I. The General Textile Strike
II. Nationalism and Economic Life, By Leon Trotsky
III. Dialectical Materialism and “Just as Good” Pragmatism (1)
IV. A Negro Chamber of Labor
Also Editorials: The Minneapolis Capitulation, The Richberg Report on “Progress”, U.S. “Pacifist,” The Anti-Fascist Vote & other items
THE GENERAL TEXTILE STRIKE
By Albert Weisbord
The textile workers of the United States are making history. For the first time in America the entire textile industry, normally employing 1,100,000 workers, is closing down from North to South. This is a tremendous achievement in and of itself. That the strike is not more impressive even than it is, that all the workers are not out but hundreds of thousands still remain at work, is entirely due to the tactics of the officials of the A.F.L. The fact remains that the textile strike is an elemental upheaval of labor against its exploiters and is a splendid verification of the call of the Communist League of Struggle for general strike.
Last year there was the general silk strike. This year there is a general textile strike as the culmination of a whole series of local general strikes that have opened the way. San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Toledo, Minneapolis, is each of these cities there was either a general strike or the threat of a general strike, and that only a few weeks and months ago. The labor movement of the U.S. Is rapidly taking its place in the first ranks of the entire world. As European labor is going down, American labor is stepping up, ready to take up the battles for the proletarist of the world. More and more, today, American workers can shake hands with their Russian brethren, as two mighty armies of labor who know how to organize and fight.
The are four groups concerned in the textile strike, each with its own motives and interests, namely, the employers (themselves divided into sub-groups), the government, the United Textile Workers and A.F. L. officials, and the workers themselves. So far as the officials of the union are concerned what they want above all is the recognition of the union. To them, recognition of the union means guaranteed regular dues, the increase of their power and control. To the workers recognition of the union means control over the employer, one step towards control over production which in turn is a step towards the dictatorship of the proletariat. To the officials, recognition of the union also means the right to give jobs and to turn the union into an employment agency with the power in their hands to discriminate against the militant workers, and to play favorites to the more servile ones; in either case opportunities for bribes are open to the officials which, of course, they do not neglect. So long as they can get recognition of the union, the A. F.L. officials are quite willing to sacrifice all the other demands, increase in pay, 30 hour week, end of the stretch-out, etc.
The employers are also interested in this strike because, in spite of the inflationary tendencies of the Roosevelt regime, the price of some textile cloths have actually fallen, and in other cases have risen but slowly. Certainly, the price of textiles has not risen as rapidly nor as high as other articles. And herein lies an indication of how successful the New Deal has been.
It is now very apparent that the New Deal has failed to realize the many hopes placed in it. Again industrial production is slumping rapidly. In spite of credit facilities, in spite of rising prices and N.R.A., textile factories are again becoming overstocked and prices tending to fall. It is to the interest of the Roosevelt regime as well as to the bosses to have these prices rise again.
Here we get the reason for the statement by Gorman, head of the strike, that this strike is called to reduce the stocks of the employers. Here is why Henry Ford can declare that the strike is called to raise prices. Now we can understand why the federal government was so gentle toward this strike. Unlike the general strike in San Francisco, it seemed this general strike, was not"civil war” nor “insurrection". The relief administrator hastened to state that the strikers could get relief if they applied for it and needed it. The war department hastened to add that federal troops would not be sent in to the strike fields. For the first two weeks of the strike that incomparable ass, “General” Johnson, kept entirely quiet. The strike, evidently, was “kosher.”
Already, for over three months, there had been talk in the cotton industry of the necessity for a month’s stoppage and lockout of the workers. If this had not been done it was because the textile manufacturers’ association could not well enforce this lay-off. And herein lies another point in the development of American capitalism.
After railroads, industrial capitalism conquers agrarian regions through textiles. In this way, too, the agrarian regions become industrialized and capital tends to flow equally all over. This has been the case with cotton textiles. It has been the textile industry of the South which has given the spur to industrialization there. The cotton manufacturers have moved to the South because of the wages, the lack of unions, the absence of high taxes, the low power rates, the nearness to the cotton fields, and to ever growing centers of consumption. Upon cotton manufacturers now depend not only the textile industry but vast regions of the entire county. Should it now become unprofitable for cotton mills to move to the South, the whole gigantic industrialization scheme of the Southland, whole cities and states would be terribly dislocated and suffer disastrous blows. It is for this reason that we can say that the competition between the mills of the South and those of the North is a real competition. If a lay-off was declared by the Northern manufacturers, they could not have been able to enforce it. For this reason the union officials were called in. By means of the strike they could help to enforce the lay-off for the benefit of the entire industry.
It must be kept in mind that the cotton textile industry has still not become trustified as steel and automobiles, that there is no all-powerful central force to keep all the manufacturers in line in such a far-flung and chaotic industry. What the U.T.W. officials are doing here is helping along the employers’ association to establish better control and incidentally they help the big fellows against the little ones, the North against the South.
Roosevelt forces are also much interested in the strike; they may have even helped to stimulate it. It is not the first time that Roosevelt has played around with masses in order to bolster up his prestige. This is often the case with those trying to play a Bonapartist role. In the beginning of the N.R.A. Last year, it was Roosevelt who called on the masses to parade and by means of these parades was able to club all opposition into line. Today, when his prestige is diminishing, when labor is becoming disillusioned and when capital is talking about the Liberty League and the fight is looking for the Congressional elections on the road to the 1936 presidential elections, Roosevelt needs to appear again as the “strong man”, saviour of his country. The very employers who may be dissatisfied with the dangers implied in the New Deal, even though they may welcome the increase in profits brought to them by it, the very enemies of Roosevelt will now have to come to him to “arbitrate” and to “settle” things for them. In this way they will be forced to admit that they can not afford to “swap horses in the middle of the stream” of this crisis.
Secondly, by means of arbitration, Roosevelt can appear as the “workers’ friend” without very much risk. With profits advanced 600% and the cost of living 25%, it is possible to grant a 10% increase of wages in the textile industry where originally wages had been frozen at their lowest point. President Roosevelt has already suggested a 10% increase in pay and 10% cut in hours for the cotton garment industry, and most likely, this is what will be offered to the textile workers. In reality, this will mean a severe wage cut, perhaps of 15% for the workers in real wages.
It is even possible that the 30 hour week may be granted, although that is more doubtful. Two years ago Senator Black had brought in a resolution calling for the 30 hour week which had been seriously considered then, only to be abandoned when the N.R.A. compromised at 35 hours for factories. Thus the 30 hour week, the very slogans of Cannon, Lovestone and others, may be actually realized. In the beginning, when the 30 hour week was first proposed, the Communist Party was opposed to it on the ground that Russia had a 45 hour week and to have the U.S. appear more socialistic than the Soviet Union was entirely too much for the Stalinist officials. But Mr. Roosevelt may beat them to it yet. He is trying to “equal and surpass” Stalin’s socialistic demagogy as Russia is trying to “equal and surpass” America’s industry.
The 30 hour week may very well be granted from the capitalist angle. After all, it is not the case where the 30 hour week has been wring from reluctant bosses who want to press the workers 60 or even 48 hours a week. The fact is the average worker cannot work even 30 hours a week on the whole. What the 30 hour work week under the present circumstances means is the universal stagger system where more people will be put to work and the work shared, but each will get only what he got before when he was on home relief. The social cost to the employers will be no greater. Instead of paying out money through taxes on home relief, the employer pays out the same amount in the form of wages. But the employer will have the added benefit that the worker is under his control and discipline and that he is turning over the product of his labor to the boss. Under the 30 hour week system instead of the employer paying home relief and getting nothing in return, he now gets work done for home relief pay.
Certainly, the union officials will not be opposed to the 30 hour week for this will mean increased dues for them as more workers will be taken on. Nor will the government oppose this too much, since it means the reduction of relief expenses and the government is put in a position to exclaim dogmatically: We are reducing unemployment, raising payroll totals, reduced the hours of work, cut down the taxes and have put the workers to work. This universal stagger system is a further regimentation of the workers and as such a step toward universal compulsory labor service.
Of course, the workers are not opposed to the 30 hours work for their own reasons, entirely different from that of government or employer. The 30 hour work week eliminates the sharp distinctions among the workers, it will distribute the work better and bring millions back to the point of production, making them feel they are useful members of society and thus restoring their morale. At the same time their muscles will be hardened. They will have the opportunity to talk to the same men day after day and to organize into unions. And there is a great advantage of a union over an unemployment league; while the unemployed by themselves are capable only of sporadic outbursts and spontaneous affairs, the unions are capable of steady, persistent struggle. In a thousand ways the transformation of millions from the unemployed to the part-time employed in unions will improve the fighting ability of the workers and allow them to struggle better.
