out of Hillquit and Victor Berger as well. It is strongly in favor of immediate demands and social and political reforms of all kinds, a position specifically and violently denounced by the Communist Left Wing as simon-pure Hillquitism, Menshevism and the like. It is stoutly in favor of working in the most conservative of trade unions, of “boring from within,” and the alliances it has made and still tries to make in the unions would have precipitated an epidemic of apoplexy in the Left Wing of 1919. It supported American, French and British imperialism during the second world war, and with a patriotic frenzy that would have made the extreme Right Wingers of the Socialist Party in 1917 – not Hillquit and not even Berger, but John Spargo, William English Walling and Charles Edward Russell – blush purple. It disavows the dictatorship of the proletariat as its aim in a way that would have made Hillquit curl his lips in scorn. It has an internal party regime which makes Hillquit’s rule of the Socialist Party, which was so bitterly denounced by the Left Wing, a veritable paradise of party democracy. Its theoretical and intellectual-political level, is far below that of the socialist movement of 1917, and that was not too high.

On the basis of what the Communist movement stands for today in these respects, there would not only have been no split in the Socialist Party in 1919, but there would not even have been a fight conducted by the Left Wing. In fact, there would have been no Left Wing. So, if we go by the resultant after forty years of experience, the split, and even the fight, in 1918–1919, proves to have been devoid of historical, theoretical, political or organizational justification. In all the important questions around which the old conflict revolved, the present CP acknowledges, not explicitly but nonetheless unmistakably, that even if the Hillquit leadership was not altogether right, the Left Wing on the other hand was altogether wrong. That conclusion, it appears to us, is inescapable.

But that comparison is unfair and misleading, it may and probably will be objected to by some. The present Communist Party is not a real Communist Party, it is Stalinized through and through. The authentic Communist movement was ravished and ruined by Stalinism.

We will grant the objection in the interests of a more thorough discussion of the question. We will take the Communist movement before it swallowed the poison of Stalinism.

If we consider the Communist Party at the very start, the claim for justification of the split has hardly a toe to stand on. Hillquit was far from right on every disputed question; but he was far closer to being right than were his Left Wing adversaries. A re-examination of the dispute as it stood at that time – provided it is an objective re-examination, which excludes considerations of pride and vanity, of self-righteousness and “honor” – establishes this as a fact. In any case, Hillquit’s leadership is a matter for another time and it is irrelevant to the question: was the split justified? The Left Wing was wrong on its estimate of the international situation, wrong on its estimate of the situation in the United States, wrong on parliamentarism, wrong on the dogma of Soviets and armed insurrection as the only road to power under any and all circumstances, wrong on the I.W.W. and wrong on the A.F.L., wrong on tactics and wrong on party regime.

To argue that they were honest and sincere revolutionists, that they were irreducible enemies of capitalism and of any compromise with it – and this is true, unquestionably true – that they were right in standing on the fundamental principle of class-struggle socialism, is beside the point. Socialism has known ultra-leftists by the score who had these qualities, but they were nonetheless wrong and a paralyzing influence. Or to take a different case: the Stalinist faction in the Twenties was led and supported by men who also had these qualities, but they were nonetheless a pestilence to socialism. It is the political positions that decide.

But even if it is granted that the Left Wing was not only wrong on many questions, but that it was right on many others, the question still stands: On those questions or aspects of questions on which the Left Wing was right against the S.P. leadership, were the differences wide enough to be incompatible with membership in a common party, or so irreconcilable with common membership as to justify a split and a separate party for the Left Wing? That is the question. It would take a mighty courageous man to reply, after looking backward carefully, in the affirmative. For our part, the answer is an emphatic No.

We are aware that it may be said (indeed, it has often been said) that the real differences were not clearly evident in 1917–1919, but they were there in incipient form, potentially; and later developments (the test of time!) proved that the two tendencies were divided by an unbridgeable gulf. Even if that point be granted, one and only one thing need be said: anyone who splits or justifies a split in the movement on the basis not of the differences as they exist but of what they may one day become, does not belong in politics.

Or if we take, finally, the Communist Party after it emerged from the underground and its ultra-radicalism, after the “sound point of view” was at last adopted, the case for justification of the split becomes not better but worse, and precisely because of the triumph of the “sound point of view.” The program and policies of the Workers Party (1922–1923) were immeasurably closer to the position of the Socialist Party than to the position of the Communist Left Wing of 1918–1919. The class struggle? Hillquit emphatically presented the class struggle as the basic principle of socialist thought and deed as late as 1921. The Bolshevik Revolution? As late as 1921, Hillquit argued that it was a proletarian revolution that established an authentic worker’s government. The dictatorship of the proletariat? The Workers Party no longer used that term, but in any case, the same Hillquit defended the dictatorship of the proletariat and denied that it was in conflict with democracy or socialism. The critique of capitalist parliamentarism? It is also to be found in Hillquit of 1921. The Communist International, with which the W.P. was secretly affiliated? There the difference was important, to be sure. The Communists were still, as they had been from the start, for uncritical and unconditional acceptance of the famous 21 conditions (there were actually 22, but no matter) for affiliation to the Comintern. Hillquit had stood, even after the split, for affiliation with reservations and the S.P. majority supported him. The American (and all other) Communists made a calamitous mistake in blindly and completely, without any reservations, subordinating themselves to “the Comintern” – whether it was a hope, a myth or a monstrosity. There is not a single survivor of the early Communist movement in this country who would seriously propose to reconstitute the Comintern and its 21 conditions for affiliation, or anything comparable to them.

