SUPPORT THE KENTUCKY MINERS’ STRIKE
In the midst of the crushing weight of the crisis which has stunned the working class with its unprecedented misery, certain struggles burst forth here and there, mostly under the leadership of the Communists, which show the temper of the working class and the willingness to struggle in the face of mountainous difficulties.
Such a struggle is the strike of the 10,000 or so Kentucky miners called out on January 1 by the National Miners Union. Gaunt starvation, naked and shivering babies, 30,000 children slowly starving to death, work in the mines under conditions of peonage, appalling accidents, mass unemployment, these are the conditions, which drive the Kentucky miners into the fight. They pit their strength against some of the mightiest capitalists of the world. The Communists deserve great credit for this strike.
That the clash will be bloody bitter and swift is shown by the injunction already gotten out against the miners, by the threatened murder of the organizers, by the arrest of all organizers in the field, even of office workers and the lawyers of the I.L.D.
The opening of Kentucky to union men is a great important event, just as important as Gastonia, N.C. in 1929 and even more difficult. The textile and mining work should be coordinated. This is the best way to open up the open-shop South.
This strike is the best defense of the Marian miners now on trial. (Though the Daily worker criminally avoids this trial because the miners were members of the “social-fascist” I.W.W.)
With their wives and children by their sides, the Kentucky miners Negro and white, are breaking the chains of race prejudices in a struggle for their very life. They must have the help of the working class. One meal a day is all the Kentucky miners ask to continue the struggle. All workers and friends of labor should rally to their support. The Communist Party should permit all who want to help to do so. A broad movement should fuse the strike and the Marian Defense into the invincible advance.
COMRADE TROTZKY ON THE AMERICAN ECONOMIC CRISIS
(From the thesis of November 26, published in “Verite")
In the United States, the most powerful capitalist country, the present crisis has exposed terrible social contradictions. After a period of unprecedented prosperity, which astonished the whole world, a sort of fireworks of millions and billions, the United States suddenly passed to unemployment of millions of men, to a period of frightful poverty, of biological misery for the workers. A social upheaval of such formidable extent cannot but leave traces in the political development of the country. It is still difficult to determine just now—at least from a distance—what can be the radicalization of the American working masses. We can suppose that the masses themselves have been so taken unawares by the catastrophic crisis, of the general economy, have been so stricken and stunned by the unemployment or fear of unemployment, that they have not yet had time to draw the most elementary conclusions on the calamity which has befallen them. It takes time. But the conclusions will come. The vast economic crisis, which has taken on a social character, will be inevitably transformed into a crisis of political consciousness of the American working class. It is very possible that the revolutionary radicalization of large sections of the working class will take place not in the period of lowest economic conjuncture, but on the contrary, when there is a return to new activity, to a new upgrade.
We can expect new commutation and permutations in the leading groups of parties, new efforts to form a third party, etc. at the first signs of a change of direction in the economic situation from on top, the trade union movement will feel a great need of freeing itself from the clutches of the vile bureaucracy of the A.F. of L. At the same time, unlimited possibilities will open up for communism.
More than once in the past America has known violent explosions of mass movements, which were revolutionary or semi-revolutionary. Each time, these movements were quickly extinguished, either because America entered upon a new phase of economic upgrade, or because the movements which occurred were characterized by a vulgar imperialism, a complete lack of theory. Nothing remains now of these two circumstances. A rebound of economic life (which must not consider in advance to be impossible) must rest not upon internal “equilibrium” but upon the present chaos of world economy. American capitalism has entered upon an epoch of monstrous imperialism, of constant increase of armaments, of interventions in the affairs of the entire world, of military conflict and all sorts of upheavals. On the other hand, the masses of the American proletariat, who become radicalized have, in the shape of communism—or more exactly, can have, if there is a correct policy—no longer what they used to have, a mixture of empiricism, mysticism and charlatanism, but a scientifically founded doctrine, which would measure up to events.
Such radical transformations enable us to foresee with certainty that the inevitable and relatively near change in the revolutionary consciousness of the American proletariat will not any longer be a mere “flash in the pan”, which can be easily extinguished, but the beginning of a real and big revolutionary blaze. Communism in America can progress with assurance toward a great future.
L. Trotsky (From the thesis “The Key to the International situation is in Germany")
The Limits to Factionalism
In the last issue of our paper, we showed how Cannon was protecting the anti-labor elements, who had broken into our headquarters and stolen several hundred dollars worth of books. Since then, due to the indignation of the members of the Marine workers Defense Committee, Cannon has been forced to remove Levy ("Hawkins") from that body. But this is only a fake gesture. When Lovestone robbed the office of the Cannon Group, this was a “terrible crime”, but it is perfectly all right for Cannon to protect those who rob other Communist groups. Last week some of our members went before the “Marxian Youth Club” (organized by the Cannon group) and demanded that the club expel one of its members (Reiskin) who had participated in the wrecking of our headquarters. Reiskin has not yet been expelled. With the protection of the Cannon members, he is now a fine fellow.