Thus, while the 30 hour week may be a step towards the regimentation of the workers and towards fascism, it may also be a step forward from our point of view in that it permits of better organization of the workers for struggle. We may declare emphatically that in the long run, it will not be Senator Black and the government boss forces who will be correct in their calculations, but the Communist revolutionists.
There is one demand that surely will NOT be won, and that is, the demand for the abolition of the speed-up and stretch-out. This demand the bosses will fight the hardest about and the union officials give quickest. In fact there are signs to show that at the end of the strike there will be even an increased stretch-out. For example, in Paterson, where the workers have been working a four loom system, they will now be asked to work at six looms. And the devilish part about the six looms is that it involved the introduction of an automatic loom which will soon enough compel the worker to work not only at six but perhaps at 12 and even more (as in the cotton industry)
IN BRIEF, SO FAR AS IT COULD BE ARRANGED, THIS STRIKE IS A FAKE SET- UP IN CONTROL OF THE EMPLOYERS AND THEIR AGENTS. The job of the hour is to make the strike a real one and to take it out of the control of the enemies of the workers. The strike must not be confined to the mere question of the recognition of the union. In 1933 the union was recognized in Paterson silk mills, and two months after the settlement the wages were cut 2% by the N.R.A. and, with the help of union officials, the Lovestoneite Keller in the lead, the workers were heavily fined when they tried to strike, and militant workers were expelled from the union. Recognition of the union of the A.F.L., in and of itself means nothing, unless it means the ability of the workers better to struggle for conditions. The strike must not be allowed to be called off until the strikers have gained something substantial for themselves. The demand of the workers must include:
1. The abolition of the stretch-out and speed-up
2. A guaranteed minimum wage equal to the high cost of living; no one less than $28 a week, skilled workers in proportion, for a 30 hour week.
3. Compulsory employment insurance for all textile workers from the huge profits of the employers.
During the course of the strike it has become clear that the A.F.L. officials are trying to split and to weaken the ranks of the strikers. It should be kept in mind that, in spite of the obvious advantages of the strike to them, the union officers really did not want the strike. It was the Southern workers who forced the U.T.W. into strike action. As we have intimated above, the strike is a fine illustration of the growing radicalization of the working class of this country. As a matter of fact the strike is most militant (especially in the South) exactly where the control of the U.T.W. is weakest.
Already over two weeks have gone by and the dye workers have not been called out on strike although they are most eager to engage in it. The hosiery workers have not called out the union men, the union officialdom calling out only the unorganized (so as to collect their dues). The unorganized to strike, the union men to scab. Is this not the traditional way of the A.F.L. to conduct a strike? In Paterson, the Jacquard workers have been allowed to scab. Throughout the country no real efforts have been made up to date to close down the woolen and worsted industry, whose centers are Lawrence and Passaic. (Since the dye industry, wool and worsted and hosiery mills have not been struck, it adds confirmation to the suspicion that this is really a strike for the benefit of the North as against the Southern cotton manufacturers. No effort has been made to call out the truckmen hauling scab goods, or to stop the garment makers from working on scab cloth.
With such a policy of division there now has gone a policy of destroying the militancy of the strikers. Already due to the action of the workers, many battles have been engaged in with scabs and detectives and other tools of the employers. Scores of strikers have been murdered and wounded, hundreds others slugged and arrested. The state troops have been called out in most Southern and New England textile states and martial law has been declared in Georgia. Gone is the statement of McMahon “If they hit you hit them back” which as union official he made at the beginning of the strike. Now it is Matthew Woll who speaks and throws the blame for the disorders upon the “Reds” and launches a drive to clean them out of the unions of the A.F.L. As the strike is prolonged and in sections of the country grows more desperate, there will arise still more the fear among the employers that the strike will not be controlled by the A.F.L. and the officials will be called upon to send the workers back to work.
What the U.T.W. intends to settle for can be seen by the following item that appeared in the “Silk and Dye Worker” (A.F.L.) of Sept. 14th, 1934. “Textile Strike Wins First Mill”, is the heading. “The agreement provides for a closed shop, the check-off dues, an 8 hour day, 5 day week,…code wages with minimum of 30 cents an hour.” The U.T.W. here has abandoned the 30 hour week entirely. But even if they had the 30 hour week, the wages paid for a full week would be the grand sum of $9 a week. And for this there is a general strike, half a million men are called out, hundreds are wounded and slugged in America of the year 1934---$9 a week!
Should the textile workers take matters into their own hands their line of action would be in the direction of aggressive militant mass picketing and the formation of regular textile armies, divided into squads led by captains elected by the workers. Flying squadron tactics would be elaborated. Broad strike committees responsible to the captains who are in turn responsible to the strikers themselves would lead and control the strike. The dyers, hosiery and knitgoods and all the other sections of the textile transportation and garment workers would be involved in the strike so as to make the action 100% effective.
Up to now we have had general strikes in individual cities (San Francisco). Now we have a national general strike in one industry. The next step should be to join the national general strike with local general strikes in all textile cities. There is no doubt but the workers would respond if really called on to fight and such a move would be a tremendous step forward as much in broadening and deepening the strike as it would be in taking the strike out of the control of the agents of the employers.
Hand in hand with this would go the mobilization of the unemployed who are eager for the struggle, who for a long time, now, have been shamefully abandoned by the union movement, and who would take their places in the very front ranks. The strike should raise as one of its most important demands the slogan: Unemployment insurance, and thus the present general strike would be the preparation for a general national strike throughout the country for unemployment insurance.
However, it is very doubtful whether the textile strikers would be able to take matters into their own hands. The present textile strike has exposed in the most lurid light the utter and complete bankruptcy of the so-called “Communist” groups (C.P., Lovestoneites, Cannon group) The Lovestone group aids the reactionary officialdom in every possible way, even to the point of driving out the militants from the unions. The miserable, petty, Cannon group is nowhere to be seen. Since the Minneapolis fiasco the Cannon group should not show its face among the workers.
As for the Communist Party never did it act more shamefully than in this strike. Exactly now, when the workers are looking for leadership, the National Textile Workers Union, which we built up, the Communist Party has now liquidated. Only a short time ago the A.F.L. was denounced as “fascist” and “worse than fascist” and that the Communists had the duty to destroy the A.F.L. Now they are going to “bore from within” and in order to do so, they crawl on their bellies and give up the whole idea of organizing the unorganized. After five years the Communist Party now openly admits to its failure to win anyone and has made fruitless all the efforts of the heroic militants which have gone in building up the National Textile Workers Union. Stalinism can destroy faster than the workers can build up.
The Communist League of Struggle, however, has been on the job. The whole situation is clearly illustrated in the Passaic-Paterson field. Up to date the mills of Passaic are still running in the woolen and worsted industry. Due to the fact that no adequate reparations were made beforehand for a strike, that no demands were worked out for these workers at Passaic, that they have absolutely no confidence in the U.T.W. and that the mills are very powerful and work was very slack, none of the workers responded to the national strike call. Meetings called by the U.T.W. saw but one or two people present. Further, the Passaic workers were afraid that they were to be mere pawns in the game for taking dues. For years nothing had been done for them and now they saw union men scabbing in Lodi and elsewhere while they were supposed to strike in Passaic. The result was, while the workers of Passaic did not want to scab, they did not strike.
In this situation, the C.P. folded up its tent and slunk away. They refused to build a union but told all workers to go to the A.F.L. WHICH THESE WORKERS ALL ALONG HAD REFUSED TO DO. In the first 10 days of the strike the CP in Passaic put out no leaflet calling for the strike and urging solidarity with the national strike. The C.P. showed itself without a policy, helpless, bankrupt.
This left the field entirely open for us and following the policy which we had pursued for months in Passaic we organized the Textile Workers Industrial Union affiliated to the Passaic Valley Organization Committee and put out the first leaflet calling for strike action and held a tremendous meeting of the workers in one of the parks of the city, calling for picket lines in front of the Botany Mills the next day (Monday) On the next day, due to our call, about a thousand workers clustered round the streets near the Botany Mill but due to the confused situation mentioned above, we were able to get only a small number to go on our picket lines. The A.F.L. ORGANIZERS STOOD ON THE CORNERS AND REFUSED TO GO ON OUR PICKET LINES, although, later in the day, too late to be of much use, when Paterson pickets came into Passaic and tried to picket, we went on their line. The next day all picket lines were broken up by the police and we were too weak to engage in struggle alone, as the workers in the mills were still not prepared to strike.
At once we sent a letter to the A.F.L. organizers proposing joint picket lines between the two forces and joint defense work if any is arrested. But we received no reply. We proposed that Lodi dye workers come out on strike at once and put out a leaflet calling on the workers to strike there. We have also called on the garment workers to strike and not to work on scab goods for the additional reason, too, that if the garment workers were to strike in Passaic we would be able to obtain enormous picket lines that would close down every textile mill in the entire city and bring Passaic into line.