To say that the continuation of the split (that is, the maintenance of a separate Communist Party as the distinctive organization of Left Wing socialism) was justified because, even where the S.P. leaders said or wrote the same thing as the C.P. leaders, the latter really meant it and the others did not, is to leave the ground of socialist politics. We do not want to ignore or even to minimize the fact that there were differences, on those questions in which the two sides took avowedly different positions and even on those in which both said or seemed to say the same thing. Those differences existed, they were real and significant. We leave aside here the question of which position was correct, not because the question has no importance – quite the contrary – but because it is not, in our view, germane to the problem that concerns us, namely: granting the existence of the avowed differences; granting the fact that where both stood for the same policy formally, one took it more seriously, one emphasized it more heavily, one was more determined upon implementing it in practise, one was more aggressive and militant in carrying it out in life, and the like – were the divergences of such a nature as to justify and maintain a split? Was it politically impossible to contain the two tendencies in a single socialist party, given loyalty on both sides? We are not speaking, of course, of the Stalinist movement, but of the early Communist Left Wing and Communist Party. Our answer to these questions is again an emphatic No!

Yet the split did take place and was perpetuated. Such a split cannot simply be explained by bad manners or stupidity or malice or personal ambition, even if all four are present in adequate quantity. The explanation must be sought in more fundamental considerations.

THE COMMUNIST LEFT WING and the parties that followed it have shifted from one extreme to another in a dozen political questions, tactical questions, even theoretical questions, in the course of their existence. But to one fundamental proposition they have unvaryingly clung. Where it was not explicit, it was clearly implicit. It is their basic justification for the organization of a party separate and distinct from the old socialist parties and hostile to them. This proposition, this theory, did not confine itself to explaining the reason for the crisis in the Social Democracy which exploded in 1914 and produced the capitulation of the Second International to the imperialist war. In this respect the theory was held by circles far wider than the Communists. It went further to justify the necessity and desirability for an independent and separate socialist (that is, Communist) party.

This theory was drilled into the deepest thinking of every Communist in the country from the beginning of the Left Wing and was inculcated into them even more thoroughly after the Comintern was formed. It is the theory that capitalist imperialism has divided the workers into two camps. On one side is the unskilled proletariat. On the other, the aristocracy of labor corrupted by a part of the super-profits exacted by the capitalist classes from their empires. The unskilled proletariat is the authentic basis for a revolutionary socialist movement. The aristocracy of labor is more or less “bourgeoisified,” is interested in preserving imperialist democracy and the preferential position it derives from it. Its authentic political representative is the old Social Democracy which has been taken over completely by a social-imperialist, counterrevolutionary ideology and leadership. Hence the need for a distinctive revolutionary party opposed to the Social Democracy.

In the United States, the theory was first elaborated by Louis C. Fraina, the theoretical leader of the Communist Left Wing, in the book he published a year after the Bolshevik Revolution, Revolutionary Socialism. Although it was published only in the name of the “Central Executive Committee of the Socialist Propaganda League,” which was just going out of existence, the book was widely disseminated among all Left Wingers. An apprentice sectarian with a penchant for mysticism could hardly find a better model to study than the auto-hypnotic prose out of which Fraina wove his theoretical cosmography. In it were still contained swollen remnants of the theories of the Dutch radicals which he soon abandoned, but he already showed a substantial knowledge of Lenin’s theories of the 1915–1918 period even if he presented them in his unique way. At all events, the book was the theoretical vade mecum of the Left Wing.

Fraina’s analysis of class relations under imperialism has to be read twice, once to see it and again to believe what you see.

The old middle class?

It straggles along dependent upon finance capital, its miserable petty bourgeois soul bought and paid for by the master. And under these conditions, the remnants of the industrial petite bourgeoisie become a repulsively reactionary factor, more imperialistic than imperialistic finance itself, where formerly pluming itself in the colors of freedom, democracy and even revolution!

The new middle class? Its

various elements are wholly dependent upon concentrated capital and its imperialistic manifestations ... This new middle class is thoroughly reactionary, although it develops a peculiar type of “liberal ideas.”

A “certain category of ordinary skilled labor ... clerks, stenographers, mechanics, etc?” They are

an adjunct of this new middle class ... all of whom are dependent directly upon Imperialism and become its prophets in more or less conscious degree.

The “intellectual proletariat”? Fraina expounds:

A stage arrives when there is a real over-production of this class of workers. Temporarily, their imagination is intrigued by liberal social movements, and, occasionally, by Socialism. But inevitably, if gradually, their petty bourgeois souls scent the flesh-pots of Imperialism, and they become its prophets ... in every imperialistic country, it is precisely these “workers of the brain” who manufacture and carry into the ranks of the workers the ideology and the enthusiasm of Imperialism. These intellectuals, which the older Socialism expected would become a mighty ally of the proletarian revolution, are a corrupt and corrupting social force.

“Radical and liberal social movements”? They

merge and develop into a new “progressivism.” This progressivism is an ally of Imperialism, promotes it and is itself promoted by Imperialism. The liberal ideas and social reform program of progressivism proceed within limits which not only do not hamper Imperialism, but directly promote its growth and ascendancy.

