First Published: Spark Vol. I, No. 2, May 1947
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Spark has neither the space nor the inclination to “counter-attack” the tone of NCP’s letter. We will discuss only the ideas involved.
NCP thinks we do not consider the problem of a Marxist party an immediate one. We do. We must restrict our quotes (for space limits) so please refer to our Draft Transitional Program in Spark No. 1. On page 3, we outline the immediate problems. The most specific section of our program is the ”Fight for a Marxist Party” (p. 7) in which we say we must begin now.
NCP accuses us of faith in CP. “self-reform.” On the contrary, we wish other groups would consider our plans for simultaneous work within and without the CP. and the grouping of Party members into organizational contact with us. We have already found a few ”sparks” in the C.P. who will gradually draw a valuable section in the right direction. This is the hardest and least gratifying job – to stick it out in the CP. Read Joe Barner’s letter in this issue. Casualties (expulsions) are to be expected much as the Nat’l Committee would like to avoid them, because they draw crowds. Let us be modestly patient in dealing with honest CP. members who are still sifting their mess – and who are perhaps not up to the more advanced confusions of some of us.
NCP wonders why the name Marxist Party. We took pains to avoid a teapot tempest over this (p. 8): “Obviously then, we need a Marxist party in the U.S. (whatever its name may be)”. We deliberately used a small “p” for party, and alternated our terms between real CP. and Marxist party. The Lenin reprint in Spark No. 1 also explains why the word Marxist. (It might be well to avoid, however the strange fate of France which once had at the same time a French Socialist Party and a Socialist Party of France.)
NCP says we are ambiguous concerning the eventual outcome of the present movement. Spark said (p. 8), ”To work with the attitude of salvaging as much as possible is to prepare for either eventuality.” We believe all of the basic data has not yet shown itself because some of it has still to materialize with our help, The data needed is: how many Marxists can we find in a hurry, how many honest people in the CP. to consider our ideas, how many newcomers to the revolutionary movement can we draw? Despite the deadly situation in the CP., let us watch for every spark and advise continued membership in the CP. This does not hinder, but helps work towards a new bona-fide CP. One word cures won’t get us socialism or a real CP. NCP’s “earliest possible moment” does not reach us; we reach it – the hard way.
NCP says we put the “dictatorship of the proletariat” in a strange way. Our phrase was ”dedicated to the constant struggle for Socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat.” This unavoidably brief statement from a declaration of intentions may not be colorful or Shakespearean – but strange? Does the NCP mean strange and incorrect, strange and correct, or just “strange”?
NCP objects to our statement that “it is idle to put the question: Is the organization for or against capitalism?” We think this is one of the old sectarian approaches. Let’s be specific, Is an ALP or an AVC or a PCA against capitalism? No. Do any of its progressive ideas when put into militant action help to weaken capitalism by proving the power of mass action? Yes. On the other hand its reactionary and confused actions help to perpetuate capitalism. (So do progressive ideas which live only in lipservice.) Does this question determine our membership in organizations or our united fronts with organizations? If not, what does the answer net us–only what was obvious in the first place? This question is usually raised from a sectarian angle which slides over different levels of understanding and contradictions within classes and strata. The NCP (NCP Report No. 26) thinks that Wallace wants to heave the atom bomb at the S.U. Such inaccuracy is a disservice and was probably arrived at basically from the question – is Wallace for or against capitalism.
The progressive ideas of non-Marxist organizations, put into vigorous mass action, weaken capitalism, teach people through their own experiences the bankruptcy of capitalism and their own great power. An AVC chapter preventing an eviction is attacking capitalism savagely, but the AVC stands for free enterprise. The PCA chapter which produces vigorous action vs. the Hartley Bill is attacking capitalism’s indispensable offensives. The presence of real Communists and not NCP’s question in such situations is the key.