But the Communist Party went even further. They are putting up money and the ILD is actually defending the guilty parties! Now we see that the fight between the Cannons and the Fosters is truly a fake one; that these charlatans are alike in that both will stop at nothing to destroy other Communist organizations, which they consider “rivals". On December 29th the Daily Worker printed an article to the effect that our group had sworn out warrants against Rosenberg, Resikin and Hawkins, the raiders and robbers of our headquarters, that they were in jail and in danger of long prison terms.
In reply we wrote to the Militant and Revolutionary Age the following:
“We declare emphatically that there is not one single truthful item in this statement. It is completely false and exposes the petty libellous manner with which the Daily worker tries to do away with political opponents whom it labels ‘Trotzkyites’.”
“The police department was never called on to arrest anyone. No one swore out any warrants. No one has been arested. No one has been jailed. No one faces five to fifteen years.”
“The facts of the matter are briefly as follows: On Sunday, November 8th, our headquarters were broken into and partially wrecked and a large quantity of books—our whole Marxist library—was stolen. We found some of the books in the homes of Rosenberg and Reiskin. Later, Levy (Hawkins), turned in a written confession which is in our possession. We gave these fellows over five weeks to turn over the books to us and to restore the damage done. They have brazenly refused—evidently knowing they would get support from the Daily Worker.”
The Daily Worker did not raise its voice when the United States government barred our paper, the Class Struggle, from second class mails. It did not raise its voice when it learned of the wrecking of our headquarters by these anti-working class elements, but it goes out of its way to aid them in breaking up our organization.
Following the advice of Mr. Roger Baldwin whom we consulted in the matter, we have decided to sue in the civil courts for a return of our own property now held by Rosenberg and company.
We believe that the use of the capitalist civil courts against agents of the capitalists who wreck working class headquarters is not in itself a forbidden tactic to workers’ organizations. If the Daily worker believes the workers can be ejected from the Party Cooperative Houses in the Bronx for non-payment of rent, certainly the Daily Worker should not object if we sue civilly anti-working class elements for the return of the stuff which they have taken from Communist workers.
We ask the working class papers, regardless of their political beliefs to help us expose this miserable canard which the Daily Worker fabricates for the sole purpose of putting out of its way a body of workers who oppose its disastrous policies.”
We Take Trotzky’s Advice
We have sent the following letter to the Cannon Group:
Dec. 31, 1931
To the Communist League of America (Opposition)
In his last letter to our organization, Comrade Trotzky suggested that we build a bridge to close the gap between our two organizations. Replying to this we wrote at that time: “We are quite willing that you use your offices to bring together the two organizations for mutual discussion of our differences and for mutual action. We deeply regret that there should be two organizations in the United States, both adhering to the views of the International Left Opposition".
Since the time of this correspondence, certain events have taken place, which make the above more necessary than ever. The principal immediate difference, which separated the Communist League of Struggle from the Communist League (Opposition) was the rejection by the Communist League of America of the thesis of our group on the necessity for mass work and the united front. The complete change that the Communist League of America has taken on the question of mass work and the united front has considerably lessened these differences. Today it seems the Communist League of America agrees with us on the necessity for mass work and the united front, with all organizations on concrete issues, even though the Communist Party is not a part of this united front, or denounces it, and even though only the Lovestone group sends delegates to it.
Entirely in the spirit of Comrade Trotzky, therefore, and so that nothing be left undone on our part to cause both our organization to come together as much as possible we make the following proposals:
1. That joint general membership meetings be held to discuss the differences between both organizations. A special joint committee be created to arrange for these membership meetings.
2. That special places be allotted in both the Class Struggle and The Militant for articles from representatives of both groups. In any event the Communist League of Struggle now invites your group to write an article for the Class Struggle on the differences that separate us.
3. That opportunity be given in the forum conducted by both groups for speakers of each group to state their positions. In any event the Communist League of Struggle now invites a representative of the Communist League of America to speak at one of its forums.
4. That both organizations cooperate as closely as possible in all united front activities and rally to mutual defense when attacked by capitalist forces e.g. Morgenstern-Goodman case, Class Struggle case, etc. In all united fronts it is necessary not only to separate Communism from Menshevism as a whole, but to separate the communists of the right from those who adhere to the views of the International Left Opposition. In all united fronts where other labor organizations are present, both groups should strive to affect a unified policy agreeable to both groups and to act as a unit.
We await your speedy reply at the latest within two weeks. We ask that you publish this letter in the Militant and give it to the membership of your organization.
COMMUNIST LEAGUE OF STRUGGLE
Lovestone’s New Unity Move
Every year Lovestone tries a new unity maneuver. He has sent out a call to Communist and labor groups for a Communist Unity Conference. But Lovestone does not include us in this call. We are too small for him. We have figured out that the “C.P.MAJORITY” group comprises actually .00005 of 1% of the American working class, yet we are too small for Lovestone! Can you beat it? He can have no kick coming when the party treats him the same way he treats us.