The skilled workers?

Monopolistic finance-capital secures support for its imperialistic adventures among the other layers of the capitalist class by a “distribution” of the profits of Imperialism; and this policy is extended to groups of skilled labor. Skilled labor ... rejects the general class struggle against Capitalism, and acts as a caste the psychology and action of which are determined by the aspiration to absorb itself in the ruling system of things. The general process creates a reactionary mass ...


All social groups, except the industrial proletariat of unskilled labor, have become reactionary, are in a status where their interests are promoted by Imperialism, and are counter-revolutionary ... Non-proletarian groups can no longer be utilized in the struggle against dominant Capitalism: they are now an integral part of this Capitalism ... Unskilled labor ... alone is the revolutionary class, as it alone represents the dominant factor in industry and is the carrier of the new social system of communist Socialism; all other classes or social groups are reactionary, decay, disappear, or become absorbed in the general reactionary mass of ruling class interests. [This passage alone indicates how much Fraina understood, a year after the Bolshevik Revolution, of the social forces and policies that assured its triumph; the Left Wing as a whole understood even less. M.S.]

Well, then, is it possible at least to organize the unskilled workers?

In terms of infinity, it may be conceivable that some day, somehow, the majority of the proletariat, or an overwhelming minority, may become organized into industrial unions under Capitalism. [Fraina was no dogmatist.] In terms of actual practice, this is inconceivable. The proletariat of unskilled labor, which alone may accept industrial unionism, is a class difficult to organize; its conditions of labor discourage organization ... The supremacy of the proletariat is determined by its action, and not by its organization.

But since the unskilled workers are in the minority, are hard to organize even into unions, and do not have even the possibility of finding allies among the middle classes, old and new, among the intellectuals, among progressives and liberals, or even among the skilled workers, including clerks and stenographers, all of whom form a reactionary mass which is an integral part of capitalism, is there not a darkling edge to the prospects for the socialist movement and the socialist revolution? Not at all and not in the least!

The revolution is an act of a minority, at first; of the most class-conscious section of the industrial proletariat, which, in a test of electoral strength, would be a minority, but which, being a solid, industrially indispensable class, can disperse and defeat all other classes through the annihilation of the fraudulent democracy of the parliamentary system implied in the dictatorship of the proletariat, imposed upon society by means of revolutionary mass action.

That was the intellectual equipment with which the Left Wing began to replace the Socialist Party with a Communist Party.

IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING that in Lenin’s formulations, the eerie extravagances of Fraina are not to be found and could not be found. But in Lenin’s own analysis of imperialism and the crisis of the Second International, the essential thought is unambiguous: imperialism divides the working class in two; the Social Democracy, basing itself upon the labor aristocracy, is now a petty-bourgeois party; the revolutionary socialists must separate themselves from it, form their own revolutionary socialist parties and unite them in a new, Third International. This thought lay at the foundation of the early Communist movement, the later Communist movement, of the Stalinist movement today (regardless of the contradictory political and practical conclusions they draw from it at different times), of the Trotskyist movement throughout most of its existence, and of other radical groupings of similar tradition.

Now, the relationship between the development of capitalist imperialism and the division in the working class, and the reflection of this relationship in the development of the socialist movement, did not originate with Lenin in 1915–1917. That is not his unique contribution to socialist thinking. Almost a hundred years ago (October 7, 1858), in his familiar letter to Marx, Engels wrote that:

“The English proletariat is becoming more and more bourgeois, so that this most bourgeois of all nations is apparently aiming ultimately at the possession of a bourgeois aristocracy, and a bourgeois proletariat as well as a bourgeoisie. For a nation which exploits the whole world this is, of course, to a certain extent justifiable.”

A quarter-century later (September 12, 1882), Engels wrote his equally familiar letter to Kautsky:

“You ask me what the English workers think about colonial policy? Well, exactly the same as they think about politics in general. There is no workers’ party here, there are only Conservatives and Liberal-Radicals, and the workers merrily share the feast of England’s monopoly of the colonies and the world market.”

Engels held, it goes without saying, that the industrial proletariat brought and trained together in big industrial enterprises is potentially the most solid, most consistent, most revolutionary element in the foundation of a socialist movement. Marxists have always shared this conception and still do. But what is interesting is the fact that almost at the very moment that he was writing to Kautsky, Engels was agitating in the British labor press for a broad working class party and writing letters to friends to express his contempt for the “revolutionary Marxist” sects in England even though “they have accepted our theoretical program and so acquired a basis ...”

Another quarter-century later, Lenin expressed fundamentally the same conception as Engels, only in a way that is even more to the point for the problem under consideration. In his article on the Stuttgart Congress of the Second International, written toward the end of 1907, he wrote:

Only the proletarian class, from whose work all of society lives, is capable of carrying through the social revolution. Now, however, the expanded colonial policy has created such a situation for the European proletariat in part, that society as a whole lives not from its labor but from the labor of colonial natives who are reduced almost to slaves. The English bourgeoisie, for example, extracts greater profits from the millions upon millions of the people of India and other colonies than it does from the English workers. Under such conditions there arises in certain countries a material, economic basis for the infection of their proletariat with colonial chauvinism. Naturally this can only be a passing phenomenon, but nevertheless the evil must be clearly recognized, its causes grasped, in order to be able to unite the proletariat of all countries in the struggle against such opportunism. This struggle will inevitably lead to victory, for the “privileged” nations constitute an ever smaller portion of the totality of the capitalist nations.

