Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

The No. 1 Problem of the Labor Movement in the U.S.

First Published: NCP Report, No. 1, October 28, 1946
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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(Excerpt from a report by Burkhart and Dowling, approved by NCP for presentation 31 Oct 46 to a conference of labor union workers)

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Comrades, let us move from the fundamental theoretical issues on which all here are known to be agreed, and get to the more difficult points – as to which there is perhaps as yet less complete agreement.

Let us understand, first of all, that no political party or group creates the class struggle.

The class struggle goes on in many different forms all the time, either with or without political parties, with or without CPUSA, with or without NCP and the groups around it.

It is just because the differences between the capitalists and the workers are irreconcilable that workers are obliged to take part in the class struggle, whether they know where they are going or not.

Why Defeats Are Numerous

So long as these class struggles lack a revolutionary orientation, however, the battles are bound to be losing battles. They are a “guerrilla1” warfare, fought with energy and with heroism. But because this guerrilla warfare directs its attacks exclusively against the effects of capitalism, usually those effects expressed as low wages, it never gets anywhere near a solid victory. Not until the workers attack not only the effects but also the cause of these effects can it be said that a victory, a real victory, for the workers is in sight. The cause of these effects is nothing else than capitalism itself.

How can this be seriously doubted for an instant?

Look at our own experiences in the U.S. Here we have a large labor movement – large, although by no means a majority of the proletariat is as yet unionized.

Millions and millions of workers in the unions, and for these unions a vast amount of apparatus of all kinds, Staffs, secretariats, organisers, money, offices, publications, committees, legislative bureaus – it is a tremendous apparatus. You might think it would be enough to change the whole picture, and bring the workers -– in whose interest it is supposed to work – into a real victory over their class enemies, the capitalists.

But the hard fact is that no such thing is so.

How Practical Is “Practical” Opportunism?

We can see clearly that the opportunism characteristic of such vast sections of the labor movement here, an opportunism which is invariably “sold” to the workers on the plea that it is “practical,” has turned out to be highly impractical.

That is to say, the policies and attitudes these opportunists recommend to the workers as the way to success have now been exposed as only the way to more long years of losing battles, to additional small “gains” and large losses at the hands of the capitalists.

That is the blunt truth. What was supposed to be so “practical” has turned out to be “practical” only for the capitalists and for their petty bourgeois agents in the leadership of the labor movement.

What is the missing ingredient, then, in this set-up? For lack of what, we must ask, is the labor movement – despite its willingness and ability to fight – skidding down the slides toward further impoverishment and additional enslavement?

There is no lack of movement. The class struggle supplies plenty of such movement, as the strikes and other manifestations prove. There is no lack of what the opportunists like to call “efficiency,” whatever “efficiency” may mean when the purpose of it is unspecified. What is lacking?

The Goal of Socialism

What is missing is the goal of socialism in the U.S. Nothing else than that.

And it is because all political parties are against socialism, do not want socialism, resist and oppose socialism, that as things stand the workers are doomed to more years of losing their class-struggle battles in the U.S.

This rejection of socialism takes two forms, one easy to see, and the other more tricky.

The Republicans and Democrats reject socialism outright. They are against it and they say so.

But such groups as the American Labor Party, Liberal Party, and Trotskyites (groups in New York State) are also against socialism. Because socialism is not an unpopular idea with many workers, they dare not say they are against it. So they just put it off to some unspecified date in the future, a future which recedes farther and farther in the distance as time goes on.

The Anti-Marxist Line of CPUSA

But it is the National Committee of the U.S. Communist Party – the “9th Floor” and its manifold apparatus in and out of the unions that plays the most tragic and despicable role of all.

Nobody expects a “labor” party to stand for socialism, for such “third” parties are usually set up precisely to keep the workers away from socialism. Nobody expects the Trotskyites to stand for anything except their specialties; anti-Stalinism, wrecking, espionage, general all-around dirty work.

But workers all over the world, and in the U.S. too, have heard something about the great Russian Communist Party, the party of Lenin and of Stalin – and these workers have the right to ask specifically of the Communist Party of the US that it make the bringing about of socialism in the US its fundamental task.

The very existence of the Soviet Union and of its Russian Communist Party daily reminds workers of both the need and the possibility of socialism. Without the Russian Party, socialism could never have been established. From this, workers everywhere conclude rightly that even though they might hold off from joining such a party for a while, the existence of such a party is a precondition not only to achieving socialism but also to securing protection from the capitalists prior to the establishment of socialism.

