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Fourth International, November 1941


Federal Prosecution and the Present Tasks of the Party

(Resolution Adopted by the Plenum Conference, October 11-12, 1941)


From Fourth International, Vol.2 No.9, November 1941, pp.262-265.
Transcribed, Edited & Formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for the ETOL.


The prosecution launched against our party by the Roosevelt administration can be understood in all its ramifications only in the light of the historical situation of the American imperialists whom Roosevelt serves.

The American bourgeoisie has virtually dragged the unwilling American people into the war. Roosevelt’s real war aims are expressed not in his deceitful 8-point program, that shriveled caricature of Wilson’s 14 points, but in the recent declaration by Secretary of Navy Knox that Anglo-American imperialism must police the world “for the next hundred years.” Roosevelt’s aim of world conquest, like Hitler’s, is not a sign of strength but a mark of the desperate plight of world capitalism and of every one of its component national states. The gigantic development of the forces of production is driving all the imperialists to goals which lie beyond their power of attainment. Hitler and Roosevelt are attempting to establish their sway over a decomposing capitalist system – a system torn by incessant imperialist conflicts, shaken by colossal social convulsions and headed for economic ruin and catastrophe.

The permanent perspective of monopoly capitalism is war. Until now capitalism evolved through periods of peace punctuated by occasional wars; henceforth intervals of peace, if any, will merely punctuate the continual clashes of the imperialist powers. None of the imperialist rulers have any faith in their future. Hence their desperate methods of crushing every form of opposition at home. Fascist terror is not an Italian or German weapon; the American bourgeoisie will likewise attempt to resort to it. The wartime repressions against the labor movement will prove to be not temporary expedients dictated by wartime conditions, but the forerunner of dictatorial and fascist movements of the American bourgeoisie.

It is in the light of this perspective – the perspective of an epoch of wars and revolutions – that we must consider the problems which confront the party as a result of the Federal prosecution.

The Prosecution and the Defense

1. This prosecution arises immediately out of the Federal government’s intervention on the side of AFL Teamsters’ Chief Daniel Tohin against Local 544-CIO. But the Minneapolis drivers and Tobin clashed in the first place over the refusal of the Trotskyist leadership of Local 544 to go along with Tobin in subordinating the trade union movefluent to the war program of the Roosevelt administration. Thus the government’s “intervention” is on its own behalf. This blow against our party is but the first of many to come against every section of the labor movement which resists the reactionary consequences of the government’s war program. We are the first to be attacked because we are the only genuine anti-capitalist party and therefore the only genuine anti-war party. The object is to drive the party into illegality and, if possible, to silence it.

The policy of the party in defending itself in court, obligatory for all party members under indictment, can only be one that is worthy of our movement and our tradition: no attempt to water down or evade our revolutionary doctrine, but on the contrary, to defend it militantly. At the same time we maintain that we have a legal right under the Bill of Rights to propagate our principles.

2. The legal defense in court and in the arena of public opinion is strengthened by the fact that both the Socialist Workers Party and Local 544-CIO and all the defendants have agreed to the launching of a broad defense campaign by the Civil Rights Defense Committee. Such a united defense will obviate many difficulties. It will dramatize the fundamental connection between the rights of our party and the democratic rights of the trade union movement.

3. Despite this prosecution and others which may follow, our party will not lightly surrender its right to function as a legal party. The Plenum-Conference emphasizes to all party members the fundamental importance of a determined fight for the party’s legality. The question of whether the party is legal or illegal will not be settled for us by a conviction in this Minnesota case.

4. One of the main methods of defending the party’s legality is to participate wherever possible in elections. The excellent election campaigns at present being conducted by our New York and Newark organizations are an example of what can be done in this period. We must record the fact that too often in the past we have neglected electoral activity. We must now give primary attention to participating under our own name and with our own candidates in election fights. This will serve not only to bring our program before the masses, but render more difficult the government’s attempt to repress us.