The nub of Lenin’s thought, in 1907, is contained in the last two sentences. The evil of opportunism, which is the ideological and political reflection of the privileged position which the labor aristocracy is accorded out of the super-profits of imperialism, “naturally” can only be a passing phenomenon, and because the base of imperialism is ever narrowing, the victory in the fight against opportunism in the socialist movement is inevitable. That, we believe, was correct and it remains correct.

In the war period and afterward, Lenin changed his thought. Why? Victory over opportunism in the socialist movement had not proved to be inevitable; it was opportunism which triumphed over revolutionary socialism. And since we were entering the epoch of world revolution (including the revolution of the colonies against imperialism, bear in mind), the opportunistically-conquered Social Democratic Parties could not be relied upon to lead the revolution, but only to oppose it. The revolutionary elements had to break out, constitute themselves independently, and assume the task of revolutionary leadership.

Lenin’s drastic revision proved to be wrong in four important respects.

First, like all the Bolsheviks and all the Left Wingers throughout the world (and like many, many Right Wingers, for that matter), Lenin misjudged the speed of development of the crisis of capitalism and the maturing of the socialist revolution in Europe. Believing the revolutionary situation to be imminent on the Continent, desperate efforts were made to constitute independent revolutionary parties immediately that could utilize the situation for the triumph of socialism. Revolutionary parties and revolutionary leaderships cannot be constituted overnight. Revolutionary sects? Yes, any time of the day or night that a group of solemn minds is ready to announce itself to the indifferent world as The Revolutionary Party, like the seven tailors of Tooley Street who began their famous proclamation with “We, the people of England ...” Revolutionary parties, which can seriously count on the political support of masses? No. A few years later, the Bolsheviks (and therefore the Comintern) were obliged to recognize that they had misjudged the situation in Europe (to say nothing of the United States!).

There were, of course, many “revolutionary situations” in Europe throughout the Twenties and the Thirties. Nowhere did they lead to socialist power. In some of these situations there were organizations that were considered revolutionary parties, free of control by the Right-Wing socialists, free of the membership of the Right-Wing socialist leaders, and also free of the membership and support of the workers who followed these leaders. In none of these situations were the revolutionary parties able to lead the workers to power. Merely to say, in one case, that the Social-Democratic leaders prevented the establishment of a socialist regime, or in another case, that the Stalinist leaders did the same, is true and important, but it explains remarkably little. It evades a posing and answering of the really important question: since the workers who follow these leaders are for socialism, how were the leaders able to prevent them from attaining it, especially when there were clear-cut revolutionists on the scene to tell these workers the truth and point out the right road? To reply that in all these revolutionary situations, the “revolutionary vanguard” was too weak in numbers to reach enough workers with the truth about the leaders, may or may not be true, but it does furnish the clue to the real answer.

The revolutionists had isolated themselves in separate organizations from the very workers whose support was indispensable for a socialist victory. A socialist movement of any serious nature cannot be established overnight; it cannot be established by arbitrary mechanical means; it cannot be established by decree. It cannot be established without the working class, and above all it cannot be established in head-on opposition to the existing movement of the working class. And above even that, it cannot be established by virtue of a universal formula applicable to all countries, at all times and under all circumstances.

Second, Lenin did not properly relate that part of his theory which referred to the imminence of anti-imperialist revolutions of the colonial peoples with his theory of the triumph of opportunism in the socialist movement. If opportunism arose on the basis of the expansion of world imperialist power, then the colonial revolutions would destroy its economic foundations and therewith (sooner or later, allowing for the famous “cultural lag”) the ideological and political strength of opportunism in the workers’ movement.

One thing or the other: Either imperialism would succeed in maintaining its world power and thereby be in a position to sustain the dominance of opportunism in the working class. Or world revolution and with it the anti-imperialist revolution was a reality, at least in the broad sense, and the influence of socialist opportunism was speedily doomed in the working class.

In the first case, summoning the revolutionary wing out of the socialist movement could only emphasize its isolation from the mass of workers who were still inclined to opportunism and compromise with capitalism and who were because of that very fact unprepared to fight for socialist power. In the second case, by remaining inside the socialist movement, the revolutionary wing would be in a far more favorable position to influence and win to the fight for socialism the mass of workers who would be more and more inclined that way by the crisis of imperialism. Whichever case is chosen, the establishment of the absolutist principle that the Left Wing must break from the old socialist parties, set up its own party from which all Right Wingers and Centrists are excluded by statute, and that this had to be done simultaneously and in all countries, proved to be wrong through and through.

Since we are trying to confine the examination, to as great an extent as the subject permits, to the United States, we will add: the application of this principle to the Socialist Party in this country, in 1917, or 1919, or 1921, or 1924 or after, was particularly wrong. It revealed such a lack of a sense of proportion, such an ignoring of the concrete reality, as to be fantastic.

