Weisbord’s Reply to Trotsky’s Letter

Statement of the Communist League of Struggle


From The Militant, Vol. V No. 38 (Whole No. 134), 17 September 1932, p. 3.
Also published in Class Struggle, Vol. 2 No. 7, August 1932.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Comrade Trotsky:

The Communist League of Struggle has carefully considered your last letter to our organization. In considering this letter we also had before us the report of our representative, comrade Albert Weisbord who has just returned from his visit to you and to the various sections of the Left Opposition.

We are very happy to note that friendlier relations have been able to be established and we feel that much misunderstanding has been wiped away and a practical basis laid for the entrance of our organization into the Left Opposition through unification with the Communist League of America.

Your new letter has, first of all, cleared the ground of a good deal of matter that stood in the way of our mutual coming-together and has taken an entirely different approach to us. No longer are our views so misunderstood that we are charged with deriding publishing work or opposing mass action to propaganda. No longer is the charge made that we are connected with Landau in Europe or with Lovestone in America. In this respect we are also happy to note that many of the reasons given by the leaders of the American League against us have been ignored by you and thus tacitly repudiated. No longer, for example, is the charge made that we want to help Gandhi in India, that we are opportunist on the question of China, that we belong with Paz (who has now, we hear, joined the Socialist Party) etc. Quite the contrary we are glad to learn that though the top leaders of the American League aided people who wrecked our headquarters and stole our library and documents and even now welcome these wreckers at their meetings, and though one of these leaders had declared that only the rope could be the medium between us and that we acted as agents blowing the whistle for the police, you have welcomed our representative and in your letter opened the door for entrance into the Left Opposition. On our part we shall do all we can to join forces with the Left Opposition.

First of all we wish to admit that on the question of the Labor Party we made a serious error in that our group had declared in its general theses: “The Communists at this time especially must not drop the slogan of a Labor Party.”

Our error was serious in that in calling for the formation of the Labor Party we were making the same error, in a sense, as the Right wing and the Comintern had made in its various adventures in which it had denied the legitimate role of the Party and had acted as coolies for the reformists.

Our group had taken the following position:

  1. The Europeanization of American politics must bring about an inevitable and imminent development of a mass party of workers destined to change the political face of the U.S. Historically, such a mass party has taken three forms, namely, a Socialist party, a Communist party, and a Labor party. The question now arises what form is probable as the next step in the political history of the working class in the United States, where there is at present no mass Socialist party or Communist party and where as yet the Labor party does not exist?
  2. There is no question that the great sharpening of the inner and outer contradictions of American capitalism gives the basis for a tenseness of relationships, a restiveness of the mass which can enable both Communists and Socialists to grow greatly. It is a fact, however, that despite the great and unprecedented severity of the crisis and of its effects, the American working masses have fought shy of both these parties or have not been effectively reached by them. Such a growth of a revolutionary Communist party is certainly not out of the question this depends both on the sharpening of the capitalist contradictions and the policy of the Communists – nor is the formation of a Labor party inevitable. Nevertheless the existing situation is such that the American workers will be compelled to take independent political action of their own so as to try to counterpose their class interests to those of the bourgeoisie and to strive to ameliorate their conditions. That such political action may very likely take the form of a Labor party can be seen by the great movement for a Labor party which sprung up after the last crisis in the United States in 1921.
  3. The formation of a Labor party at the present time would mark a great step forward for the American working class. This is true precisely because the present situation shows it would be formed not due primarily to the great growth of Communism in America which the employers fear and wish to forestall, but primarily as a symptom of the beginning leftward drift of the masses who are still illusioned by democracy and still misled by reformists and who form a separate Labor party despite the bourgeoisie. Entirely different from a Socialist party, the Labor party in its inception is really not a Party at all but an amorphic mass movement. In fact, the Labor party, in one sense, can be conceived as an integrated series of united fronts by which the masses launch their own independent struggle against the bourgeoisie on everyday concrete questions. The Labor party although serving as a barrier to Communism yet under the present circumstances sets the masses against the will of its reformist leaders, on the road to overcoming those very barrier’s of reformism. This amorphic political mass movement called the Labor party serves as an arena within which the Communists can wrest the masses from the reformists.

Where we made our error was in concluding from these premises, the general [line], which we still hold to be correct, that it was necessary for the Communists to help organize that Labor party. What we failed to realize was that the Labor party was an amorphous mass movement that rapidly became a PARTY, that it was more than an integrated series of united fronts but a PARTY, or to put it another way, we failed to realize that in INTEGRATING this series of united fronts we were creating another PARTY, reformist and dual to the Communist. We failed to understand that all united fronts created by us must be specific and definite, while a Labor party is a PERMANENT organization with aims that vary, an organization that to the masses carries an entirely different meaning than ordinary united front. In this respect your recent article on the Labor party question has proved of great value in correcting these errors in the position of the Communist League of Struggle.

It is no more the task of the American Communists to organize a petty-bourgeois Party standing between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat in the form of a Labor party, than it would have been for the Chinese Communists to have helped organize the Kuo Min Tang in China. The Kuo Min Tang also symbolized the Europeanization of politics – Chinese politics – and it also historically marked a progressive step forward for the Chinese masses and provided an arena for Communism (as indeed it might be conceived that even the creation of a Socialist party might do in some countries) yet history has decisively shown us what criminality it would be if the formation of such a Kuo Min Tang (or hypothetical Socialist party) were, due to the actions and propaganda of the Communist themselves.

A parry exists for the seizure of power. Every worker knows that. To ask him to organize a Labor Party is inevitably to give him the conception that the Labor party is the instrument for seizure of power. Such a conception paves the way for all the monstrous crimes committed by Stalinism and the Right wing.