Up to now the struggle is still pending in Passaic. The Communist League of Struggle, through the union which it helped organize, has won great prestige and influence. Many workers are joining up. Whether Passaic will actually join the strike or not, solid unions are being built up that will yet engage in sharp battles for the betterment of the working class.
Let the Lovestones and Browders come together; let the Cannons join the Mustes and the Gitlows the Socialist Party. In spite of these renegade actions we shall build a powerful revolutionary movement in the United States.
Italian fascism has proclaimed national “sacred egoism” as the sole creative factor. After reducing the history of humanity to national history, German fascism proceeded to reduce nation to race and race to blood. Moreover, in those countries which politically have not arisen-or rather descended- to fascism, the problems of economy are more and more being forced into national frameworks. Not all of them have the courage to inscribe “autarchy” openly upon their banners. But everywhere policy is being directed toward as hermetic a segregation as possible of national life away from world economy. Only 20 years ago all the school books taught that the mightiest factor in producing wealth and culture is the world-wide division of labor lodged in the natural and historic conditions of the development of mankind. Now it turns out that world exchange is the source of all misfortune and all dangers. Homeward ho! Back to the national hearth! Not only must we correct the mistake of Admiral Perry, who blasted the breach in Japan’s “autarchy”, but a correction must also be made of the much bigger mistake of Christopher Columbus, which resulted in so immoderately extending the arena of human culture.
The enduring value of nations, discovered by Mussolini and Hitler is now set off against the false values of the 19th century; democracy and socialism. Here, too, we come into an irreconcilable contradiction with the old primers, and worse yet, with the irrefutable facts of history. Only vicious ignorance can draw a sharp contrast between nation and liberal democracy. As a matter of fact, all the movements of liberation in modern history, beginning, say, with Holland’s struggle for independence had both a national and a democratic character. The awakening of the oppressed and dismembered nations, their struggle to unite their severed parts and to throw off the foreign yoke, would have been impossible without a struggle for political liberty. The French nation was consolidated in the storms and tempests of democratic revolution at the close of the18th century. The Italian and German nations emerged from a series of wars and revolutions in the 19th century. The powerful development of the American nation, which had received its baptism of freedom in its uprising in the 18th century, was finally guaranteed by the victory of the North over the South in the Civil War. Neither Mussolini nor Hitler is the discoverer of the nation. Patriotism in its modern sense-or more precisely its bourgeois sense-is the product of the 19th century. The national consciousness of the French people is perhaps the most conservative and the most stable of any; and it to this very day it feeds from the spring of democratic tradition.
But the economic development of mankind which overthrew mediaeval particularism did not stop within national boundaries. The growth of world exchange took place parallel with the formation of national economies. The tendency of this development-for advanced countries at any rate-found its expression in the shift of the center of gravity from the domestic to the foreign market. The 19th century was marked by the fusion of the nation’s fate with the fate of its economic life; but the basic tendency of our century is the growing contradiction between the nation and economic life.
The development of German capitalism was one of the most dynamic character. In the middle of the 19th century the German people felt themselves stifled in the cages of serval dozen feudal fatherlands. Less than four decades after the creation of the German Empire, German industry was suffocating within the framework of the national state. One of the main causes of the World War was the striving of German capital to break through into a wider arena. Hitler fought as a corporal in 1914-1918 not to unite the German nation but in the name of a super- national imperialistic program that expressed itself in the famous formula “to organize Europe". Unified under the domination of German militarism, Europe was to have become the drill ground for a much bigger job-the organization of the entire planet.
But Germany was no exception. She only expressed in a more intense and aggressive form the tendency of every other national capitalist economy. The clash between these tendencies resulted in the war. The war, it is true, like all grandiose upheavals of history, stirred up various historical questions and in passing gave the impulse to national revolutions in the more backward sections of Europe-Tsarist Russia and Austria-Hungary. But these were only the belated echoes of an epoch that had already passed away. Essentially, the war was imperialist in character. With lethal and barbaric methods it attempted to solve a problem of progressive historic development- the problem of organizing economic life over the arena which had been prepared by the world- wide division of labor.
Needless to say, the war did not find the solution to this problem. On the contrary, it atomized Europe even more. It deepened the interdependence of Europe and America at the same time that it deepened the antagonism between them. It gave the impetus to the independent development of colonial countries and simultaneously sharpened the dependence of the metropolitan centers upon colonial markets. As a consequence of the war, all the contradictions of the past were aggravated. One could half-shut one’s eyes to this during the first years after the war, when Europe aided by America, was busy repairing its devastated economy from top to bottom. But to restore productive forces inevitably implied to reinvigorating of all those evils that had led to the war. The present crisis in which are synthesized all the capitalist crises of the past, signifies above all the crisis of NATIONAL economic life.
The League of Nations attempted to translate from the language of militarism into the language of diplomatic pacts the task which the war left unsolved. After Ludendorff had failed “to organize Europe” by the sword, Briand attempted to create “The United States of Europe” by means of sugary diplomatic eloquence. But the interminable series of political, economic, financial, tariff, and monetary conferences only unfolded the panorama of the bankruptcy of the ruling classes in face of the unpostponable and burning task of our epoch.
Theoretically this task may be formulated as follows: How may the economic unit of Europe be guaranteed, while preserving complete freedom of cultural development to the people living there? How may unified Europe be included within a coordinated world economy? The solution to this question may be reached not by deifying the nation, but on the contrary by completely liberating productive forces from the fetters imposed upon them by the national state. But the ruling classes of Europe, demoralized by the bankruptcy of military and diplomatic methods, approach the task today from the opposite end, that is, they attempt by force to subordinate economy to the outdated national state. The legend of the bed of Procrustes is being reproduced on a grand scale. Instead of clearing away a suitably large arena for the operations of modern technology, the rulers chop and slice the living organism of economy to pieces.
In a recent program speech Mussolini hailed the death of “economic liberalism,” that is, of the reign of free competition. The idea itself is not new. The epoch of trusts, syndicates, and cartels has long since relegated free competition to the backyard. But trusts are even less reconcilable with restricted national markets than are the enterprises of liberal capitalism. Monopoly devoured competition in proportion as the world economy subordinated the national market. Economic liberalism and economic nationalism became outdated at the same time. Attempts to save economic life by inoculating it with virus from the corpse of nationalism result in blood poisoning which bears the name of fascism.
Mankind is impelled in its historic ascent by the urge to attain the greatest possible quantity of goods with the least expenditure of labor. This material foundation of cultural growth provides also the most profound criterion by which we may appraise social regimes and political programs. The law of the productivity of labor is the same significance in the sphere of human society as the law of gravitation in the sphere of mechanics. The disappearance of outgrown social functions is but the manifestation of this cruel law that determined the victory of slavery over cannibalism, of serfdom over slavery, of hired labor over serfdom. The law of the productivity of labor finds its way not in a straight line but in a contradictory manner, by spurts and jerks, leaps and zig-zags, surmounting on its way geographical, anthropological and specific refractions of the “rule".
In the 19th century, the struggle for the greatest productivity of labor took mainly the form of free competition which maintained the dynamic equilibrium of capitalist economy through cyclical fluctuations. But precisely because of its progressive role competition has led to a monstrous concentration of trusts and syndicates, and this in turn has meant a concentration of economic and social contradictions. Free competition is like a chicken that hatched not a duckling but a crocodile. No wonder she cannot manage her offspring!
Economic liberalism has completely outlived its day. With less and less conviction is Mohegan’s appeal to the automatic interplay of forces. New methods are needed to make skyscraper trusts correspond to human needs. There must be radical changes in the structure of society and economy. But new methods come into clash with old habits and, what is infinitely more important, with old interests. The law of the productivity of labor beats convulsively against barriers which it itself set up. This is what lies at the core of the grandiose crises of the modern economic system.
Conservative politicians and theorists, taken unaware by the destructive tendencies of national and international economy, incline towards the conclusion that the overdevelopment of technology is the principal cause of present evils. It is difficult to imagine a more tragic paradox! A French politician and financier, Joseph Caillaux, sees salvation in artificial limitations of the process of mechanization. Thus the most enlightened representatives of the liberal doctrine suddenly draw inspiration from the sentiments of those ignorant workers of over a hundred years ago who smashed weaving looms. The progressive task of how to adopt the arena of economic and social relations to the new technology is turned upside down, and is made to seem a problem of how to restrain and cut down productive forces so as to fit them to the old national arena and to the old social relations. On both sides of the Atlantic no little mental energy is wasted on efforts to solve the fantastic problem of how to drive the crocodile back into the chicken egg. The ultra-modern economic nationalism is irrevocably doomed by its own reactionary character; it retards and lowers the productive forces of man.