Third, if an independent Left Wing party is needed because a revolutionary situation exists or is imminent, it is necessary to ask, first of all, what constitutes a revolutionary situation, not in some general way, but one in which the prospects for socialist victory are real and substantial? One of the most important symptoms of such a situation is that the great mass of workers (we are not even speaking of other social forces whom the workers must have as allies) is not only ready for a new regime but is increasingly hostile to anyone whose course would perpetuate the old one by means of a rotten compromise. Where this is not the case, then conditions are not really ripe for the direct fight for a socialist regime that promises success, whether it be a fight on the parliamentary plane where capitalism leaves the democratic road open to the working class, or a fight with arms in hand where a despotism leaves the workers no other choice. That is, a truly revolutionary situation is marked precisely by the rapid decline of the self-confidence, the influence and the power of compromisers of all kinds in the labor movement. But that is precisely when the Left Wing of the movement, if it is in the movement, has its best opportunities (IF its political course is correct and it represents the best interests of the working class) to win the bulk of the workers.

If the conservative leadership of a united movement tries, under such circumstances, to gag and bind the radical wing, to deny it its elementary democratic rights inside the movement, to prevent it from advocating its views and winning support for them in a loyal manner, a new situation exists. That is essentially what the German “Majority Socialists” did during the first world war, not only with the Spartacist Left but also with the Center group of Haase, Ledebour, Kautsky and Bernstein. A split was inevitable and it occurred. Both the Left and the Center set up their own independent parties. But the responsibility for the split was clear and unmistakable in the eyes, not merely of doctrinaires, but of the socialist workers.

But for a Left Winger to take that outstanding example, even if he adds to it the conviction that it may, or surely will, be duplicated in such critical situations, and then draw the conclusion that long before such a situation occurs or is even on the distant horizon, he must abandon working as persuasively as he can for his views in a united socialist movement, is to make the kind of salto mortale in logic and in politics that has kept the Left Wing in mid-air, isolated and in ever-recurring crisis, for forty years. Nowhere does this apply more clearly than in the United States.

Fourth, Lenin was not, contrary to widespread opinion, a putschist, and the Bolshevik Revolution was not a putsch. But Lenin’s revised theory invited putschism, that is, the armed attempt of a resolute minority to seize political power without the support of the majority of the people or even the majority of the working class, and in opposition to the majority. Let us see to what extent there was a relation between Lenin’s new theory of the party and the development of putschist ideas.

An independent party had to be formed not because, as was the case in the wartime German Social Democracy, the Right Wing refused to allow the Left Wing to remain in the party and to enjoy the democratic right to advance its views and seek to have them prevail. No, it did not matter if the Left Wing minority was allowed its rights or not. Could it not stay inside the united movement and try to win a majority for its position and leadership? Yes, according to Lenin and the Comintern. But only provided the same outcome was assured: the splitting of the party into two organizations. That is, either the Left Wing would leave the old party as a minority, set up its own party, and leave the majority under the control of the Right Wing; or the Left Wing could stay in the old party for a short time if it had the immediate prospect of winning the majority to its side, but as soon as it had control, it would have to expel the leaders of the Right Wing and of the Center. So it was nominated in the bond, plainly and aggressively in the famous 21 conditions. The trouble was that the Right Wing and Centrist leaders, even when a minority, still had the support and confidence of their followers, who numbered thousands, tens of thousands, and in some cases hundreds of thousands. And these followers would not remain in a party which expelled their leaders, not because of a violation of party discipline, but because of the views they held. Nevertheless, one way or the other, the split was demanded and assured, universally and uniformly. And from the Communist standpoint, the split meant the exclusion from the movement not only of the Social-Democratic leaders but in practical effect also of the Social Democratic workers.

Let us take Germany as an example. It turned out there, from the day the Communist Party was formed in 1919 to the victory of Hitler, that the Social-Democratic workers of the Right or the Center constituted the vast majority, the Communist workers the much smaller minority. The refusal to remain in the same party with the Social-Democratic workers was tantamount to a declaration by the Communists that they did not need their support,, even though they were for socialism in their own way. It was a declaration, in effect, that these workers could not be included in deciding the course toward the socialist revolution. To deny this on the ground that the Communist Party always urged the Social Democratic workers to join it, is positively absurd. If, as members of a united organization, you cannot get a given group of workers to abandon their leaders and their program in favor of yours, it is preposterous to believe that just because you split the organization and form a new one, the same group of workers will enter your ranks because they are urged to do so.

From the conception that the majority of the socialist workers are not needed (even, in a sense, not wanted) in the party which is to decide the policies to achieve the socialist revolution, not too far a jump was required to the conception that these workers are not needed to carry out the socialist revolution. The jump was facilitated by the theory that, essentially, these workers are corrupted economically and ideologically by the bourgeoisie to the point where they are opposed to the socialist revolution.

If the educational influence of the class struggle as it unfolds is not needed to persuade these workers of the correctness of our policies for a socialist revolution, perhaps it is not needed to persuade them before we can act for the socialist revolution. Our action will “electrify” them where our arguments could not convince them. The revolution must be imposed on them – the rest will follow. Fundamentally, that is how the putschist spirit saturated the early German Communist movement.