But having grasped this, workers cannot understand at all what the U.S. CP is up to – and they register this bafflement very practically by staying out or getting out of CPUSA.

The fact is that CPUSA also opposes socialism, also helps the capitalists to impoverish and enslave the workers, also tricks and traps the workers into losing battles.

This rejection by CPUSA of the struggle for socialism is made in broad daylight, for all to see. It is offered as a “U.S. brand” of Marxism-Leninism. Was there ever in the whole of the world an episode of such real shame? Where else but in this country has so unspeakable a mockery, so unbearable an insult been flung into the faces of class-conscious workers –and all this by the leaders of the U. S. Communist party!

An extensive analysis and report on this anti-Marxist rejection of the struggle for socialism has been made on several occasions, We must go on to the practical manifestations of this rejection.

Socialism Now?

The cynical reply, given over and over again by the typical 9th Floor type of opportunist in the labor movement, usually goes like this: “Well, what do you want me to do? Go out to the nearest street corner and shout for socialism?”

To this man we can give a blunt answer; “Yes! By all means! For although it would not by itself solve the problem, it would do a hundred times more good than your ’practical’ work is doing right now.”

But let us remember that this cynical attitude of the CPUSA labor leader is only the open, brutal expression of what the Gene Dennises Max Weisses, William Weinstones and the others have been saying more politely and in more lofty language.

The 9th Floor “theoreticians” – these semi-skilled intellectuals, as they have been well called – have a bag of clever tricks.

It is because their anti-Marxist tricks lie at the root of the whole pernicious 9th Floor line as expressed in the labor movement that we will do well to list the main ones that affect our problem here tonight.

1. They tell the workers that the struggle for socialism is the same thing is the struggle for power. But this is a lie.

Socialism can be established in the U.S. only when the workers and their allies attain government power. But such a struggle for power must be preceded by an ideological struggle for socialism, as the fundamental goal of the workers, by a practical struggle for those immediate demands that lead to socialism. Today, CPUSA not only fails to lead in the struggle for socialism, but helps the capitalists and the capitalist political parties to mislead the workers.

The struggle for power is a wide-scale campaign aimed at breaking the control the capitalists now possess over the government. In such a struggle, the workers and their natural allies, especially among the poor farmers, campaign to put government power entirely in the hands of the proletariat, i.e., the workers, It goes without saying that no such struggle can be embarked on until enough workers understand that socialism is the answer to their needs.

By wrongly identifying the struggle for socialism with the struggle for power, the 9th Floor “theoreticians”, provide themselves with the excuse for not engaging in the struggle for socialism and for continuing to talk about “eventual” reorganization of society, “ultimate” goals, &c.

2. They tell the workers that the immediate program of the unions must embody a choice: either socialism as the goal or the immediate demands. But this, too, is a lie.

There are plenty of opportunities for battle in the class struggle. But among all these battles, workers have to concentrate on the most immediate ones and fight them in the particular way that leads toward socialism, that directs the attack not only at the effects but at the cause, capitalism.

We see that the immediate program cannot be opposed to socialism as a goal. On the, contrary: the tactical aims of the immediate battle grow out of and are selected in the light of the struggle for socialism – a struggle including, but not beginning with, the struggle for power.

3. They tell the workers that the demands raised in the immediate program must be demands that can “be granted“ within the framework of capitalism. This is a lie.

This is a flat contradiction of all the theory, the strategy, and the tactics of the Marxist-Leninist proletarian movement. Every practical experience proves precisely the reverse. Every scrap of history, here and abroad, shows that so long as the workers demand only what capitalism “can give,” the workers will not get even that.

All these gross theoretical blunders, all these vulvar revisions and contradictions of Marxism, seep into the labor movement. They are taken up by the leaders, who in turn spread the poison among the workers.

And as these theoretical mistakes take on concrete shape in opportunist union policy, the brutal outlines of the reality behind the theory become clear: treachery, collaboration with the boss, breaking of strikes, demoralization of the workers.

Theoretical Poison; Practical Treachery

We have heard reports on these brutal manifestations in the New York area and nearby. But here is another, an account from comrades in the San Francisco area:

“With the strike of Local 68, IAM, together with CIO machinists in the East Bay area, the split began to widen in CPUSA forces. After issuing perfunctory approval of the strike demands as ’just’ CP began to break the strike. It issued leaflets and had articles published in People’s World openly advising the machinists that they couldn’t win the strike and urging them to go back to work.

“The best CP branch here, made up of machinists and having the best reputation in the whole county, was directed by CP to attack the strike leaders as Trotskyite (which was a damned lie, as usual) and to demand a rank-and-file committee to lead a back-to-work movement.