The policies of a closed economy imply the artificial constriction of those branches of industry which are capable of fertilizing successfully the economy and culture of other countries. They also imply an artificial planting of those industries which lack favorable conditions for growth on national soil. The fiction of economic self-sufficiency thus causes tremendous overhead expenditures in two directions. Added to this is inflation. During the 19th century, gold as a universal measure of value became the foundation of all monetary systems worthy of the name. Departures from the gold standard tear world economy apart even more successfully than do tariff walls. Inflation, itself an expression of disordered internal relationships and of disordered economic ties between nations, intensifies the disorder and helps to turn it from a functional into an organic one. Thus the “national” monetary system crowns the sinister work of economic nationalism.
The most intrepid representatives of this school console themselves with the prospect that the nation, while becoming poorer under a closed economy, will become more “unified” (Hitler), and that as the importance of the world market declines the causes for external conflicts will also diminish. Such hopes only demonstrate that the doctrine of autarchy is both reactionary and utterly utopian. The fact is that the breeding places of nationalism also are the laboratories of terrific conflicts in the future; like a hungry tiger, imperialism has withdrawn into its own national lair to gather itself for a new leap.
Actually, theories about economic nationalism which seem to base themselves on the “eternal” laws of race show only how desperate the world crisis really is—a classic example of making a virtue of a bitter need. Shivering on bare benches in some God-forsaken little station, the passengers of a wrecked train may stoically assure each other that creature comforts are corrupting to body and soul. But all of them are dreaming of a locomotive that would get them to a place where they could stretch their tired bodies between two clean sheets. The immediate concern of the business world in all countries is to hold out, to survive somehow, even if in a coma, the hard bed of the national market. But all these involuntary stoics are longing for the powerful engine of a new world “conjuncture”, a new economic phase.
Will it come? Predictions are rendered difficult, if not altogether impossible by the present structural disturbance of the whole economic system. Old industrial cycles, like the heartbeats of a healthy, body, and a stable rhythm. Since the war we no longer observe the orderly sequence of economic phases; the old heart skips beats. In addition, there is the policy of so-called “state-capitalism". Driven on by restless interests and by social dangers, governments burst into the economic realm with emergency measures, the effects of which in most cases it cannot itself foresee. But even leaving aside the possibility of a new war that would upset for a long time the elemental work of economic forces as well as conscious attempts at planned control, we nevertheless can definitely foresee the turning point from the crisis and depression to a revival, whether or not the favorable symptoms present in England and to some degree in the U. S. prove later on to have been first swallows that did not bring the spring. The destructive work of the crisis must reach the point if it has not already reached it—where impoverished mankind will need a new mass of goods. Chimneys will smoke, wheels will turn. And when the revival is sufficiently advanced the business world will shake off its stupor, will promptly forget yesterday’s lessons and will contemptuously cast aside self-denying theories along with their authors.
But it would be the greatest delusion to hope that the scope of the impending revival will correspond to the depth of the present crisis. In childhood, in maturity and in old age the heart beats at a different tempo. During capitalism’s ascent successive crises had a fleeting character and the temporary decline in production was more than compensated at the next stage. Not so now. We have entered an epoch when the periods of economic revival are short-lived, while the periods of depression become deeper and deeper. The lean cows devour the fat cows without a trace and still continue to bellow in hunger.
All the capitalist states will be more aggressively impatient, then, as soon as the economic barometer begins to rise. The struggle for foreign markets will become unprecedentedly sharp. Pious notions about the advantages of autarchy will at once be cast aside, and sage plans for national harmony will be thrown in the waste-basket. This applies not only to German capitalism, with its explosive dynamics, or to the belated and greedy capitalism of Japan, but also tot he capitalism of America, which still is powerful despite its new contradictions.
The United States represented the most perfect type of capitalist development. The relative equilibrium of its internal and seemingly inexhaustible market assured the U.S. a decided technical and economic preponderance over Europe. But its intervention in the World War was really an expression of the fact that its internal equilibrium was already disrupted. The changes introduced by the war into American structure have in turn made entry into the world arena a life and death question for American capitalism. There is ample evidence that this entry must assume extremely dramatic forms.
The law of the productivity of labor is of decisive significance in the interrelations of America and Europe, and in general in determining the future place of the U.S. in the world. That highest form which the Yankees gave to the law of the productivity of labor is called conveyor, standard, or mass production. It would seem that the spot from which the lever of Archimedes was to turn the world over had been found. But the old planet refuses to be turned over. Everyone defends himself against everybody else, protecting himself by a customs wall and a hedge of bayonets. Europe buys no goods, pays no debts, and in addition arms itself. With five miserable divisions starved Japan seizes a whole country. The most advanced technique in the world suddenly seems impotent before obstacles basing themselves on a much lower technique. The law of the productivity of labor seems to lose its force.
But it only seems so. The basic law of human history must inevitably take revenge on derivative and secondary phenomena. Sooner or later American capitalism must open up ways for itself throughout the length and breadth of our entire planet. Buy what methods? By ALL methods. A high coefficient of productivity denotes also a high coefficient of destructive force. Am I preach war? Not in the least. I am not preaching anything. I am only attempting to analyze the world situation and to draw conclusions from the law of economic mechanics. There is nothing worse than the sort of mental cowardice which turns its back on facts and tendencies when they contradict ideals or prejudices.
Only in the historic framework of world development can we assign fascism its proper place. It contains nothing creative, nothing independent. Its historic mission is to reduce to an absurdity the theory and practice of economic impasse.
In its day economic nationalist led mankind forward. Even now, it is still capable of playing a progressive role in the colonial countries of the East. But decadent fascist nationalism, preparing volcanic explosions and grandiose clashes in the world arena, bears nothing except ruin. All our experiences on this score during the last 25 or 30 years will seem only an idyllic overture compared to the music of hell that is impending. And this time it is not a temporary economic decline which is involved but complete economic devastation and the destruction of an entire culture in the event that toiling and thinking humanity proves capable of grasping in time the reins of its own productive forces and of organizing those forces correctly on a European and a world scale.
Dialectical materialism is the essential method of the proletariat in its struggle for power. It was the method of the very founders and international leaders of Scientific Socialism, that is of Marx and Engels, of Lenin and Trotsky. Conversely, all those from within the workers’ ranks who, under the influence of the bourgeoisie, have challenged dialectical materialism as a scientific and philosophic method, have sooner or later become exposed as enemies of the revolutionary working class.
The classic example was Eduard Bernstein, apt pupil and literary hair of Frederick Engels who, soon after his master’s death, took up the cudgels for reform as against revolution, and so of course took up the fight against dialectical materialism. The same thing occurred among the anarchists as represented by Kropotkin. Both Bernstein and Kropotkin only reflected the vicious attach of the bourgeoisie who, by the end of the 19th century, had well understood the menace of dialectical materialism to their system of class rule. Herbert Spencer, in England, Mach in Germany, Bergson in France, Wm. James in the United States, all these bourgeois defenders began to shout to the Socialist and revolutionary movement, in one form or another: Turn away from Marxism, Back to Kant, Back to Locke and Hume, back, back….And like bourgeois puppets, the Bernsteins, Kropotkins and their kinds repeated: Back to Kant, back….
Today, forty years later, we find in the U. S. a recrudescence of the attacks against Marxism. Today, born too late, it is the new “Harr Professors”, John Dewey and Sidney Hook, who in an Americanized formulation repeat the worn-out shibboleths: Back to Kant, to Locke, etc. But this time their cries are reinforced by two great events: first of all, the collapse of the Socialist and Communist movements, which seems to lend color to the argument that this is further proof that it is dialectical materialism which has failed and that these parties collapsed because of their philosophical approach; and second, by the crushing victory of Fascism in key European countries.
Living off the failures of the Socialist and Communist Parties is the American Workers Party. And it is significant that it is this party, raising its head precisely in the period of the retreat and defeat of the proletariat which has become the veritable dumping ground of all anti-Marxist trends, and the spear-head of the attack against dialectical materialism within the workers’ ranks.
The attack against dialectical materialism is an attack against all of Marxism. Marxism is not only a method, but a content, i.e., a body of scientific conclusions. The attack on the method of revolutionary Socialist groups must go hand in hand with an attack on their content as well. It is impossible to separate program from strategy from tactics; it is impossible to divide the philosophical from the political and economic. And the history of the movement shows very clearly that those very persons who attacked Marxism Philosophically were forced to extend their attack into the political, economic and all the other spheres of the struggle. No matter how eclectic they might be, no matter how much they affirmed they were for “other conclusions” of Marxism but not for “just” this one, sooner or later they found that in spite of themselves, life illustrated the monism of materialism, exposed their alienation from the cause of the working class and finally forced them out of the movement.