And now Cannon is again in a hole. Must he again swallow his slogan “No United Front with the Right"? Already he sits cheek by jowl with Gitlow on the Marine workers Defense Committee, in which the Communist Party does not participate.
What is our stand on unity? We quote from our theses of April, 1931: “In the meantime the Communist League of Struggle must try to affect a united front so that all Communist groups can work together on concrete issues on the basis of the recognition of the Communist character of each group. This will also help to reestablish mass work, to resist the violent tactics of the party officialdom, and to place the Communist groups on a correct path. The danger is that the line between Menshevism and Communism will be so blurred, due to the right wing tactics of the party, Lovestone, and Cannon groups, as to set back the whole revolutionary movement.”
“No Communist Admitted”
“No communists are admitted here”, was the greeting at the door, which met the delegate of the C.L.S., who tried to attend the “broad united front of labor”, called by the I.W.W. General Defense Committee for the Harlan Kentucky miners on January 6. Of course it had to be the unspeakable Bert Miller, who handed out this information. All sorts of liberals, anarchists, and what not were gathered together, but the Communists were not even allowed to enter the hall!
Now we see what a hollow sham is Muste’s complaint against the Party’s sectarianism. But while we denounce the damnable sectarian policy of the General defense committee, we are obliged to state that the party’s rude (politically) tactics toward such working class groups as the I.W.W. have helped to sharpen antagonisms against the Party and consequently against all Communists.
Now the Communist Party sits alone with its little “mass” organizations. On the other hand sits the Muste-liberal-syndicalist combination isolated from the militant vanguard. Such tactics, certainly cannot aid any working class cause. On the contrary it can only strengthen the enemies of the workers.
THE COMMUNIST MOVEMENT IN THE U.S.A.—by ALBERT WEISBORD
The first definite crystallization of a Communist Party in the United States occurred in 1919 when the “Left Wing” split away from the Socialist party. Yet long before, with the extremely rapid and intense industrial development of the preceding century, radical and even revolutionary tendencies both in the economic and political fields had begun to manifest themselves among the American workers. The strike movements of the 1870’s were bitterly fought battles. Such organizations as the American Railway Union, the Western Federation of Miners, the United Mine Workers, the I.W.W. were born and nurtured in bloody strikes.
The first bitter struggles for the eight hour day took place in the United States. American soil was able to produce a rich crop of labor leaders, among them such outstanding figures as Bill Haywood, Eugene V. Debs and Mother Jones.
From 1848 on, socialist, anarchist and even communist influence emanating from Europe found here a wide field of development. Let us not forget that the seat of the First Communist International under Karl Marx was located here for a time. It was in the United States that May Day originated.
The extraordinarily rapid capitalist industrialization of the United States necessarily generating grave economic contradictions and social antagonisms, the world war, and the Russian Revolution, brought together all revolutionary tendencies within the ranks of the working class. The mixture of these tendencies made the Communist movement extremely confused and heterogeneous. Let us briefly examine each of the principle patches of the mosaic, which put together comprised the Communist movement in 1919.
The Socialist “Left Wing”
The main body of the Communists originated from the Socialist Party, where, for some time, a “Left Wing” revolutionary section had been ripening. The “Left Wing” had first appeared in 1905, when it favored the launching of the I.W.W. against the policy of the “Right Wing” which favored the officials of the American Federation of Labor. Again, the “Left Wing” loomed large in 1912 when it fought against the adoption of “Article Two, Section Six” of the socialist party constitution expelling anyone who favored sabotage. The revolutionary element showed itself in 1917 when it compelled the “Right Wing” socialists to declare themselves against the war, and finally it raised in the sharpest manner, the support of the Soviet regime in Russia and struggled for adherence of the Socialist Party to the Communist International under the leadership of Lenin.
The “Left Wing” was not without its publications. In 1917 to 1918 was started the “Class Struggle”, a magazine printed in New York City, the editors of which were E.V.Debs and Ludwig Lore. It was among the first papers in America to publish the works of Lenin and Trotsky.
At about the same time the Socialist Propaganda League began to issue the “New International” also printed in New York with Louis S. Frains as editor and L.S. Rutgers as associate editor. It was published monthly in five cent newspaper form and also printed articles by Lenin and Trotsky.
The “Revolutionary Age” was the official organization of the Boston local of the Socialist Party. Louis S. Frains and Eamon Macalpine were its editors, with a long list of contributing editors including John Reed and Scott Nearing.
We must not consider this “Left wing” as having the same internal composition at all times throughout the period of 1905 to 1919. The old fighters were Americans rooted among the masses and leading their struggles. On the contrary, by 1919 the revolutionary group was almost all foreign born with a few American intellectuals giving it an “American face". Differing radically from the old “Left Wing” leaders such as Bill Haywood and Eugene V. Deb. The new “Leading lights” (Horwich, Cohen, Frains, Lovestone, Wolfe, Bedacht, et al.) had had nothing to do with the real struggles of the American proletariat, Bill Haywood went to Russia, Jim Larkin to Ireland, Debs was in the Atlanta penitentiary. Of the recognized revolutionary fighters in the old socialist party, only two were active factors in the 1919 “Left Wing”, namely Chas E. Ruthenberg (died 1927) and Benjamin Gitlow.