NCP says we have a pacifist antiwar position. NCP should have mentioned the longitude and latitude. As it is, we don’t know on what basis this statement was made. In our program we say ”militant in its fight against every act and, preparation of our government for imperialist war and fascism; outspoken in its defense of the first land of socialism, the S.U. and of all progressive struggles throughout the world.” Read the sections on China and Yugoslavia in our S.O.S. We have yet to find the acrobat who could believe in the dictatorship of the proletariat, support every movement for colonial independence, and – be a social pacifist.
At some accusations, we wonder.
Underneath all our sins is the contempt for theory, says NCP. Our S.O.S. was based on the need to rediscover theory – to study. The P.R. Club has tried to study hard because study has become a great responsibility in the present chaos. We have all learned a lot from our own weekly class in the course of which we have re-studied “Foundations of Leninism”, “What Is To Be Done”, “Left-Wing Communism”, “Wage-Labour & Capital”, “Value, Price & Profit” and at the moment “Imperialism”. We have supplemented this not only with other Marxist classics, but with a parallel consideration of the documents of our present movement.
We are logically suspicious of any theoretical attitude which does not include the ”Jimmy Higgins” testing and application – in mass organizations and on the street corners.
The “fundamental necessities” missing from our program according to NCP are there for the reading. If you haven’t the first issue, write for one. In our next issues we hope to deal with other important ideas of NCP. In this we have restricted ourselves to its letter.
(We have sent you an S.O.S. with this issue because it saves a lot of repetition. It is also well to consider in May what was said in October. We invite discussion on the S.O.S. too.)
A few days ago, the P.R. Club received copies of William F. Dunne’s pamphlet, ”The Struggle Against Opportunism in the Labor Movement‒For a Socialist United States.” CP. members who do not think in terms of Socialism should benefit from this pamphlet. But the leftism in it undoes some of the good. We will try to explain our reactions by comparing Dunne’s ideas with ours on the basis of the three main tasks as outlined in our Draft Program last month.
1. The fight for Socialism.
Although Dunne agrees that there is no contradiction between the fight for Socialism and immediate demands, in practice he ignores this. He provides insight into his real attitude when he says (p. 13): “Socialist class consciousness was weakened as a result of the New Deal program of reforms within the capitalist system, aided and abetted by . . . “the notorious revisionist’ leaders of the CP.” Isn’t it rather useless to blame the capitalist class for weakening Socialist class consciousness? We expect that – with or without reforms. We have to blame the opportunism of the pseudo-Marxists for destroying Socialist consciousness. While we are trying desperately to save some New Deal gains won only through our pressure, Dunne’s analysis of the New Deal undermines the struggle for immediate demands and propagates a main fear of the Socialist Labor Party – the fear of reform.
Dunne says the ”winning of the working class for a Socialist program” is the ”main, immediate, and central task.” (e.g., p. VII, 12, 13, 17, etc.) We agree. But somehow this task shoves the other tasks aside and thus digs itself a little sectarian foxhole. Dunne wants Socialism, but he has no plan for a Marxist party or for the fight against imperialist war and fascism. The proof lies in his 16 point program (p. 85) for Socialism which is meaningless by incompletion.
Since a majority of the U. S. does not yet accept our ideas, we, a minority, as we fight for Socialism, must unite with other groups on platforms short of Socialism. We must always gauge the degree of advancement of the U. S. working class and help it learn through its experience. Since Dunne accepts this idea (p. 22), how can he say (p.22): “winning a million workers for a Marxist Socialist program ....would pretty much settle the question of Communist participation in united fronts for a program of immediate demands ...” etc. The American workers would laugh at the perspective of a program of no leadership on immediate demands pending a million supporters. Our program said the correct solution was in dealing ”with the immediate problems within the perspective of three main tasks: the fight for Socialism, the fight against imperialist war and fascism, and the fight for a Marxist party. All three must be fought for simultaneously or there is no perspective, no meaning and nothing achieved.” They complement and generate each other. Dunne’s 16 points have no value. With the recurring word Socialism, we agree – all of us. So does the Nat’l Committee of the CP. What else does it offer? Dunne has not taken a stand on any controversial point (even those developed in the body of the pamphlet don’t materialize in the 16 points) – and so he has not helped the movement towards a Marxist Party.