A genuine Communist Party watches jealously all points in its theory. Socially, such a Party can justify itself only if it acts as the scientific vanguard, the brain and general staff of the working class. Such a party, unlike the American Workers party, has no contempt for theory in the name of “action". One of the differences between genuine Marxist Communists and opportunist socialists is precisely the Marxists’ intransigence in theory, their willingness to purge ranks of all propagators of religion or philosophic idealism in any of its forms, or even of those who only wish to be “neutral” in the struggle for dialectical materialism. It was Lenin who urged the Bolsheviks to “throw them out, Comrades, throw them out from the Party” referring to the Russian Bolsheviks who capitulated to forms of philosophic idealism.
Two big camps exist in philosophy, the camp of the materialists and that of the idealists. To the materialist, nature is primary, spirit secondary, thinking is a process of the brain, and thought, basically, is but a reflection of the action of matter which exists outside and independent of us. To the materialist, the universality of all things consists in their materiality, that is nothing exits outside of the philosophic category of “matter".
The opposite to this is the position of the idealists, whose most reactionary wing consists of the religionists of all kinds. Philosophically, however, it is possible to distinguish between religious idealism and “pure” idealism. To the “pure” or metaphysical idealist, things are but a collections of ideas, matter is only the realization of the idea. It is the idea, the spirit, this is primary and real and nature is but a reflection of the spirit.
In between these two camps is the agnostic, one may say centrist, position. The groups that adhere to this position are as variegated as the rainbow. Some of these middle-of-the-road groups are closer to the right-wing idealists, some closer to the left-wing materialists. Like the petty bourgeois that vacillates now to the bourgeoisie and now to the proletariat, like the Liberal that tries to harmonize the class struggle and to bring together both the conservative-reactionary and the revolutionary elements, the agnostic camp borrows now from one group now from the other, feels itself superior to both, but in reality is inferior to either. Its ultimate wisdom consist in the phrase “I don’t know".
Modern agnosticism has three main schools: the classic school of the English sensationalists -Locke and Hume, the German continental school of Kant the Neo-Kantians of all varieties, and the American school of Pragmatism. To the British what we KNOW is our sensations, all else is a matter of opinion. Eclectic British Liberalism showed itself a veritable Artful Dodger in evading issues. To John Locke God existed but he could be known not through logic but only through intuitive reason. Religion was founded upon faith but both faith and religion must always be reasonable and Christianity is correct because it is so reasonable.
On the other hand, matter or substance, also really existed independent of thought but it, too, like God, could never be known. All we could ever know were the qualities, the characteristics, the actions of matter, or substance. Moreover, matter, existing and acting independently of man affected man. Man’s will, therefore, was not free, but determined by environment. Man himself was made entirely by environment as he entered into this world with a completely blank mind filled in later by the writings of experience. And to the question could matter, then think? Locke answered yes, matter could think, but matter could not substitute itself for God, it was simply the way in which God worked.
With Hume, the Sensationalist School of Agnosticism reach its extreme limit. Hume declared since it was impossible to know either God, spirit, or matter, we could not declare, as Locke had done, that they really existed, but we would simply have to say “We don’t know". All we know is our sensations. But do we, ourselves, then exist? Hume was forced to declare also that “we don’t know". Thus not only matter, and thought, but the individual thinking the thoughts could not be said positively to exist. Hume reduced everything including himself to the purest zero and became the classic exponent of scepticism.
Thus, under Hume, the Utilitarian School was founded. All abstract beliefs were mere prejudices. It was impossible to tell, neither was it worth arguing about whether God existed or not, whether thinking God existed or not, whether thinking was a function of matter, or matter merely an idea. All that we knew were our senses. We acted to obtain pleasure and to avoid pain according to our selfish needs. We experimented to find out which experiences would bring us the greatest good. All ideals were here dissolved into a sensationalist sensualist point on view in which the only binding tie was naked self interest and the cash nexus.
It was quite different with the Germans, with the Kantian School. Torn between the authority of the Prussian Junkers and the pressure of the masses, German Liberalism took on, albeit in a German manner, the vacillations and compromises which had generally marked Liberalism. Logically enough, it is not the minister, as in England nor the lawyer, as in America, who took the lead, but the Herr Professor, the Herr Doktor whose chief representative was Immanuel Kant. Sitting in its study, German Liberalism, not able to conquer even Pomerania in fact, conquered the whole universe in philosophy.
The English had turned to philosophy in order to escape religion and in harmony with empirical method of science. The Germans, unable to escape from the Landgrafs, could not escape religion; with them the purpose of philosophy was to justify religion, and to struggle against the sensationalism and naturalism of science. With the 18th century English, whether they admitted matter to be “real” but unknowable by the sense, or whether they declared it impossible to tell if matter in essence really existed, it was always in order to turn from abstract concepts to concrete experimentation; it was always, so to speak, in order to evade philosophy. With the Germans, the end was always to prove that matter was merely an idea with which no real object corresponded and to prove that not science could explain nature, but that nature was beyond science, that reason had its limitations. With the English the recognition of the defects of the senses in the discovery of truth led to a consideration of concrete, physical man to biology and psychology. To the Germans, man became the embodiment of an abstract. In short, all that was progressive in English Liberalism, became, with the Germans, reactionary.
German Liberalism, of which Kantianism is its philosophic counterpart, had come too late upon the scene of history. It could not raise its head without the spectre of Communism appearing before its eyes. Cowardly it shrank from the French Revolution, it feared the masses. It ran to the Prussian militarists for protection. It took on a police character. It looked with envy upon the Liberals of England, America, France, where Liberalism was in power. Unable to achieve actual power, it substituted the wish for the reality, the idea for a substance. German Liberalism thus assumed a mystical mask. Lacking science, it dragged from the lumber room of metaphysics eternal principles and cosmic systems as the scaffolding for its castles in Spain. All that is simple in the English, direct in the American, and clear in the French, become “laborious” and “profound” in the German and covered with an impossible linguistic gibberish.
To the Kantians the world of nature was constituted by the activity of an abstract force. That force was will. God’s will was the fundamentam of nature, free will was the essence of man. This is discovered also by God’s logic since by logic alone we could not tell what was the essence of the world, the “thing-in-itself". All we knew were the actions of this thing-in-itself, the phenomena; we could never know the essence of things or what Kant called “noumena". By means of enough gibberish Kant was able to persuade himself that the essence of everything was Free Will, will bound by no laws. To act so as to fee the will, was to act in accordance with universal rule; it was a categorical imperative, a duty. Thus Kantianism starts not from Rights but from Duties. How German! Free will ends up with Duty just as with the German Fascists of today the masses are informed that civil liberty has been abolished because duty must come from the spirit within each subject.
Dialectical materialism is at least materialism and materialism is the texture of all science. This is the reason why the Marxist boasts that he is scientific. Let us test out the identity of the positions of materialism and science through an examination of the basic questions of philosophy.
The first question is one of ontology—the nature of being. Does matter exist independent and outside of us, or is it but a reflection of our ideas? This question can be put in another way, did nature exist prior to man? Science, of course, answers yes. The whole theory of evolution is evidence of the opinion of the scientists that nature, the earth, existed before man and before the idea of man came into being. Man is but a part of nature, a product of natural forces, material elements.
The second question is one of epistemology—the nature of ratiocination, of the cognitive process. What is the relation of thinking to flesh? This question can also be put in another way, does man think with the help of his brain? Here too, of course, science answers yes. Thinking is a process of the material brain, just as the light from an electric lamp is a result of a material process.
The third question has to do with whether causation, the relation of cause and effect, really exists in nature, or whether the laws of science which have to do with the analyses of causes and effects are merely ideas of man. To this question is the related question, is there necessity in nature, MUST things happen, can we predict them? Again, the answer to these questions, science supports materialism and affirms that the laws of its science are really the expression of the actions of nature, that these scientific laws are not subjective but objective. And this applies not only to causality, but to the laws of space and time. Space and time are not mere ideas of man. They are real, part of the dimensional materiality of the universe.
Of course our ideas about things are approximate, we are always learning more and more about the qualities and functions of this or that form of matter. But to the scientist there is no line to be drawn between matter and its functions. All science, dealing as it does with BECOMING, deals with constant change. In that sense, all of its laws are relative. But its relative laws are absolute within the definite framework of relationships which may be under consideration. Further, it is not enough to say that the only thing changeless is change, we must say that the materiality of the universe also is absolute.