The Disappointed A.F.Lers
The second group to join the Communists was a group of disappointed A.F. of L. organizers headed by Wm. Z. Foster, I. Johnstone, Wm. Dunnes and such. The case of Foster is typical of these leaders. He was a syndicalist before the war and a member of the I.W.W. When things grew hot, he became an ardent patriot, and a right hand man of Samuel Gompers, a “regular fellow". So far did he swing, that even the Interchurch Report of the Steel Strike of 1919 had to declare that the A.F. of L. helped to break the steel strike and that Foster was one of the principle agents responsible for the bad policy carried out. To the skilled workers Foster posed as a “theorist". To the college boy leaders of the “Left Wing”, he posed as a “plain worker". In reality he was neither. Yet he was an American, knowing the American labor movement, and having many contacts. And thus he was to be welcomed.
What brought this group to the Communists? The post-war deflation, the smashing of many A.F.L. unions, the drastic cuts in wages, the levelling of the skilled workers more and more to the level of the unskilled, the international revolutionary wave after the war, etc., all these factors drove the skilled workers more to the “Left” and brought some of them, followed by these “leaders” into the ranks of the Communists.
The Greenwich Villagers
Added to these two groups was a certain small number of former anarchists, Greenwich Village habitues, free-thinking Bohemians, pianists, artists, writers, and such, who seeking the “new and unconventional” were attracted to the Russian Revolution. This group published a monthly magazine known as “The Masses". Later this paper became “The Liberal” and is published today as the “New Masses".
Fortunately these dilettantes are being pushed more and more to the rear. About them Trotsky has aptly written: “These groups, sufficiently variegated in their composition, busy themselves on the one side with fringes of the bourgeoisie, on the other with fringes of the proletariat and offer no guarantee whatever as to their own future. From the standpoint of time, their radicalism is chiefly directed toward the past. From the standpoint of space it is directly proportional to the square of the distance from the scene of action. In relation to their own country, these bold boys always were and always will be infinitely more cautious and evasive than in relation to other countries…especially those in the east. The essence of these people from the Left Wing of the bourgeois Bohemia is that they are capable of defending the revolution only after it is accomplished and has demonstrated its permanence.”
The 1919 Splits
With such a collection of heterogenous groups it was very natural that the Communist movement should have been rent with factions and splits from the very beginning. The isolation of the movement from the American workers, the many foreign language federations, the lack of proletarian membership, and the low political ideological level of both membership and leadership—these defects were bound to insure a hectic life for the Communists. This does not mean that the splits did not occur around important issues. We must remember it was Lenin himself, who wrote “The history of the working class movement now shows that in all countries it must experience (and has already begun to experience) a struggle before it grows and gains strength in its progress toward the victory of Communism.” And this struggle is internal as well as external. The factions and splits inside the U.S. Communist movement are milestones on the road of this struggle.
The first big fight came even before the Communists had organized separately and while they were still a “Left Wing” of the Socialist Party. The “Left Wing” in 1919 had grown so strong that it threatened to win the entire Socialist Party membership for the Bolsheviks. At once the “Left Wingers” were met by wholesale expulsions. The whole state memberships of Massachusetts and of Michigan found themselves suddenly outside the official Socialist Party. The first question was then, what was to be done? One group in Michigan believed it was necessary to form a new party, a Communist Party at once, and so they issued a call for a national convention to be held in the fall of 1919.
During the summer, however, a convention was held in New York City of “Left-Wing” elements. There the fight waxed hot. Should they split from the Socialist Party or not, or rather try to get back into the Socialist Party? These and similar questions agitated and split the “Left wing” convention. One section of the convention declared it would organize a Communist Party forthwith in September. the other section declared it would go back to the Socialist Party convention in Chicago and fight to win the Socialist party membership for its position.
September first came and in Chicago, the Communist Party of the United States was formed. Just before this Communist convention, the National Convention of the Socialist Party was held. The “Left-Wingers” who were trying to enter the Socialist party again and to protest their expulsion were met at the door by policemen, who ejected them from the hall. This group at once held a convention of their own and baptized the group the Communist Labor Party. Thus the Communist movement began its very existence with two Communist Parties, a Communist Party and a Communist Labor Party. Each began a violent polemic against the other.
Both Communist Party and Communist Labor Party were far removed from American life. Their invectives against each other were sharp in proportion as their phrases covered their lack of actions. For almost a year, a costly fight was waged over such questions as, “When workers are mobilized, is it mass action or action of the masses?”
Soon after the first Communist Party convention, one of the groups, the Michigan group, broke away and formed another party—the Proletarian Party, and thus there were three.