“The reasons for all this were that CP wanted the strike to fail. The CIO leaders in this area, closely associated and interpenetrated with CP; did not want a victory in the strike. They feared a victory that would make the machinists more influential and expose the 18 per cent sell-out in which the warehousemen, a part of ILWU, had ’pioneered’. To the state committee of CP, Dick Lyndon, president of the warehousemen, declared that a machinists’ victory in the strike would be a ’tragedy of the first magnitude.’ In the newspapers he called on workers to break the picket lines.

“Naturally, the machinists’ branch would not go along with CP policy, and so the branch was liquidated in the usual smart way; at the end of a meeting called for another purpose, the liquidation of the branch was announced, with a ruling; ’There will be no discussion of this,’ Expulsions came thick and fast. Comrades who refused to hail the maritime settlement of 16 June 46 as a victory were expelled. Walter Lambert, once state CP trade union secretary, and Homer Mulligan of ACA were also expelled for opposing these actions.”

So we see that the split in the proletarian movement is not confined to the East Coast and that it takes the same forms elsewhere as here; comrades quickly reach a point where they find themselves obliged to choose; either they can be real Communists, or they can follow the 9th Floor line.

But They “Mean Well”!

Let us get over being “shocked” at these raw manifestations of class collaboration and move on to attack them. Let us laugh at those who bleat; “But, after all, these labor leaders mean well – they are honest even if they are stupid.”

Are they honest? Are they just stupid? Or are “honesty” and “stupidity” just the disguises they use?

These “stupid but honest” labor leaders were well described by Engels, who remarked that they consider themselves to have the right to commit any despicable act just because they are “honest.”

“Even stupidity,” Engels wrote, “becomes a virtue because it is the irrefutable evidence of firmness of conviction. Every hidden motive is supported.by the conviction of intrinsic honesty and the more determinedly he pilots some kind of deception or petty meanness; the more simple and frank does he appear to be.”

We have a practical program to work out, a positive program dealing concretely with tactics in the labor movement.

But let us not stretch this appreciation of “the positive,” to such a point that we omit “the negative.” A big part of the job is to drive opportunism, political opportunism, out of the labor movement, or as much of it as we can.

As for the opportunists, people who practice the political opportunism, the decision is really up to them. Either they relinquish their opportunism, break with it, cast it aside, or they will have to be fought.

After all, opportunists can change into revolutionaries; but to effect this change they must abandon their political opportunism. And revolutionaries can also change – as workers have so often seen – into opportunists. It is up to us to accelerate the positive change and expose the negative one.

Our discussion of practical program for labor union work must be organized to correspond to the realities that menace the masses of the world and hence of the U.S.

This menace can be summed up in one word; imperialism.

The Policy of U. S. Imperialism

But it is not some abstract concept, “imperialism,” that is the menace. No, it is concretely our own imperialism, the imperialist policies of our own U.S. capitalists, the policy of the Deweys and Ives but no less that of the Meads, Lehmans, and Trumans.

U.S. imperialism makes open and concealed warfare against the common people; abroad, it is open and concealed warfare against the Soviet Union, against any and all peoples or governments friendly to Russia: here at home, open and concealed warfare against the workers, the poor farmers, and the impoverished masses of our own country.

This imperialist warfare, open or concealed, takes both economic and political forms.

The main economic forms as they impinge on the masses are; (1) unemployment for millions5 and increasing unemployment; (2) lower wages for those who have jobs; (3) higher taxes on the incomes of workers, ordinary farmers and petty bourgeoisie; (4) economic attack of many kinds on the incomes of poor farmers; (5) higher and higher prices for the necessities of life coupled at present to (6) “shortages1” of these necessities.

To varying extents, the U.S. labor movement now has “demands” on some, but not all, of these fundamental points. But the ”demands” are in the first place based on an estimation of what the capitalists will “grant” rather than on an estimation of what the workers must get. Hence these “demands” reflect the interests of capitalism rather than the interests of workers. As such, they merely amuse the capitalists – and among the workers they give rise to boredom and lack of interest.

In our discussion of tactics centering around these economic items, let us always remember one thing: it is not our business, not the business of any worker or labor leader, to pay first attention to what the capitalists are willing to “grant,” Our business is to formulate demands, and tactics supporting those demands, which will embody what the workers need and want.

It is not only that these demands must not be limited by what can be achieved under capitalism; more than that, no real progress can be registered in winning even small, partial victories unless the goals in the fight run beyond what capitalism can “give” and run directly to the fundamental goal: socialism in the U.S.