The Sparatacist uprising in 1919 was a putsch, undertaken against the pleadings and warnings of Rosa Luxemburg. It was one of several putschist attempts, all of them undertaken without the socialist workers, who were the great majority, and against them. The most disastrous attempt was the notorious “March Action” in 1921, organized by three Hungarian adventurers, Bela Kun, Mathias Rakosi and Josef Pogany (later known in this country as John Pepper), all emissaries of Zinoviev, with the support of the German leadership. It all but wrecked the German Communist movement and threatened to wreck the entire Communist International. Most of the important European paries were led by partisans or sympathizers of putschism, the Germans, the French, the Italians among them. The situation was so serious that at the Third Comintern Congress, Lenin, proclaiming himself pugnaciously as being “in the Right Wing at this Congress,” virtually threatened to split the International if putschism and the putschists were not repudiated. Only the tremendous authority of Lenin and Trotsky (Zinoviev and Radek and Bukharin were to one degree or another friendly to the putschists) won the day for their view.

THE REMEDIES OF THE THIRD CONGRESS and the Fourth Congress – “To the Masses!” and “United Front with the Social Democracy” – did not really get to the heart of the problem. No united front ever came into existence on any significant scale. On the whole, the socialist workers took the position: “The Communists want a ‘united front’ as an instrument of the fundamental policy they have never disavowed, that is, to split and destroy our party which, with all our complaints about it, is nevertheless our party. Why should we lend ourselves to their maneuver?” To make matters worse, the Bolsheviks had by then adopted it as a principle that no other party but their own can be permitted to exist under the dictatorship of the proletariat. On the whole, the socialist workers, to say nothing of their leaders, felt: “Why should we agree to any policy which will facilitate the advent to power of the Communists? Once in power, they will not allow our party to exist either, and that is not an attractive prospect.” Against this, the Communists had all sorts of arguments, but none that was effective.

The Third Congress (1921) told every Communist: revolution in the West is a distance away, perhaps a long distance. For success, the support of our program by the socialist masses is absolutely indispensable. It occurred to nobody even then that it might be ten and a hundred times easier to win this support in a united socialist movement than to win it for a party which openly proclaimed its intention to eliminate the socialist movement.

Lenin’s theory of the independent revolutionary party and how to achieve it proved to be false for the Left Wing in the Western world at least. With the possible exception of Great Britain, it was nowhere more injurious to the cause of radical socialism in particular and of the socialist movement as a whole, than in the United States.

Only one significant attempt was ever made in Left Wing ranks, so far as we are aware, to reconsider Lenin’s theory. It was undertaken by Trotsky in 1934. We are not referring merely to the advice he gave his followers to enter the Socialist Parties “as a tactic.” That policy is well known. Less well known is his more fundamental re-evaluation of the relationship between Left Wing socialists and the Social Democratic parties, which he warned his followers to stop approaching “with ready-made formulae of yesterday: ‘reformism,’ ‘Second International,’ ‘political support of the bourgeoisie’,” and the like. But his re-evaluation was only a beginning, and it proved to be only tentative. He never developed it further, he never returned to it, he merely abandoned it and resumed the old position. Too bad. It would be worth while on another occasion to revert to his 1934 position, or half-position, in detail.

The “old position,” stoutly proclaimed to this day, isolated and harmed the Trotskyist movement even more completely than the Communist movement out of which it came. In 1936 it had its first real opportunity to break out of this isolation, to advance its ideas, and at the same time to build a broad socialist movement. It adopted the decision, against the fierce opposition of the “Leninist” sectarians in its ranks, to enter the Socialist Party. In the Socialist Party, it helped to realize some of these opportunities with remarkable success, for the party as a whole and for its own ideas in particular. But the “old position” asserted itself in the end. It split from the S.P. (although the responsibility for that split is by no means a one-sided affair; both sides wanted it and worked for it), and reconstituted the independent revolutionary ... sect. A few years later, Cannon published a book in which he found it appropriate to inform the radical public of the authentic Trotskyist view on the episode. It is worth citing only as an example of the conception of the revolutionary party and how to go about building it which entered the bloodstream of the Communist Left Wing from 1918 onward.

Following the split, when he told Trotsky of the “pitiful state” of the S.P. after the Trotskyists were out of it, Trotsky “said that alone would have justified the entry into the organization even if we hadn’t gained a single new member.” Cannon continues:

Partly as a result of our experience in the Socialist Party and our fight in there, the Socialist Party was put on the side lines. This was a great achievement, because it was an obstacle in the path of building a revolutionary party. The problem is not merely one of building a revolutionary party, but of clearing obstacles from its path. Every other party is a rival. Every other party is an obstacle.

There you have a consummate expression of the orthodox malady that warped the Communist Left Wing and its offshoots for forty years. As he puts it down, it is a mite crude, perhaps, and a mite imprudent, perhaps, but then, prudence is not for the intrepid soul. It speaks out in blunt and shaggy language for the whole world to understand. What he himself never quite manages to understand is why, having spoken forthrightly, his amicable approaches to other organizations, the “rivals,” are not so amicably reciprocated, for the perfectly ludicrous reason that they do not consider themselves obstacles, do not relish being cleared from anybody’s path, and do not glow at the prospect of being reduced to a pitiful state.