2. The fight for a Marxist Party.
Dunne has not offered the merest hint on how to proceed to a real CP. Only definite plans beget hard earned results. He still has his first word to say on this. And if his first word is Socialism, well, what’s his second word?
3. The fight against Imperialist war and fascism.
If Dunne’s fight for Socialism is limited by its isolation, and if the fight for a Marxist party is neglected, the fight against war and fascism is presented in a dangerous way – a detour leading not to a Marxist Party, but to utter confusion. Dunne says correctly (p. 14), ”Class relationships in major sections of the world have been changed in favor of the working class and its allies.” But Dunne says this holds true for the U.S. (p. 44).
The facts are otherwise. While Socialism is on the advance in other parts of the world, the opposite is true of one major part – the U. S. The U. S. has emerged from the war as the major capitalist power, and the U.S. working class emerged with its greatest strike movement, completely sold out by every level of its leadership, up to and because of. the CP. A realization of such an actuality should force us to include the consideration of the problems of unity and leadership of the working class and its allies in the U. S. to new independent action against war and fascism. Again we repeat, this never contradicts our constant fight for Socialism.
What is Dunne’s dilemma? First, he speaks of the need to fight war and fascism (p. 11, 16, 85, 86, 70, etc.). Then he attacks the anti-fascist fight (p. 64) because the CP. leadership gives lipservice to it. We shouldn’t give up sex because the Daily Worker claims it has always supported it. Let us expose the hypocrisy of C.P. lipservice – but never consign correct ideas to the oblivion of the Daily Worker.
On the same page, Dunne attacks “a petty bourgeois program supposedly designed to save capitalist democracy in the U.S. from fascism.” The CP. has a petty bourgeois program, but we say we do fight to save bourgeois democracy when Fascism threatens. All our progress towards Socialism is easier under capitalist democracy than under capitalist Fascism.
Dunne says this is not 1935 because then Fascism was a threat supported by outside money, and a war against the Soviet Union was being planned (p. 71). The situation in Europe and Asia is different today, and the main axis crushed, but it is hard to believe that Dunne doesn’t know that the Pax Americana has taken its place, supported by its own money, and planning its own war against the S. U.
On the same page, Dunne succumbs to the great relaxer – inevitability. Fascism is permanently present as a threat in capitalism, so abolish capitalism. True. We will. But are we going to abolish capitalism today, and if not, hadn’t we better bestir ourselves to at least postpone and control a few of capitalism’s inevitabilities? What is more vulgar than the transformation of a Marxist understanding of inevitability into political paralysis. We can prevent war today and be threatened tomorrow – but every postponement gives a better position for the final riddance of capitalism. We hope our readers will reread Plekhanov on “The Role of the Individual in History.”
Dunne says pointedly that this is the period of wars and revolutions. True. Is that an answer to the need for a popular front in America – and if so, was it an answer in 1935?
Dunne has collected an unnecessary confusion of preconditions for fascism. (On page 5 of SPARK No. 1 is a synthesis of this part of Dimitroff’s United Front.) He has quoted Dimitroff but not on the main points. Dunne falls for the “have-not” and ”no-self-sufficiency” arguments – the daily squawks of the Anti-Comintern Axis. We hope you will check Dunne’s ideas by reading Dimitroff’s invaluable pamphlet. (We’ll be glad to send you a copy. Also the Plekhanov.)
On page 67, Dunne claims the right to “American exceptionalism” (with more literal truth than he may suspect) on the question of fascism because he feels there is no analogy between Axis countries and the U.S. At a time when bi-partisan cohabitation is a proving ground for contemplated fascist operations, Dunne says our traditional parties cannot introduce fascism. He says our traditions protect us (p. 68). (Shades of Browder.) Our traditions are so confused and misrepresented by now, that even Dunne incorrectly resents a few of the good ones (that Communists, should be “the most consistent fighters for Democracy”, “a genuine patriotic force”, and “upholders of the democratic traditions of Lincoln and Jefferson.” We agree with Dunne about “the true defenders of national security and national interest.” This one is suspicious in the U. S. of 1947.)