Internal Preparation of the Party

5. An intensive campaign is required for the internal preparation of the party to withstand the blow of the Federal prosecution. The only people who can stand up under this kind of governmental pressure are people who have a historical outlook and a profound understanding of what they are fighting for. Mere activism, sometimes sufficient for day to day work, is not enough to stand up under the blows of persecution. We have on this score the negative example of the IWW cadres after the last war. Out of 150 or more IWW men who went to Leavenworth, only a small handful retained their activity in the movement afterward. This was not because they were poor material; they were genuine militants, very courageous people. But they lacked the theoretical equipment to comprehend the complexities of the war situation. The philosophy of the IWW proved inadequate to sustain them and they fell by the wayside. The difference between a trade union militant and a politically educated Trotskyist is immeasurable; it is qualitative. The best of yesterday’s trade union militants are today succumbing under the pressure of the war situation. Only those will survive who are not only rooted in the working class movement but who have the Marxist outlook to see beyond the present difficulties to the new horizons.

6. The revolutionary party, in order to successfully meet all serious tests, requires such an education of the party members and such a selection of its leading people that the party can remain firm under all conditions. This requires high standards for party membership: standards of activity, of discipline, of financial contributions, of devotion to learning the history and theory of the movement, etc. It requires even higher standards for its leading staff. The party which aims at the conquest of power for the socialist transformation of society cannot operate with casual members and dilettante leaders. Members and leaders alike must conduct themselves as disciplined soldiers in the army of the proletarian revolution. Leaders must set the example of communist devotion, loyalty and discipline.

Systematic education of the party is dictated by the needs for new party leadership. New cadres may have to take the place of imprisoned comrades. The new opportunities open to the party demand an expansion of the leadership of the party. Given new responsibilities, comrades hitherto unnoticed will prove themselves worthy of positions of leadership. Under the test of fire, new leaders will come forward.

7. The Plenum-Conference calls the attention of all party members to the necessity for systematic political work and recruiting for the party in the factories, the shops and in the unions. In the previous period we have successfully carried through an extensive movement in the party to integrate our young comrades in industry and in the unions. In that period of penetration into the factories and unions, it was necessary to caution young comrades not to be too precipitate in their party-political activity until they had firmly established themselves in their new environment. This campaign has been carried through successfully. We have radically changed the character of the composition of the party. Today we can say that the average member of the party is a trade unionist.

However, having succeeded in integrating themselves into industry and the trade union movement, our comrades are now entering a new stage in their work. A type of activity that does not rise above trade union levels cannot be a permanent task. Once the comrades are integrated in the unions they must begin serious and systematic party-political work.

Mere trade union work, in itself, does not amount to much – especially in this epoch of wars and revolutions. We have to begin recruiting for the party. This can be done only if the party fractions work systematically and regularly. There are no exceptions to this law. All comrades, wherever there are two or more together, must work as a fraction. The aim of fraction work is not merely the working out of positions on the “high politics” of the unions but, more concretely, the task of teaching fellow workers and union brothers the principles and great goal of communism and recruiting them into the party.

No Conciliation with Renegades

8. In the next period our party must be more than ever absolutely unrelenting in its warfare against any existing or arising centrist groups (Shachtnianites, etc.). Lenin, never much of a unity shouter, became especially intransigent during the first world war as the fundamental cleavage between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks revealed itself more clearly. So flow must we maintain the cohesion of the genuine revolutionists during this war. Trotsky said the fight between the proletarian majority of the party and the petty bourgeois opposition was similar in many respects to the historical struggle between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks in the Russian movement. In justice to the Russian Mensheviks, Trotsky also said, they appear as revolutionary heroes in comparison with the wretched faction of Burnham, Shachtman and Co.

We must educate cadres who are not afraid of isolation and who do not seek fictitious strength through numbers at the expense of programmatc clarity. There are many members of the party who did not live through the experiences of our intransigent programmatic fight in isolation (1928-1934). That isolation was dictated by the necessity to consolidate the revolutionary nucleus on the basis of a program. Ill-considered “unity” maneuvers could only have compromised this basic task. The Lovestoneites in those years approached us again and again for “united fronts,” “common action,” etc. as a bridge to unity. Had we united with these rightward-rnoving centrists in the illusory hope of gaining strength by numbers, our forces would have been weakened, not strengthened. When actual opportunities for unity on a sound basis did occur, with the American Workers Party (1935) and with the left wing of the Socialist Party (1936-1937) we proved able, thanks to our programmatic firmness, to take full advantage of the opportunities to strengthen the revolutionary ranks. This can be the case also in the future with groups of Stalinist workers who turn toward the revolutionary road. The condition for a fruitful intervention on our part in a revolutionary development among the Stalinist workers, or the political awakening of any other group of serious workers, is the prohibition in our own ranks of any sentiment of conciliation toward the degenerate petty bourgeois clique of Shachtman and Co.