THE THEORY OF THE INDEPENDENT revolutionary party dies hard. We do not for one second mean the idea of a working class socialist party completely independent of the capitalist class, of capitalist politics and capitalist ideas, with a program and activity based upon the principle of the class struggle. That theory does not die, and it should not die, for if it is not kept alive socialism will never come to life. Of all the positions adopted and maintained by the Communist Left Wing from the beginning, this and this one alone was and remains valid. We do mean, however, the theory that only those who agree with the revolutionary position as defined and refined (and re-defined and re-refined) by any given group of comrades at any given time, can belong to the socialist movement, and all others are excluded for non-agreement. This is the theory we are talking about. And it is this theory which was the most important distinguishing mark of the Communist Left Wing from its real beginning (although not quite from its very beginning in 1917 in this country) and distinguishes it and all its ideological derivatives to this day.

(It is somewhat remarkable that this point does not appear to impinge upon Draper’s studies at all. The point appears to us to be of decisive significance. It challenges the contention that the Communist Left Wing was a continuation of the traditional Socialist Left, for such a theory was alien to it. The old one fought the Right Wing, but never thought that it could not live with it in the same party – quite the contrary. Even the De Leonists never held or put forward this theory, for there was more than one attempt made on both sides to unite the S.L.P. and the S.P. The attempts were vain, only because of the way in which the S.L.P. insisted on the adoption of its point of view, but not because it contended that the socialist movement could not include both themselves and “the Hillquitites.” The light of the tradition of the Socialist Left flickered in the new Communist Left for only a short while, and the new Left became really Communist only to the extent that it extinguished this light. They stopped fighting Hillquit for leadership of the party, and began fighting for a party that would expel Hillquit, all his cothinkers, and in consequence all their followers in the organization. The Left Wingers drew first, as we say in the West, but Hillquit got in the first shot. That is how it was. All stories about the 1919 split that do not center around this fact, belong with Grimm.)

The theory, including the mythology surrounding it, dies hard. Forty turbulent and instructive years have passed, and it is still difficult for many a sincere Left Winger to believe that it is possible to build and maintain a united socialist movement in which all tendencies – Right, Left, Center or anything in between or above – can coexist loyally and without the hair- suspended sword of split over their heads to paralyze the party as it paralyzed Damocles of Syracuse.

Do you really believe that after everything that the Right Wingers have done and shown themselves to be, Left Wingers can live and work with them in the same party for longer, at the most, than a minute?

Yes, and firmly. In the first place, the terms “Right” and “Left” as used in the past have acquired a missignificance. The Stalinists are widely regarded as “Left,” when to us they represent the extreme totalitarian Right Wing in the working class. That is only one example and there are many. In the second place, the firm “Yes” is valid only if you mean what we mean, namely, a united democratic socialist movement, in a double sense: That regardless of all other differences – on history, on theory, on tactics, on the road to socialism – there is clear agreement that socialism means the fullest achievement of democracy and that the socialist movement is committed to democratic means in attaining its goal and does not seek to impose it upon the working class or against the working class. And in the sense that the party and everyone in it zealously respects full and equal democratic rights for all members and tendencies. The only cement that can assure the unity of a party in which there are differences of opinion on the best way to achieve a common end, is compounded of democracy and loyalty. No individual or group in the socialist movement has a right to demand more of any other individual or group: equal democratic rights accorded to all and loyalty to the party from all. Under these elementary conditions, a united socialist movement was possible in the past and is possible, and necessary, today.

“If Social Democrats permit blocs with the Cadets – does this not require the complete rupture of organizational relations, that is the split? We believe that this is not the case, and all Bolsheviks think so ... Without getting nervous, like the intellectuals [Ahem!], we are therefore duty-bound to maintain the unity of the party now, whereby we place our reliance upon the steadfastness of the revolutionary proletariat, upon its sound class instinct.”

But what if a local party organization, profiting from the permission to vote for Cadet candidates, decides to do so?

After a decision of the [local] bodies having jurisdiction, all of us who are party members will act as one man. The Bolshevik in Odessa must put a ballot with the name of the Cadet in the box, even if it makes him sick to do it. The Menshevik in Moscow must put in the box a ballot carrying only names of Social Democrats, even if his soul may yearn for the Cadets.”

Lenin wrote that on December 6, 1906, when he believed that the revolutionary situation was still at hand, or at least imminent. With the rest, we could not agree more. Our problem is different, our situation is different. No problem can be solved by a quotation, from no matter how eminent an authority. That is why it is time to put an end to the practice of tightening the ever-handy screwvise around every problem until it cracks and you have no problem and no solution.

THE ORGANIZATION AND MAINTENANCE of the Communist Party was a heavy mistake – and despite the bypaths we have felt obliged to take in the course of this analysis, we are writing primarily, if not only, of the Communist movement in the United States, not only as an obligation to the book under review, but because the building of a movement in this country is and must remain our primary concern.

All energy must be concentrated upon the task of reconstructing the American socialist movement as a united democratic movement, and not in the image of the Communist Party at any stage of its development. It must base itself upon American soil, upon American social conditions as they really are, upon the American working class as it really is, upon the language as it is really spoken. That requires a great deal of learning and re-learning which is not achieved merely by the old “quotations,” the ones that apply as well as the ones that do not. The American C.P. lived in Russia, at first in the Russia of the Bolshevik Revolution and then in the Russia of the Stalinist counterrevolution. As Eastman once said about the early Communist movement, its face is so unvaryingly turned to Moscow that it leaves only the most unattractive part of its anatomy to be seen in this country.

