MIA: History: ETOL: Revolutionary Workers League

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Revolutionary Workers League

[This page was developed for wikiepedia.org by Tim Devenport–Editor]
The Revolutionary Workers League (RWL) was a radical left group in the United States. It was led by Hugo Oehler and published The Fighting Worker newspaper.

Organizational history—Origins

Fighting Worker page

The RWL originated as a tendency within the Workers Party of the United States, which had been formed by the merger of the Trotskyist Communist League of America (CLA) and A. J. Muste’s American Workers Party in December 1934. Some within the new party were advocating an application of Leon Trotsky’s French Turn by having the enter in the Socialist Party of America. The issue was first raised at the “Active Workers Conference” at Pittsburgh in March 1935. Though the idea was favored by James Cannon and Max Shachtman, the two former leaders of the CLA, it was opposed by Joseph Zack Kornfeder and Muste.[1]

The official organ of the Revolutionary Workers League
was a newspaper called The Fighting Worker.

The issue was again brought up at the WPUS June National Committee Plenum. Though the party issued a declaration denouncing “false rumors” of factionalism and moves toward merger with the socialists,[2] a struggle did apparent take place, Muste, Oehler, and Martin Abern against joining the Socialist, with Cannon and Shachtman favoring the proposal.[1] The group led by Oehler and Tom Stamm were not entirely opposed to work among the left wing members of the Socialist party, but wanted to bring them into the WP as a group, rather than have the Workers Party dissolve into the Socialist Party.

To that end they began negotiations with the Revolutionary Policy Committee. When they reported their talks to the Partys Political Committee, they set up their own negotiating committee without any members of the Oehler-Stamm group on it. When Oehler-Stamm group continued their talks with RPC they were censured by the Partys Control Commission. Things came to a head at the October 4–9 Plenum of the Party’s National Committee, at which the Oehler-Stamm group was forbidden to issue a factional periodical and were given a final warning to cease their violations of “organizational discipline". Oehler and his faction then withdrew to form the Revolutionary Workers League. By this time a majority of the National Committee come around to support the French turn.[3][4]

The RWL originally thought of itself as an “opposition” within the official Trotskyist movement, in the same manner as Trotskyism originally conceived of itself as the “Left Opposition” within the Comintern. They focused, in their early years, to recruiting within the Trotskyist ranks, and may have created the “Marxist Policy Committee” within the Trotskyists’ Socialist Appeal Association for that purpose.[3][5]


The group went through a number of splits, both of organized factions and individuals. A small Marxist Workers’ League left early in 1936 and quickly rejoined the Trotskyists. Joseph Zack then renounced Marxism completely, and founded a new group called the One Big Union Club.[5]

The majority of the group apparently renounced Trotskyism at its third Plenum in October–November 1938. However this caused a spit between Oehler, who believed that Trotsky had degenerated from Marxism in 1934, and Stamm who felt that Trotsky had degenerated in 1928. Others reasons given for the split included questions over democratic centralism as well as a supposed tendency to focus too much on European events, but Sidney Lens stated that Stamms’ motivation was more personal: he simply did not wish to relocate from New York to Chicago, where the RWLs headquarters was being transferred to become closer to the heart of America industry[6] The Stammites set up another organization, also called the Revolutionary Workers League, sometimes called RWL (Revolt) after its periodical.[7] They had small groups in New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago and elsewhere. After an attempted merger with the Fieldites and some Socialist Labor Party dissidents failed, the Stammites disbanded in 1940.[8]

Other groups to split from the RWL included the Leninist League, led by George Marlen, a second Marxist Workers League led by K. Meinov, a group headed by David Atkins that merged into the Bordigists, and the Revolutionary Communist Vanguard.[8]

Trade union activities

The Revolutionary Workers League was active inside a number of trade unions, particularly the United Auto Workers. They succeeded in having one of their members Zygmount “Ziggy” Dobrycinski elected as head of Local 205. However when the RWL began to make demands for the “politicalization” of the members, including a six hour day and workers management of the industry, “Ziggy” quit the RWL.[9]


The group sent a man named Russel Blackwell (using the pseudonym Rosalio Negrete) to Spain during the early part of the Spanish Civil War, who made contacts to the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification (POUM) left wing. Later they sent Oehler, who was present during the May 1937 suppression of the anti-Stalinist Left. Oehler and Negrete were both imprisoned by the Loyalist regime, and only returned to the US after the intervention of the US embassy.[10]

With the declaration of the Trotskyist Fourth International, the RWL instead founded the Provisional International Contact Commission for the New Communist (Fourth) International. Besides themselves, this included the Leninist League (UK) and the Revolutionary Communist Organisation (Austria), both groups close to Oehler.[10]

Decline and dissolution

The outbreak of World War II led to a severe decline in the group. Its youth section, the Young Workers League appears to have been wound up in about 1940, the international disbanded in 1946, and The Fighting Worker ceased publication in 1947, although an attempt at a relaunch was made in 1950.


A short explanation of the RWL’s publications can be read here

Serials: Newspapers:

Serials: Theoretical/International journals:

Serials: local Chicago RWL serials:

Serials: others:

[Some of the pamplets are here on the MIA, others are linked to off site web sites.–Editor]


1. Robert Alexander, International Trotskyism: A Documented Analysis of the World Movement. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991; pg. 780.
2. New Militant Vol. 1 #28 July 6, 1935 p.2
3. Alexander, International Trotskyism, pg. 781.
4. New Militant Vol. 1 #43 Oct 19, 1935 p.3
5. Max Shachtman, "Footnote for Historians," New International, Vol. 4, No. 12, December 1938. Shachtman refers to it as an "Oehlerite stooge group".
6. Sidney Lens, Unrepentant Radical. Boston: Beacon Press, 1980; pp. 46-47.
7. Walter Goldwater, Radical Periodicals in America, 1890-1950. New Haven: Yale University Library, 1964; p. 35.
8. Alexander, International Trotskyism, pg. 783.
9. Lens, Unrepentant Radical, pp. 54-62.
10. Alexander, International Trotskyism, pg. 782.


Last updated on 19 August 2014