Here then is the DOGMA of the materialists, their “absolute truth”, so to speak. For, while the materialists, especially those of the dialectic school, are constantly on the alert for changes, are constantly trying to find out within what limits is a proposition truth and within what limits does it become error, they are at the same time also constantly resisting the spiritualists and bewildered idealists of all kinds who insist that the idea of change and relativity includes the concept of the materiality of the universe itself, and that we must kowtow to the possibility that the universe MIGHT be made up of “accidental varia”, God, luck, chance, spirit, which have nothing to do with materiality. This very DOGMA of the materialists forms the very axiom of all scientific work.
The idea of relativity is nothing new to the Marxist. It has been part of his basic understanding of the dialectical process of nature. To the dialectician all unity is the combination of opposites, the resultant equilibrium of a clash of antagonistic forces. Society, rocks, cabbages, ether waves, chemical solutions, buildings, the macrocosm itself, all things whether large or small are the result of opposing forces, contain within themselves opposing forces, may break up into opposing forces and will evolve into their very opposites. To view things in constant movement and to see them as the result of constant movement, and to see the movements as contrary and conflicting—this is the dialectic method. The dialectician tries to see the relation of each part to each other part, and each part to the whole, as each part, the whole, and their mutual relationships evolve from moment to moment. And your Marxist chooses the dialectical way of looking at events and things in nature not because of his willfulness or for any arbitrary reason but because this method of approach only reflects the actual dialectical process of nature, where everything is posed, opposed and composed, where thesis, antithesis and synthesis are constantly in evidence.
In this bare outline it is impossible to go into the host of fascinating questions which open up before us in a study of dialectical materialism. It is only necessary here to point out that applying the dialectical materialist method to history Marx was enabled to work out his Historical Materialism and thus to forge a most mighty instrument for the proletariat to break its chains.
The materialist conception of history starts with the proposition that the mode of production, which itself is based upon the given level of technique available at the time, is the prime mover of all social forces. In trying to understand a given society and its laws of motion, its evolution and direction, the Marxist begins, first of all, with a study of the technique of that society, its level of productive forces. These productive forces include not merely the means of production, instruments and subject of labor, but Labor itself, the quality and quantity of that part of nature which is the embodiment of labor power. Starting with this foundation, your Marxist looks for those economic relations which have been made necessary by those very productive forces. These economic relations are known as the mode of production. Based upon these economic relations which exist in the given society. Politics, family life, customs, ideology thus flow essentially from the mode of production.
But it is not enough to see the parts, it is necessary to see their relation to the whole, and the evolution of each part and of the whole and of the change in their relations. Just as we saw that in starting with the forces of production, we could not overlook Labor, as one of the forces, and that the study of this force, Labor, would involve us in a concrete study of the quality and quantity of that labor (including its racial traits, its psychological and social traits, etc.) so when we study the mode of production and the resultant social forces of a given society, we must also trace their interconnection and development.
It is just this study of the interconnection of economics with politics and social life and their mutual development that led Marx to the conclusion that the laws of motion involved in the capitalist mode of production would lead to the throttling of the forces of production by the social relations engendered previously, that those relations would have to be broken asunder, that capitalism was creating its own grave-diggers the proletariat, and that from capitalism there would be created a new system, communism, whose first transitional stage would be dictatorship of the proletarist.
(to be concluded)
OPEN FORUM beginning Saturday, September 29, at 8 p.m.
“CAN AMERICAN LEAD THE PROLETARIAN REVOLUTION?
Lecture by Albert Weisbord
Admission 15 cents Labor Temple—14 Street and Second Avenue.
An interesting experiment is being made in Paterson, New Jersey. In that city there is being organized a Negro Chamber of Labor. Paterson is like the typical industrial city of this country. The several thousand Negroes in the city are totally unorganized. Outside of the pool rooms and churches, there are virtually no places where the Negro workers can turn.
Of course, in Paterson, there are racially mixed organizations which stand for equality and which take Negroes into their organizations. However, the fact remains that only a tiny, almost infinitesimal, proportion of the Negro people are in such inter-racial organizations. Such organizations can train the vanguard of the Negro masses, but the average colored worker is not, and, under present circumstances, can not be drawn into them. Supplemental to the black-white organizations already existing and supporting them, there must be established Negro organizations where the most backward Negro worker can feel at home and realize that here, at last, is a place where he can bring all his troubles and find sympathetic support.
Concurrently, these inter-racial organizations are so immature themselves, are so fond of “shows” and “pageants” and “demonstrations” that they have used the few Negroes who have entered their ranks as exhibits and show pieces. Like Voodoo witch doctors who put on masks to impress their tribe members and enemies, the Communist leaders dance around and around with the few Negroes in their organization as their own “black masks".
Most of the Negroes brought into such inter-racial organizations soon realize their role. The majority leave in disgust. A minority become reconciled to their servile status, they enter into the clique leadership and become part of the apparatus. They take on the cynicism of the white bureaucracy. Or they strut around like prima donnas. Do any of them really undertake serious work among the Negro masses? How many of them?
And yet, sooner or later, mass organizations of the Negro exploited and oppressed toiler must be attempted. In the same proportion as Labor realizes itself and its own importance, must the Negro come into his own and take his proper place in the very forefront of Labor. In the U.S. especially the Negro represents the very heart of the Labor question. Precisely because the United States was the “freest” country in the world, for this very reason was it forced to become the country of the most developed slavery. This was so, because here, instead of the peasant turning into a proletarian, as in Europe, there was the opportunity for the worker to turn into a small property holder and to work for himself. If, in American, all classes, relative to Europe, were moved up a notch up and back, if you please if in this country the worker turned into an entrepreneur or farmer or mechanic, who was there to create the profit for the capitalist? The answer was obviously the Negro, the slave. Labor had to be chained physically before it could be exploited in the factories and fields of capitalism as profit-making labor.
In the literal sense of the term the Negro has symbolized simple, unskilled labor, the basis of all labor in this country. And now when all labor has become unskilled, when unskilled labor is the backbone and the mainstay of all the struggles of the oppressed, can the Negro fail to take his place there, in the very vanguard of the struggle? Let us say plainly that, here in America, THE NEGRO IS LABOR AND LABOR IS THE NEGRO. That is why the Negro question is in reality the very heart of the Labor question. And he who does not understand the Negro question can not being to understand labor in the U.S.
In many respects the Negro worker is far in advance of his white brother. Is there any Negro who believes that there is “democracy” in the U.S., that all me are treated as equal, that there are no “classes,” the everyone has an equal chance to become President, etc.? All the silly illusions which still exist among such large sections of the white workers have absolutely no place among the Negroes. In this land of “equal opportunity” every Negro knows that somewhere there is a social “line” which one can cross only if he means to fight to a finish. No one can tell a Negro that rich and poor are the same and that all can become rich. Close to the bitter realities of life, the Negro toiler in many respects is far superior in political and social knowledge than the white worker who seems so far superior to him in technical and general information. Bringing, as he will, this rich knowledge to the ranks of the working class generally, the Negro, for this reason also, will be in the very vanguard of the working class.
The present period must bring with it the real organization of the Negro masses. More and more the old liberal individualism is disappearing and collectivism is taking its place. And the Negro masses will not be forever in the rear. Up to now, the various Negro organizations that exist have not been able to fill the bill adequately. The Urban League is more of a charity organization, or at best a mutual-aid society; the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People does not pay sufficient attention to the material interests of the Negro workers and does not believe that the leadership of the movement must be in the hands of the Negro proletariat and toiler, and this is the class destined to change the world. The League of Struggle for Negro Rights has shifted the whole question to a demand for “land and liberty” showing that it is a mere “democratic” organization, rather than a proletarian one. Besides, the League of Struggle for Negro Rights is only a Communists Party affiliate; its whole purpose is to be one of the Negro “masks” with which the Party leaders can dance around and pretend to make an impression. As Stalinism has killed everything it touches, so must it kill the League of Struggle for Negro Rights as an effective labor or revolutionary organization.
Here then are ample reasons why the organization of the Negro Chamber of Labor is opportune and fulfills an historic need. Under the blows of the Roosevelt Administration which have rendered the lot of the Negro much worse relatively than before, such an organization has become an imperative necessity. The N.R.A. has carefully excluded from any of its provisions those occupations where Negro labor predominates. The majority of the Negro workers work as agricultural laborers or as domestics. Precisely these industries have been left untouched, so far as hours and minimum wages are concerned. Similarly, the A.A.A. has enormously deepened the crisis for the Negro sharecropper and tenant, rendering his life unbearably miserable. The present situation provides the immediate political and economic prerequisites for a mass organization of the type of the Negro Chamber of Labor.
The aim of the Negro Chamber of Labor is to be the militant trade-union center where all the Negro workers will be able to turn for help. Are Negro houseworkers and chauffeurs slaving away terribly long hours for practically nothing? Then the Negro Chamber of Labor will begin to organize these men and women and fight for their interest. Are Negro building trades workers discriminated against by the white trade unions? Then the Negro Chamber of Labor will fight to get them into these unions and to break down the color line. Are the Negro workers in the various factories doing the hardest work and getting the lowest pay? Is the Negro being discriminated against in unemployment relief? Then the Negro Chamber of Labor will see to it that these abuses stop.