Early Communist Papers
The literature of these early Communist groupings for the most part continued former “Left Wing” publications. The Communist Labor Party took over the “Class Struggle” as its the theoretical organ with Carney and Weinstein as editors. It also had as its organ “Communist Labor". When the Communist Labor Party went into hiding the “Class Struggle” disappeared although the other paper continued publication. In Ohio the Communist Labor Party was able to get control of a weekly socialist paper, the “Ohio Socialist” and, under the editorship of Wagenknacht and Allison, published it as a “legal” paper, known as “The Toiler” later became the “Voice of Labor.”
The Communist Party founded its official organ, “The Communist combining a weekly paper of that name, which had begun to appear a short time before in New York as the official organ of the “Left wing Section of the National Council of the Socialist Party” (editor John Reed) with the “Revolutionary Age” of Boston. “The Communist” was published in Chicago. L.C. Frains and I.E. Ferguson were its editors. When later the Communist movement became illegal, John J. Ballam became editor, one of a long series of editors. The paper lasted until 1921 when again the movement appeared above ground. During the existence of the Communist Party, it also printed a weekly agitational paper called the “Workers Challenge” and issued as its “legal” organ another weekly paper called “The Toiler.”
Both the Communist Party and the Communist Labor Party were gravely sick of what Lenin called the “infantile sickness of leftism". They were against work in the trade unions, they were against participation in parliamentary campaigns, they were for immediate formation of Soviets (by leaflets) and for the immediate transformation of every strike into an armed insurrection.
What were the bases for such views? It is very easy to laugh at the exaggerated actions of the Communists then, but at bottom there was a correct thesis, namely: At the end of the world war the world was aflame with revolution. (The Bolsheviks still held power in Russia, civil war was raging throughout Europe, in Italy, in Hungary, in Germany, in Finland, and so on). America was part of this dying economic order, part of a world torn to pieces by revolutions. American troops were then fighting on Russian soil. Should the revolution hold its ground in Europe, it was bound to lead, in time, to a revolutionary situation here in America.
What the Communist Party and the Communist Labor Party did not see was how to prepare for the eventuality, how to root the Party deeply among the most oppressed sections of the working class, express their needs, fight their concrete battles, recruit its forces from their best elements, patiently strive to win the confidence of those revolutionary workers who are willing to give their lives for the movement.
From the very start, the Communist movement in this country encountered many obstacles. The objective difficulties that hindered the growth of a revolutionary movement may be briefly summed up as follows: First, the domination of capitalism came rather late in America. The great frontier, the large amount of free land, and the slavery in the South, all delayed the conquest of capitalism. Further, America at the same time experienced the unchecked development of capitalism. With the exception of the slave remnants of the Southern economic regime, there were no decisive feudal barriers to overcome. Capitalism thus made great steady strides forward. Again, working conditions were relatively better here than in other countries, and this fact, coupled with the many opportunities for individual advancement in a young country, and the disunity created by the vast wave of immigration greatly retarded the growth of a class conscious proletariat. Finally in the period since the war, the growth of class consciousness was further retarded by the great strength of American imperialism, and the consequent corruption with high wages and special privileges, of an upper section of the working class.
Yet in America there are extraordinary opportunities for the growth of a Communist movement. Nowhere else is the rate of exploitation so high, the relative wages so low. Nowhere else are the workers worn out so quickly. In no other developed country have the workers so little security through social insurance. In no country is there the racial oppresion that exists against the Negroes, the downright peonage of the agricultural masses, etc.
The normal growth of a Communist movement could come about only if the party understood thoroughly American conditions and the relation of those conditions to the international situation.
However the Communist Party was not destined to have that normal growth. Inside of the socialist party there had been organized many foreign language speaking federations composed of immigrants, who had but recently come to America. With the fall of Czarism, thousands of Russians, Jews, Ukrainians, and others joined the Communist movement, not because of the battles to be fought here, but as a reaction to the events in Europe, which were shaking the world. These foreign language speaking federations controlled the new-born Communist movement and these federations in turn were controlled not by coal miners, nor steel workers, nor textile workers, but by intellectuals far removed from the workers’ life.
These foreign language federation leaders, knowing that they themselves could not attract the American masses, tried to push forward any intellectual who could speak “American” to be their “American face.”
Where Were the Revolutionary Section
Such intellectuals took the easy way out and compromised with these non-revolutionary sections of the party. Indeed only such compromisers had any chance for leadership. Instead of entering into the serious work of winning the great mass of unskilled workers (e.g. the poorest sections of this foreign-born, Negroes, Mexicans and poor whites of the South) the “American” leaders agreed to allow the foreign language federations to continue their isolated nationalist lives and yet remain the base of the movement.
The Proletarian Party group saw the evils of foreign language federationism. But, they, on the other hand, took the anti-Lenist position that what the masses needed was more abstract education, that the revolution was far away, etc. Outside of publishing its monthly periodical, “The Proletarian,” its activities are negligible. And we leave it here to stew in its own juice.