Dunne says fascism rises against the revolutionary threat (p. 68). But doesn’t U.S. Capitalism see that threat today in the leftward moving world? Dunne says the defeat of the Socialist Revolution is a precondition for fascism (p. 66). But hasn’t what little true Socialist leadership there was in the U.S. been destroyed? Even the unions and progressive organizations are getting the works. Dunne gives more preconditions for fascism (economic crisis, increase of hardships skepticism, shrinkage of markets and profits) ... But don’t these face the U.S. now? On p. 71, Dunne says fascism does not come to overwhelmingly proletarian countries. There is nothing in the causes or the preconditions for fascism that bears this out. On the other hand, (p. 71, 72) Dunne, forgetting his previous argument, now proves that preconditions are here – the weakening of capitalism, the increase of proletarian organization, the world Socialist threat, sharpening of capitalism’s contradictions.
From here on, Dunne gets very maneuvery – either there is a Fascist mass party and a threat of fascism, or there isn’t, and stop hollering (p. 72). We ask, ”Since when don’t we fight to prevent threats from materializing?” Or do we wait for the fascist putsch to start fighting? Dunne says there is – or there isn’t. ”These are not issues with which to chippy around” (p. 75). But in 87 pages of 8-point, Dunne never answers his own question.
The core of Dunne’s mistake is something he often finds it hard to accept – the issue of Socialism versus Fascism. He dares not state it so clearly so he says freedom or fascism (p. 16) and then slips in a definition of freedom as Socialism. Such oracular double talk is designed for historical wear and tear. Dunne has many thoughts on Fascism. He says there is no possibility of fascism in the U.S.; he says stop the fascist threat; he says slogans of the antifascist struggle are opportunist; he says the fight is between fascism and socialism.
Logically – in his scheme of things – Dunne attacks all third parties. He never considers one clear concept; the antifascist, anti-imperialist, non-redbaiting, farmer-labor party in which the real CP. could participate, retaining its independent role. This to him (p. 82) is not a CP. affair. He seeks careful protection, however, (p. 83) in approving of Communist United Front agreements, but he rejects all application of this lipservice – or at best, he’ll consider it after one million manna socialists materialize from heaven – if not from experience.) May we call this new Dunne theory the parachutist approach to a Marxist Party?
Dunne sees only imperialist interests at work in the United Nations (p. 46, 47), nor does he take a stand for the U.N. We “estimate” that Dunne is against the U.N. – and in queer company. He objects to the “petty bourgeois prattle” about the U.N. How does the S.U. policy fit into that? the U.S. government is out to kill the U.N.
Does Dunne agree? We would like to point out that Trotskyites who attempted to infiltrate into our group took as their operational base Dunne’s position on the U.N.
On the World II, Dunne offers the two contradictory aspects of the war (p. 33). But were the liberation aspects and the imperialist aspects equal? Did they cancel each other out? Communists should say: it was a just war which destroyed the Fascist Axis and saw more Socialism at its end, but also a war in which imperialist foul play threw the main burden on the S.U. in the hope of a Soviet Pyrrhic victory. This Dunne does not say.
Finally, we ask Dunne these questions:
1. How do we work towards a Marxist Party organizationally? Do we work in the CP.? Who are the “Marxist Socialists” you call on to build a real CP.?
2. What are the main ideological obstacles in the way?
3. Do you think our 3 point orientation correct?
4. Do you agree that no present member of the Nat’l Committee CP. can be allowed in a bona fide CP.?
5. Is there a threat of Fascism in the U.S.?
6. If so, should a real CP. work towards a popular front movement in the U.S.?
7. Is there a real threat of war?
8. If so, how do we fight it – besides the word Socialism?
9. Do you support the U.N. as long as the veto is upheld?
10. Do reforms hinder progress to Socialism?