Far from being a Jim-Crow organization, the Negro Chamber of Labor will see that the greatest possible solidarity between white and black sections of the working class becomes a tremendous reality. THE BEST WAY TO STOP JIM CROWISM IS TO ORGANIZE THE POWER OF THE MASSES OF NEGROES, TO MAKE THAT POWER FELT AND APPRECIATED. Any swinishness on the part of the white workers can then soon be broken. Let us have no fear that the Negro masses will choose to become segregated and isolated from the great body of white proletarians.
An important task of the Negro Chamber of Labor must be the building up of an inter- racial physical defense organization for the smashing of the lynching of Negroes and poor white toilers. What is wrong about lynching is not the act of lynching itself but the reactionary direction which lynching generally takes. Lynching is too old an important an American custom for us to scold at it like fishwives. We must use the direct street action of the masses for our own purposes. We must hail, for example, the action of the poor farmers in Lemars, Iowa, who recently threw a rope around the neck of a judge and threatened to lynch him if he permitted further foreclosures of their farms. Certainly the Negro Chamber of Labor must not have any illusions that the Federal Government is capable or willing to stop the lynching of Labor in the black skin. Labor itself will have to do this job, and can do this job only by direct physical action.
There is no further point about the Negro Chamber of Labor. It will be a place where Negroes can assume full charge and responsibility of important posts and work. In all the inter- racial organizations the Negro, of necessity, has been a minority and, willy nilly, his opportunities have been limited in regard to leadership and responsibility for execution of policy. The Negro Chamber of Labor means to change all this. It will be a place where the Negro himself can step forward, develop his own genius and contribute his own experience in his own way, to the general labor and revolutionary movement. Whether the Negro will have his own republic in the Southland or not, is for him to say and for the white workers to support his choice no matter what it may be, but at least there can be one place established where the Negro, here and today, can declare, this is his own-truly his own-and where he can decide his leadership and his methods.
Let the Negro worker raise his head high. His day is coming. (Editorial Note: the above article was written by Comrade Weisbord for the Crisis)
SPECIAL CLASS starting Monday, October 1, at 8 P.M.
“STUDIES IN CRISIS”
Four Lectures—Instructor, Albert Weisbord
Oct. 1 The Present World Economic Crisis.
Oct. 8 The Economic Crisis in the United States.
Oct. 15 The Political and Social Effects of the Crisis.
Oct. 22 Perspectives.
Admission 15 cents each lecture
Workers School, 133 Second Avenue, Room 24 ********************************************************
THE MINNEAPOLIS CAPITULATION
Minneapolis has been one of the high lights of the new militancy in the labor movement. The response of the workers, giving basis for conducting such a battle as would arouse and inspire the working class all over the country, was undeniable. It is necessary to inquire what the Communist League of America really did with the golden opportunity it had there. Since it was well-known that the “Trotskyites” held responsible posts in the strike, let us look a little behind the settlement which the Militant (like the “Minneapolis Labor Review”, A.F.L. organ) hails as “triumphant".
First, the wage agreement. Originally most of the men were working for 40 and 50 cents an hour. This was what the bosses offered as a scale at the beginning of the strike. The union demands were for 45 cents for helpers, platform men, etc., and 55 cents for drivers. The N.R.A. Board offered as a compromise 42 and 52 cents. But now the “triumphant victory” compels the workers to go back to work for 40 and 50 cents, just where they started! Even the Federal Mediators, Dunnigan and Haas, had admitted that “the absence of the fixed minimum of 42 cents would be a blow to the union!”
Now as to the union recognition. To obtain union recognition is often a big victory in a strike, even if no wage increases are obtained. Particularly was this the case in the strikes of the “Red” unions where the union stood for militant class struggle, not for class collaboration. But today, with the A.F.L. proclaimed by Donald Richberg as a “mechanism…available for the collective bargaining contemplated in the National Industrial Recovery Act”, this becomes a horse of another color. To be sure, the demand for union recognition is still one to strive for even in A.F.L. unions. In spite of the open cooperation of the union officials both with the employers and with the government, an A.F.L. union still brings masses of workers together in common struggle. For the formerly unorganized workers, to join the A.F.L. is a step forward, even though, under present circumstances, every effort of the masses to move against the employers will find itself checkmated by the officials.
Where, as in Minneapolis, no contract has been signed with the union, but every thing has been handled through the N.R.A. Board we have to admit that the grip of the Roosevelt machine for the keeping down of the worker’s conditions and the prevention of effective militant labor action is materially strengthened. Scabs were permitted to vote (a scandal in any strike settlement) and there is no guarantee that union agents will be allowed on the premises. Where, in all this, are any gains whatsoever to compensate the workers for the heroic exertions made and the blood spilt?
The settlement is not, of course, our only criterion. A poor settlement may be the inevitable result of the present balance of forces. (But we do not hail a poor settlement as a victory, in any case!) But when Communists are in leading positions in a strike or in union activity generally, we expect to see them differentiate themselves from the bureaucrats, both in their criticism and constant exposure of the class collaboration tactics of the A.F. L. as well as in their own personal conduct. Perhaps the Communists are in a minority and are outvoted on policies. There still remains the Communist organ, in which an exposure can be made and a correct policy given the workers. Here we have to say what we said of the strike of the Amalgamated Food Workers in New York, that we look in vain in the Militant for a real attack on the conduct of the strike. We look in vain for a real vigorous criticism or exposure of the A.F.L. in Minneapolis or for any better program than the A.F.L. offered.
What about the sabotage of the general strike? The unions voted for it in May and the general strike appeared so threatening that even according to Hugo Oehler in the Militant, Governor Olson intervened in an attempt to head it off. To push the general strike would have been the policy one might have expected the Militant and the American League members in the strike to advocate with the greatest vigor. Their failure to do so was one more stab in the back to the struggle of the Minneapolis workers.
That the workers understand well the treacherous conduct of the American League and the A.F.L. officials can be seen in the vote of the workers after they returned to work on the question of whether they wanted the union to represent them. According to the Minneapolis Labor Review (A.F. L paper) of September 14th, 1934 the following figures were given:
firms total votes Won by 574 62 724 Tied 15 102 Won by Bosses 68 536 No votes 21 ------ ------------------- 166 1,362
Imagine how wonderfully the strike must have been conducted, when, in spite of the militancy of the workers, almost half voted not to be in the union, or rather only a little more than half voted to be represented by the union! And this, in the face of a situation where the very Governor of the State had raided the headquarters of the employers association and had thoroughly exposed them!
It is well known that the Lovestone “Communists” have engaged in “mass work” since their beginning. But they have acted in their union posts in such a way that the Zimmermans, and Kellers, are in no way differentiated in the workers’ eyes from the Dublinskys and McMahons. No fight is made against the A.F.L. Bureaucracy and the only political group which benefits from the Lovestone mass work is the Socialist Party towards which these trade union people are inevitably drawn.
If the Communist League of America in its mass work is to repeat the same errors the thinking workers of this country will see the Fourth International as another edition of the Second. Only the most unflinching criticism of the A.F.L. officials and the most militant strike strategy can win leadership for the International Communists where the Stalinists have completely failed. The American League clique has shamefully capitulated in Minneapolis. They have changed strike strategy to strike tragedy.
THE RICHBERG REPORT ON “PROGRESS”
General Johnson has faded into the background as the chief propounder of New Deal ballyhoo, and now a new medicine man, Richberg, secretary of the recently organized Executive Council of the N.R.A., steps out with a report on the “tremendous gains” of the N.R.A. in overcoming the depression. With the strike wave continuing unabated, with a big section of the employers up in arms against the President’s mandate in the cotton garment industry, with the resistance to the decision to give relief to the textile strikers, with the Liberty League setting out to unite the anti-New Deal opposition, it is difficult to see what part of the population is going to be taken in.
Figures are carefully manipulated to make the best possible impression. The data on production emphasize what has been obvious from the beginning, that permanent prosperity, or even a return to a temporary prosperity for any length of time, is out of the question. The past year and a half has seen a slight upturn, short-lived and falling quickly again into the depression. In the figures of the Richberg report from the low of 47.4 in March 1933, the production index of all manufacturers rose to 85.1 in July 1933. Four months later, however, it has fallen to 59.4. A second spurt to 72.1 in May 1934 is followed by another recession.