Red Raids and Illegality
The Palmer “Red Raids” of 1919-1920 soon drove both the Communist Party and the Communist Labor Party “underground.” While the wisdom of this retreat by the Communists may be questioned, yet there was ample reason for it. Thousands were being arrested and deported. A general campaign of terrorism had been launched by the Ku Klux Klan, the American Legion, and above all by the United States government. The blows of reaction separated the shaft from the wheat. While the Communist membership of 50,000 or so rapidly dwindled away, yet many remained loyal to the movement and braved the constant danger of prison and deportation. The Communist forces were compelled to come together. Soon they amalgamated to form the United Communist Party.
The party, at that time, was organized in small groups, meeting secretly each under the direction of a captain. In spite of the vigilance of the police, leaflets calling upon the workers to seize arms and to overturn the government were widely distributed. An intense study of Lenin’s works was carried on by these circles.
Now a new issue began to divide the communists. Many felt that being in hiding moved them further and further from American life and from the American working class. They therefore began to agitate for a “legal” party. Soon they did form a “legal” organization—first the American Labor Alliance, later a “legal” party, the Workers Party of America. All this did not happen, however, until another split had taken place.
Out of the Underground
Some of the “undergrounders” refused to liquidate their organization. They felt that their revolutionary purity might be sullied by contact with the masses. They formed their own organization, the United Toilers. This little group also had its organ, the “Workers Challenge” edited by Siskin, Lifschitz and Ballam. Not long afterward the United Toilers itself split, most of the members joining the Workers Party. The United Toilers at least stressed one correct idea—that the Communists have to prepare for the time when they will again be driven into hiding.
In the meantime, other events were taking place to strengthen the ranks of the Communists. A new split had occurred in the Jewish and Finnish Socialist Federations. These groups together with the Workers Council group in New York joined the ranks of the Workers Party. The Workers Council group had issued a bi-weekly paper called the “Workers Council” edited by J. Louis Engdahl, Wm. Krause and A. Trachtenberg. With the formation of the Workers Party a “Weekly Worker” was issued which later combined the “Workers Council” and “The toiler". Engdahl was the first editor of the “Weekly Worker". In January, 1924, the “Weekly Worker” became the “Daily Worker".
At about the same time as the above political regrouping, the A.F. of L. Syndicalist group headed by Foster and his company, having left the A.F.of L., had organized themselves into a Trade Union Educational League and had finally landed in the camp of the Communists.
The Swing to the Right
With the formation of the workers Party and the liquidation of the “underground”, the Communist movement entered into an entirely different phase of its activity. To generalize a bit, we can say, the first period was one of propaganda. It was a period when the works of Lenin were to be translated and learned, when the Communist International was just forming, when the broad distinctions between the Communists and the socialists, the revolutionists and the mere reformists had to be sharply drawn. Even the artist group had some justification for its existence in the time when all there was, was “discussion". To some extent a sectarian life was inevitable in the beginning.
By 1922 it became plain a Communist movement could not remain a debating society. The big strikes and ferment among the workers showed clearly the gap between the working class and the Communists.
(to be concluded in the next issue)
THE AMERICAN MOVIES—A STUDY IN ILLUSION
by Phil Rosenberg
When the average worker is through with the daily torture of eking out a meager existence, his footsteps lead to the neighborhood theater. Here in the haven of the movies, the burdens, worries, and painful realities vanish. The real world is transformed into a reel world!
It is a world of illusion. It is a world that gives vent to his wishful fancies. It is a world where poverty is miraculously non-existent. It is a world peopled with men and women, who worship at the shrine of Mammon and waste their lives in dissipation.
Acts as an Opiate
The movies are the most popular American institution and “often the sole theatrical entertainment, which the worker gets and that the influence in his case is greatly enlarged”, (Address of Secretary of Labor, Doak, as reported in the “World”, January 25, 1931). Its appeal lies in its function as an escape mechanism for an economically depressed working class. It is the twentieth century substitute for decaying religion. Paraphrasing Marx, we may say: The American movies are the opiate of the people.
The movies are a class expression. It is infected with middle class ideology grafted on working class minds by ceaseless portrayal of the life of the leisure class in parasitic society. The characters move in an environment of extravagant wealth. Pictures mirroring the sons and daughters of the bourgeoisie leading a “fast life”, engaged in mad jazz parties, racing in high powered cars with death speed, draining gallons of bootleg hootch, and slobbering in sexual orgies, these make up the nauseating fare forced on the masses to digest under the guise of entertainment. These perversities apparently are held up as an ideal for the masses to emulate.
It cannot, therefore, but help to excite false hopes in the minds of 110,000,000 movie addicts (yearly attendance, according to Will Hays), and to act as morphine to solidify the illusion of wealth existing for all. “Hollywood…issues what is probably the most effective propaganda for the capitalistic system”, writes Mrs. Anne O’Hare McCormick, in the Sunday Times, December 29, 1931, “It shows the poor getting rich and the rich luxuriating.”
As an organ of propaganda, the American movies are surpassed perhaps only by the daily press. Its pictorial content and talkie auxiliary make it easier to intrigue the imagination of the movie audience and to exploit their emotions more than the press or the radio. At present, it seems, the shafts of capitalistic propaganda are directly aimed against atheism and pacifism.