However, we must declare that in your letter to us we believe you have criticize us too severely. You must know that for over two years, up to very recently, the Communist League of America also had the same slogans as we did on the Labor party question, changing its thesis only at its last national conference. Yet all that time, the Labor party question was not considered a decisive one, capable of barring a group from the Left Opposition and it was not, therefore, because of this question that the Communist League of America or the International Secretariat at first rejected collaboration with us. For the first time, then, through your letter to us, we have learned that you considered this question a decisive one.

In respect, to this matter of “decisive questions” permit us to add that there are other questions which we consider decisive and which yon should put to the American League. To mention only two of these questions: Is it so “decisive” that a League should be run by people who voluntarily turn over the names and addresses of members and spmpathizers, subscribers to their paper, to the United States government? Is it not “decisive” that on such a burning question in the United States as the Negro question, the American League now for close to four years has taken no official position, taking the ground it must “study the question” (great consolation to the struggling Negro masses)?

Certainly all questions can be “decisive” once they arc developed and expanded upon and brought into general relation with the general theoretical program of the organization. But what must be kept in mind in relation to the Labor party question in America is:

  1. There was no large-scale movement for a Labor party actually being organized and that our error therefore was concerning a contingency rather than an actuality and this made it easier for us to fall into error.
  2. It was never the position of the Communist League of Struggle to behave even remotely as Stalin in acting as the coolie for the Kuo Min Tang. We have constantly stressed, the necessity and historic independent role of the Communist party. It was our intention to utilize the Labor party movement for the building up of a strong Communist party that would soon liquidate and make antiquated the Labor party rather than that we should become subordinate to it. We never had the theory that “hand in hand with the Kuo Min Tang” (or Labor party) we would accomplish the revolution. For us the Labor party was no substitute for a Communist party. Rather have we constantly stressed that only by a relentless fight against the opportunism embodied in a Labor party would the workers be able to cross over the bridge the Labor party offered them, and move to the Proletarian Revolution.

However, since the Labor party was not actually formed we were not able to show in practice how entirely different our whole conception and action was from that of the Right wing.

Finally we must declare our confusion on the question of the Labor party was also due to the fact that the Comintern in the time of Lenin had taken a position similar to ours not only in regard to Great Britain but specifically and concretely in regard to America and the American Labor Party. In the light of these specific decisions of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International which we believed correct we felt we could not change our views at least without a long and thorough discussion with the leading sections of the International Left Opposition, which we have only just now had the opportunity to have. We cannot be condemned for being late In revising our views when you yourself have only recently written on the subject, not having mentioned it even in your first letter to us.

We cannot leave this important question of the Labor party without calling attention to several errors in the position of the Communist Leagute of America. The American League, in its last thesis, has declared that the question of a Labor party has less of a timely significance than in the past. How can this position be reconciled with your opinion that the question of the Labor party has now become decisive for the American groups adhering to the Left Opposition? Does the American League believe that the Europeanization of American politics which you have stressed as imminent will take only the form of mass Socialist and Communist parties as in Germany? Such an analysis is far from a realistic appreciation of the American situation at the present time and is far from being born out by the facts. The Communist League of Struggle wishes here to reiterate its view that far from being less important, the Labor party question will tend to become even more and more important, in the ranks of the working class.

You declare in your statement on the Labor party question that you cannot affirm that the creation of a Labor party would be a progressive step in the United States because you do not know under what circumstances such a party would be created. It is also our position as well as yours that even if it were objectively a progressive step it is not our duty to help organise such a party, or proclaim its progressiveness, but on the contrary, its insufficiency, ambiguity and limitedness and its historical role as a hindrance to the proletarian revolution.

Nevertheless the question goes deeper than a tactical one. The question stands: In what historical period in American politics are we in America at the present time? You imply that the more probable perspective in America is the huge growth of a Communist party putting such pressure on the employing class that the Labor party would be organized by capitalist elements solely as a weapon against the Communist party.

We believe such an analysis is not correct. Certainly there are great possibilities, never utilized by the Stalinists, for the large growth of the Communist party, in the U.S., but certainly also in the light of present day facts and conditions in America we can not agree that the most probable perspective to which we can turn is that the Labor party, like the Zubatov Unions under the Czar, will be organized mainly as a deliberate move against Communism. As we see American conditions today (tomorrow may compel another analysis based on new world events) we can declare that out of the great complex of social forces leading to the formation of a Labor party, the primary leading force will be the movement of the working class to the left on the road of independent political class action against the capitalists and even if such a movement were to have in it capitalist elements who are primarily concerned in utilizing the Labor party, against Communism and even if those conscious anti-Communist elements were dominant, yet the Labor party movement itself would be unleashing those very forces destined to overthrow all anti-Communist plans. To conceive of the Labor party primarily as a movement carefully controlled by capitalists and formed to meet the menace of Communism rather than primarily as a spontaneous movement of the workers against the capitalists is to distort the picture. Taking such a view, we believe it was incorrect for the American League to make it merely an “open question” whether, under such circumstances the Communists should participate and work within the Labor party.

Of course, as the Labor party is not organized yet in America, this is music of the future. Yet we wish to call to your attention that the American League has taken an un-Leninist position on the whole question of the united front, even though on the Labor party question the American League did reach a correct conclusion. We have, for example, reported to you how, contrary to your opinion, the American League is against the idea that the Communists in India should enter the Indian National Revolutionary Congress; how, contrary to your opinion, the American League failed to send delegates to general united front meetings called by labor organizations outside the Communist party and how it failed to organize united fronts where possible. If we have erred on the Labor party question, it was also because we zealously wished that the Left Opposition in America actively participate in the life of the American working class and enter into all its concrete battles.

(To be continued)

Last updated on 10.1.2014