On the other hand, the great rise in prices and the huge increase in corporation profits (an increase of over 200% for 506 companies of all types and of 600% for 402 industrial companies) testify to the benefits of the N.R.A. for certain sections of big business. The tendency towards consolidation and elimination of the small producer which would result from the crisis in any case and which the New Deal intensified, together with the increased rationalization that must be the product of such a period as the present, has enabled trustified industry to fatten. But this it does not merely at the expense of driving down the standard of living of the workers, skilled as well as unskilled, to an average of $15 a week, but at a cost also of creating deep rifts among the possessing classes as well.
Mr. Richberg is careful to avoid estimating the numbers of the unemployed. He gives an impressive list of the jobs the F.E.R.A. has handed out, neglecting to mention that these were temporary, and the men who received them are now mostly among the unemployed. What is his authority for stating that 40,000,000 people were employed in June 1934? This would be almost the working force of the nation in a prosperity period. The report fails to mention the enormous and continually mounting number of people on relief, ranging from 10% t 23% of the population in the cities and in village and country communities as high as 75%. (In New York city, 400,000 families, or one person out of every four are receiving relief in some form or another.)
In the face of statistics given side by side with his report in the columns of “The New York Times”, this Roosevelt booster has the brass to declare the cost of living has risen 9.6%; but according to U.S. reports the increase of living costs has been over 23%. Mr. Richberg admits the individual worker’s per capita weekly earnings have increased by 8.5%. Thus the average worker has to face a real increase of 15% in his living costs. The figures of average wages of 55.2 cents an hour are deliberately misleading. It is possible that including the wages of skilled workers which in a few cases are still over $1. per hour, such an average might be obtained. But this deliberate attempts to hide the fact that most of the codes under which the vast majority of people are working, give wages of 40 cents an hour, and even lower than that for smaller cities and for the South.
The report of the great “improvement of labor standards”, the “elimination of child labor”, the “reduction of hours”, the “control of health and safety standards.” It fails to mention the terrific speed-up whereby output is constantly increasing in the face of a steadily decreasing labor force, a fact which is speeding a rapid devitalization for the worker who still has a job in a terrible strain. Mr. Richberg forgets to mention the chronic semi-starvation on which is the lot of the children of the working class who perhaps do not work, but whose parents can not work either, and who must live on a sub-nutrition relief dole. Andy by the way, is Mr. Richberg ignorant that child labor of a most exhausting character is still continuing in agriculture, where little tots of vie and six crawl on their knees to tend or pick sugar beets, onions, berries, and what not? He overlooks the fact that the “reduction” of working hours, means for hundreds of thousands of workers a stagger system whereby they work one or two days a week and are refused relief on the grounds that they are “working”, and wither their families must eke out a wretched hunger-ridden existence.
Memories are such convenient things, and among the trifles overlooked are the $5 to $12 a week wages for the Southern cotton mill workers, the three dollars a week age of the onion field workers in Ohio, the rise of the unemployment in Philadelphia to obtain the prunes condemned as unfit to eat from flames, the relief meals of 17 cents a day in the State of Georgia (and this is not far from the average of relief in many other places)
Mr. Richberg’s views on Labor organization are interesting indeed. From the first publication of the N.H.A., the Class Struggle has pointed out the fact that a strike-breaking class collaboration apparatus was being built up. Now comes the unblinking announcement “Labor organization has a shown a corresponding increase, more than 2,000,000 workers having been added to the A.F.L., with Large increases also in the numbers and memberships of labor organizations not affiliated with the A.F.L. The increase of numbers and membership of so-called “company unions” (even though not regarded by the national unions as adequate labor organizations) marks at least an increase in the mechanisms of labor associations available for the collective bargaining contemplated in the act.” It is obvious that the A.F.L. as well as the company unions is included in the “mechanisms” referred to. The unionization of the workers, then, means, according to this, that they are to be bound hand and foot to the N.R.A. apparatus and hence to the government. The recent settlement in Minneapolis whereby the agreement is signed through the Regional Labor Board is the latest indication of this trend. But indeed the whole A.F.L. history in the past year and a half (the shameless prevention of the steel and auto strikes, the sell-out of the soft coal strike, the compulsory arbitration and no-strike clause in the settlement of the silk strike) these and a thousand other facts show that the A.F.L. has become on the one hand an expensive employment agency for the workers, and on the other hand an obedient tool of the government. Richberg’s statement means a further step towards the fascination of the unions.
Very quickly, within recent months, changes have been brought about in the government- the creation of the Power Policy Commission, of the National Labor Relations Board, finally, of the Industrial Emergency Committee under Donald Richberg-which have all tended towards greater centralization of the N.R.A. and its ramifications, and towards placing of greater power in the President’s hands. More and more as the labor troubles became more frequent and more insoluble, the President is becoming, or attempting to become, the chief professional mediator and strike-breaker.
But at the same time the apparatus is being strengthened for controlling the workers, the more they strain at the rules, the more they break out in strikes, the bitterer and more extreme become the battles. As the gulf becomes deeper between the workers and employers, the greater becomes the chaos and division among the ruling class which will hasten its downfall.
UNITED STATES, “PACIFIST”
Not merely Europe, but large sections of the colonial world as well are eating bitter rations out of the hand of Imperialist U.S. The soil of the Central American countries and of the island protectorates has more than once been soaked with blood, of native peasants and workers shed by the armed forces of this country. This situation is no wise changed by Roosevelt’s “liberal” gestures. Yet it is interesting to note the change of policy: under Hoover the teeth were bared, the saber was rattled. Roosevelt spreads out his hands in generous gestures. The Montevideo conference was assured of the friendliest support of the U.S. Russia was recognized. An embargo placed on shipments of arms to the Chaco. Of course, withdraw the Marines form Haiti, end the Platt Amendment in Cuba, give the Philippines their independence” “in the future” (before they take it themselves). How magnanimous, how humanitarian it all appears! “The velvet glove with the iron fist” Nothing could better characterize the Roosevelt policies from the N.R.A. to foreign affairs.
After sixteen years the Marines are withdrawn from Haiti. But the U.S. retains control over customs and finances, as security for the loans advanced by the National City Bank. And until the balance of the country’s debt is paid, the Bank of Haiti will keep a majority of the representatives of the present financial control on its board of directors. In the case of Cuba, since America controls about 90% of the wealth of the island, there is little fear that any other power will step in.
United States imperialism, coming late upon the scene when the world markets had been practically all gobbled up, with immense natural resources of its own, could not follow the course of England and France, of territorial expansion. To rely principally upon the economic penetration, upon financial domination, was the only course open, and this has been especially true since the world war. American imperialism is, in this sense, the opposite of Japan-also a late- comer-but forced by poverty of internal resources and restricted territory upon a course of territorial aggression which just because of the internal contradictions, is bound to be suicidal.
The very strength and economic might of America makes possible the luxury of playing pacifist. The victor can afford to be “peacemaker". And just as the palaver of “helping labor” at home, rests on Roosevelt’s professional strike-breaking and a frightful lowering of the standard of living for the toiling masses, as the “liberalism” in Latin America is based upon the economic and political choking of these countries for the benefit of U.S. financiers and industrial magnates.
THE GERMAN ANTI-FASCIST VOTE
There are none so blind as a ruling class about to fall. Czar Nicholas went placidly rowing and talking walks while Russia crashed over his head. Hitler may not lead so peaceful a life, but when he predicts 1000 years of Nazism to the Nuremberg Congress he is scarcely less obtuse. The racial and “anti-Jewish, anti-intellectual” gibberish has become more fantastic than ever, as the internal situation grows more distressing. The hand-writing on the wall of the 4,000,000 negative votes and the millions more of voided ballots which to Hitler mean (or at any rate so he advertises to the world) simply another campaign to win over these last die-hards, is a hopeful sign of the growing resentment of the population to the long continued sufferings which it is plain Nazism cannot in the least help but aggravate.
If fascism, or any other form of the capitalist state, could at least consolidate the other sections of the population, its crushing of the toilers might become more lasting. But Nazism is as powerless to reconcile the Junker as it is permanently to win over the middle class. And in the meantime the task is slowly to reconstitute the cadres of the working class and to learn the united front tactics not merely in the concentration camps but in the fighting ranks of the workers as well.
THE CONVENTION OF THE COMMUNIST LEAGUE OF AMERICA
The convention of the American League has been “postponed” so often that we may be permitted a certain scepticism as to its being held, as rumored, on Oct. 25th. At any rate, the Communist League of Struggle insists upon its right, as an organization adhering to the Fourth International Grouping, to be given the floor at the convention and to present our views. The difference between the two groups, which have never been given a chance to be discussed in the open, have been often distorted through the circulation of rumors. Let the situation be brought out in the open. There will be at any rate a much better basis for deciding whether the two groups are to continue as separate organizations, or whether a fusion is at all possible. A letter to this effect has been sent to the International Secretariat and to the National Committee of the American League.