A deluge of pro-religious films such as “The Ten Commandments”, “The First Commandment”, “The Town That Forgot God”, “The Godless Girl”, were unleashed on the public some time ago and are still circulating at the cheap theaters where the unemployed are likely to go to take their minds off the depression, and in so doing, absorb the religious bunk and ballyhoo.
“The Godless Girl” is a frank attempt to discredit the atheistic tendencies of modern youth by emotional exploitation. The old pious fraud of framing confessions of belief in God from lifelong atheists on their death bed, is revived in this film. A “Godless Society” is organized by the heroine, Nina, a high school senior in her school who had read deeply into the works of Voltaire, Paine and Ingersoll. Outraged parents, on learning of the secret meetings held by the society protest to the school authorities, who in turn protest to the police. The police raid the Society’s headquarters during a meeting. In the tumult, due to the frenzy of the young atheists to escape the clutches of the police, a girl member meets with accidental death by toppling off the bannister of the top floor where the Society met. The heroine is blamed and sentenced to the penitentiary for life. Continual pleading and punitive measures to force the young rationalist to renounce her atheism, meet with failure. The picture is climaxed by the breaking out of a fire in the prison house which traps the girl bolted in jail. Under the influence of emotional hysteria, the religious training of her early childhood rushes to the surface of her mind and makes her cry out, “Oh God, save me! I believe in you!” The hero, (who of course believes in God), hearing her cry for help, rushes through the searing flames and saves her life in the nick of time. Thus, the strayed lamb is brought back into the fold of uprighteous God-fearing believers in the Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omniscient, bewhiskered Jehovah. And the vile disease of atheism that infests the younger generation is checked forever—in the movies!
As an organ of war propaganda the American screen is extremely invaluable to the government. During the last war, the movies were at their worst. Controlled by the Intelligence Bureau of the United States Army, the bureau responsible for all war propaganda, the screen served as a “lying machine” to disseminate false information about the enemy, in order to arouse war hysteria in the masses. Fabrications of alleged atrocities, insulting and nauseating to the intelligence, were crammed into the minds of the duped public to keep the war rage at the boiling point. War filmed, vividly etching the “beastly Huns” perpetrating unmentionable crimes of which the least were crucifying defenseless old men and women, cutting off women’ breasts, raping young girls and bayonetting babies, were fabricated in Hollywood with the rapid fire of a machine gun.
At the present time, with war imminent, attempts are made by the heads of motion picture firms, in cooperation with the Federal government to reconcile the masses to a war psychology. Hollywood is turning out dozens of films glorifying West Point, the United States Naval Academy, the Marines, etc., to counteract the anti-war spirit of the masses. Should war actually break out, the government will find the movies more efficient a medium for war propaganda than in 1917, thanks to the development of the talkies. Like a volcano that has once erupted, the government poisonous influence in the movies is an ever increasing evil and should be viewed with hostility.
The American movies are basically an industry. It is mechanistic and soulless as a Ford factory and functions on the same principles:
1. The sole motive of profit dominates the making of a Ford and a movie.
2. Both are subject to the economic laws of capitalism.
3. Both are produced in mass quantities and operate on the idea of large sales.
4. The Ford is manufactured with the most modern machinery and utmost mechanical devices and efficiency. The movie is manufactured with the utmost technological perfection and employment of trick photography.
5. The making of a Ford required gigantic factories, large stocks of manufactured raw materials and machines, and warehouses with tremendous space. The making of a movie requires huge studios, multiple sets, and props.
6. The Ford factory needs a mass of workers and technicians to keep the plant in constant production. The movies have a mass of actors, technical men, extras and studio workers to keep the motion picture enterprise going.
7. The Ford is a standardized product with interchangeable parts and indistinguishable from one another. The movie is a stereotyped theme mediocre in quality and indistinguishable from one another. (If it were possible to scramble a thousand pictures together like a pack of cards and then try to sort them out according to their differences, it would be impossible to do so).
8. On account of the ever increasing intensity and productivity of labor, old employees are weeded out, those who have consumed their energy in toil and they are replaced with younger men. (The average career of a factory worker in the United States is from 18 to 35 years of age and gradually becoming less). The constant increase in the tempo of the movies makes pep necessary to success. “Old” actors are continuously deposed by the young. (The average age of motion picture stars range from 25 to 36).
9. Employees in both industries are subject to unemployment and wage cuts in times of economic stress.
10. Both industries glut the market and penetrate every corner of the globe. (The American movie reaches from Alaska to Argentina, from England to Siam.
11. The Ford factory has a high rate of accidents. The production of motion pictures has also reaped a high toll of life and limb. “Injuries during the past five years and first six months of 1930, Industrial Accident Commission figures, reveal 10,794. Five were deaths among extras, regular actors and studio workers. The remainder were rested under permanent injuries". (N.Y. World, Jan 25, 1931, under caption “Many Lives Lost in Making Hollywood Thrillers"). The loss of eleven lives in the Patho Studio fire at Park Ave. and 137th St, New York City in 1930 was due to the deliberate negligence of Patho officials to comply with fire regulations and insure workers safety.