It is entirely true that at one stage after another, the best of the American Communists tried with earnestness and intelligence and only a normal number of mistakes to convert it into an American movement with its roots in the American working class and its mind on American political problems, without forgetting that the United States is part of the world and that the American workers are part of the international working class. Ruthenberg tried, Cannon tried, Foster tried, Lovestone tried, Browder tried (even Pepper tried!), each in his own way. All of them were able and intelligent men who would be a blessing to a healthy socialist movement traveling on good rails and able to stimulate their best qualities and bring them to flower. But they did not succeed. They could not. They did not understand why they failed.

We do not share the ludicrous theory that the present state of the socialist movement is due entirely to the Communists. This view has nothing to do with Marxism, or with any kind of objective political thinking. (Is the present state of the liberal movement due entirely to the Communists?) There were objective economic and political forces at work, historical forces as well, which pretty strictly delimited the possibilities for building a socialist movement at various stages of its development here. To study these forces and their effects is one of the most important tasks of socialists today, all the more important because it has been so badly neglected. But within the limits of what was possible, the share for the failure of the socialist movement in this country that falls upon the shoulders of the Communist movement was enormous and fundamental – the Communist movement before it was devastated by Stalinism and a thousand times more so of the Communist movement afterward.

Nor do we share the view that the Communist movement was always an “evil conspiracy” and that it had nothing to contribute and contributed nothing. That is not so at all. The Communists, both those we knew as comrades in the same movement and those we knew as opponents in a hostile movement, were sincere and devoted socialists and revolutionists. And they were good militants, with a capacity for fighting surpassed only by a readiness for sacrifice. They did not want a new despotism, but socialist freedom, as they understood it, alas. Their animus against the socialist movement was nourished to a large extent by its conservatism, its lack of imagination and daring, its passivity and, at a later stage, by its own variety of sectarianism. Their personal qualities, so to speak, and we are writing here of their good ones, were not the whole of the story.

The Communists were the principal animators of the post-war movement in the trade unions in favor of industrial unionism, of amalgamating the craft unions, of organizing the unorganized workers, and many of them did magnificent work in all these fields. The main motor drive for the Labor Party movement in the ranks of unionists and farmers in the Twenties was provided by the Communists. They were the most active force in mobilizing the unemployed workers during the crisis for an improvement in their grim conditions. They were actually the first political organization in this country to take up seriously the Negro problem, to stimulate interest in it, to organize the Negroes themselves, to arouse support for them among whites, on a scale and with a courageous aggressiveness that no other political movement showed (we say political movement to make the distinction from such organizations as the N.A.A.C.P.) They provided many of the solid troops and organizers in the veritable revolution that produced the C.I.O. Under Browder they were the first organization that undertook to relate the fight for socialism in this country to the lushly rich tradition of progress and revolution of the American bourgeoisie, the American working class and the American Negroes. These are real contributions. They are not trifles.

Despite all the bitterness that just cannot be repressed at the thought of what this movement did to tens of thousands of first-rate militants who entered it with socialist idealism and were politically and morally eviscerated by it, it is furthest from our thought to abuse or ridicule it. Our purpose is to understand it, as, we trust, we do. The importance of understanding is not to condemn, or for that matter, to fulfill the Christian obligation to forgive. We feel neither self-righteous piety nor maudlin condescension. We are re-examining not merely its past, but our past as well. The purpose of understanding the past is to learn.

But not less important than the need to acknowledge these precious contributions is to see this: everything positive that the Communists did contribute to the cause of socialism in this country, could have been contributed just as well, with tenfold better results, with tenfold more effectiveness and durability, and with a hundredfold more assurance of correctives for shortcoming and error, if they had worked, as they could have done without serious difficulty, as an integral part of a broad, united socialist party. Nobody would have prevented them doing it, nobody could have prevented them. The mountainous tragedy of the American Communists is that all their activities were more and more paralleled, interseeded and saturated with a virus that twisted and misshaped everything they accomplished, envenomed the organism and its achievements, and in the end brought a universal revulsion against the remains.

OUR CONCLUDING THOUGHT IS that we do not regard these lines as having dealt with all the significant problems of the American movement today, or with all the factors and currents that contributed to its enfeeblement and dispersal; and that we do not regard these lines on the limited aspect of the problem to which they have sought to confine themselves, as being the last word or the whole and ultimate truth, indivisible, insoluble and incontrovertible.

Socialist thought and policy can only be clarified in critical and loyal exchange. There is no other way and no one is likely to invent an improvement. We are making here our contribution to a discussion, in conformance with the principle that the needs of socialism must be supplied by each according to his ability. We await and invite the contributions of others, here or elsewhere. There will be enough of them that deserve earnest reflection. We are sure that the screech of the Daker hen will no longer be heard. And even if there should still be an amiable critic all set to hurl a rebuttal with, as Heine wrote, “jedes Wort ein Nachttopf, und kein leerer,” that will not be too bad because for hygiene’s sake we can always duck. But there should and surely will be fruitful contributions to the discussion from others. They need only show a concern for socialism to be welcome.

We want to purge the Marxian tendency in socialism of its primitive radicalism, of dogma and superstition, so that it can resume the place warranted for it. We want a socialist movement that works.

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1. The Roots of American Communism [1*], The Viking Press, New York. 395 pp. $6.75.

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Note by MIA

1*. In the printed version mistakenly The Roots of Russian Communism.

Max Shachtman
Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 11 January 2020