12. The worker in the Ford factory is converted into a highly efficient robot, performing the function turning a screw, moving a wheel, etc. the actor in the American film is uncreative. Once he has made a success in one particular role, he is forced to repeat the role and becomes a mechanical stereotyped part and unsuited to play other roles.
Far from being an art, the American movies are an industry!
Analysis of Scenarios
The cinema plot has not radically changed since the making of the first movie despite its development in the technological phase. The plot, in essence, suffers in less obvious manner, from the “hero-heroine-villain” complex. The modern villain caricatured on the screen, is of a lighter black shade than that of the villain of the early cinema, but nevertheless, a villain. He is still subdued by the conquered hero who embraces, kisses and marries the boo-ti-full heroine, and like the ending of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, lives “scrappilly ever after!”
Of all the themes that is the most abused and exploited, it is the monotheme—Sex. Producers, superficial psychologists, cater to a sex starved public, vying with one another to jam the movie marts with sex suggestive themes, while professional title writers rattle their brains to invent new titles with a savory sex appeal. Here are exhibits of some “hot” titles collected from the numerous East side theaters in a single day: “Passion”, “Passion for Two”, “Madonna of the Streets”, “Way for a Sailor”, “Devil with Women”, “The Flirting Widow”, “Oh, for a Man”, “The Hot Wife”, “Sinners’ Holiday”, “One Night At Susie’s”, “Scarlet Pages”, “Free Love”, “Reno”, “Divorce”, “The Man Pays".
The development of the talkies or “adenoids”, as John Mason Brown prefers to name them, gave promise that the furious tempo of the silent cinema would slow down, and that an authentic art of the American film would emerge. But the hope quickly perished when American technological genius succeeded in perfecting speech and action sychrinization. The craze for speed and action is inherent in the present age. Its reflection on the screen is a by-product of the tempo of the machine. Hence, the popularity of films replete with action-stuff, Horse racing, motor racing, airplanes, somersaulting, prize fighting, etc.
The American Comedy
The American comedy as well as the drama has experienced little change since its origin. The crudity of the slapstick made famous by Chaplin, minus Chaplin’s genius is still apparent. As E.P. Oberholtz states, “Our slapstick men kick and bite, slap tumble, and roll, fly through doors and into tubs of water, hurl knives and sticks at convenient heads, strike pates, abdomens and slats with clubs, hatchets and mallets, throw pies and eggs into men and women’s faces, plaster walls, servers and wells, pull off male trousers and female petticoats. There are wild rides in autos, locomotives, boats, airplanes and spilling out of their contents, destruction by fire, bomb and dynamite. The comedy director has travestied the funeral morgue, the hospital, the lying-in-of women, the opium den and the house of ill-fame.” Theodore Dreiser calls Hollywood the bastardization of America.
Actors and Actresses
Acting genius in the American film is so rare as to be considered a novelty. The genuine artists of which Hollywood can boast, can be summed up on one’s fingertips; of which Charles Chaplin, Emile Jannings, John Barrymore, George Arliss are the most outstanding. It is interesting to note that without exception the above are stage trained and are in conflict with the perversions of the movies.
The selection and crowning of stars in Hollywood depends largely on physical qualities. The requisites for male stars are: athletic physique, youthful appearance, and popular technique of making love. The requisites for female stars are beauty of face and form, infantile facial expression and ultra-possession of sex appeal. (examples: “Baby-stare—Billie Dove, “Boop-boop a doop— Helen Kane, and the “It” girl Clara Bow).
The cinema is monopolized by infants. The exaggerated emphasis on adolescence makes maturity or old age a vice in Hollywood punishable by decline in popularity, loss of stardom and ultimate obscurity. There is a constant flux of “newfinds” dethroning “old” stars who have lost their youthful zest, grown stout, and no longer fascinate the public with their love-making exhibitionism. Keyserling writes: “America as mirrored in the movies, is …. merely a case of arrested development; in overrating the child it expresses its own childishness.”
Arnold Bennett:—“I have never seen one film that was not artistically revolting. Not one of the American directors has left a mark on film history,” Compare this with the already glorious achievements of the cinema in Soviet Russia!
The American movies at their best are burlesque. At their worst, vicious anti-social propaganda. From a broad point of view, the American movies are a supersensitive camera photographing the animalistic materialism and chaotic individualism of a disintegrating and decaying society and its ruling class—the bourgeoisie.
PROPOSED ROADS TO FREEDOM
Class given by Albert Weisbord
Every Tuesday evening 8:30 p.m. at the LABOR TEMPLE
14th and 2nd Ave
January 19th & 26th………..Anarchism
February 2nd & 9th……….Syndicalism
February 16th & 23rd……….Socialism
March 1st & 6th……………..Fascism
March 15th & 22nd………….Communism
At the Workers School 212 East 9th Street
WEDNESDAYS—Volume II of Karl Marx’ Capital