The Struggle Against War and Fascism

9. The struggle against the imperialist war overshadows all other questions. The country is being maneuvered into war by the American imperialists and their government, and the labor bureaucracy is successfully throttling any mass labor opposition. Revolutionary Marxism has always recognized that the struggle against imperialist war is identical with the struggle against capitalism, and that the only way to do away with war is to do away with the capitalist order. This fundamental conception is confirmed by the way in which, despite the desires of the overwhelming majority of the country, the capitalist regime is succeeding in dragging the country into war. Only by the overthrow of capitalism, by the establishment of a Workers and Farmers Government, can this country be led out of the war to a peace based on socialism.

10. Our Proletarian Military Policy, adopted by our last Plenum-Conference (September 23-27, 1940) will provide the practical basis for agitation when “shooting war” begins. To the demand of the chauvinists in the labor movement that the country must be defended against fascism, we answer that the best way to defend the working class against both foreign and domestic fascists is through military training under the control of the trade unions. We do not place any trust in the “anti-fascist” pretensions of the capitalist government. Only the working class can smash fascism. We do not trust the reactionary officer caste. We demand federal appropriations for military training camps to be operated under the control of the trade unions, and special officers’ training camps operated under the control of the trade unions where workers can be trained as officers. Our Proletarian Military Policy serves to educate the workers, to bridge the gap between their present confused but anti-fascist sentiments and our program for the extirpation of fascism and its capitalist roots. The Plenum-Conference instructs the National Committee to republish in pamphlet form our Resolution and other published material on Proletarian Military Policy and to conduct a systematic agitation to popularize it.

Tasks in the Trade Unions

11. As the war develops, ever more significant will be come the struggle for the independence of the trade unions in relation to the capitalist state and the struggle for trade union democracy.

Throughout the world, in all the capitalist countries during the period since the first world war, we have seen a “growing together” of the state with the trade unions. Whether “neutral,” Social-Democratic, Stalinist, or Anarchist, the trade union leadership has adapted itself to the capitalist state and seeks its cooperation. In the eyes of the trade union bureaucracy, the chief task of the unions lies in the utopian program of “freeing” the capitalist state from the embrace of capitalism and pulling the state over to the side of the labor bureaucracy. This has happened also in America to both the CIO and AFL. Through the NLRB, the National Defense Mediation Board, Federal conciliators, etc., close links have been forged between the state power and the trade union bureaucracy. An integral part of this tendency are the steps taken jointly by the government and the labor bureaucracy to wipe out in the unions all forms of trade union democracy and to expel all revolutionists from the unions. These are the only conditions under which monopoly capitalism, with its centralized command both in economic life and government, can permit the continued existence of the trade unions. Thus the struggle for independence of the trade unions and for trade union democracy becomes increasingly a struggle which only the revolutionist can lead.

The trade unions of our time can either serve as instruments of imperialist capitalism for the subordination and disciplining of workers or, on the contrary, the trade unions can become instruments of the revolutionary movement of the proletariat. No third course is open to the trade unions in this epoch. The neutrality of the trade unions toward the capitalist state is completely and irretrievably a thing of the past, gone together with traditional bourgeois “democracy.”

The struggle in the trade unions is essentially a struggle for influence over the working class. Despite the tendency toward degeneration of the trade unions and their “growing together” with the imperialist state, our work within the trade unions becomes even more important than before. For the trade unions remain the main arena in which the revolutionist can contend with the agents of the bourgeoisie for the leadership of the working class. The agents of the bourgeoisie cannot but appear henceforth as exponents of state domination of the unions and opponents of trade union democracy. We become the banner bearers for the freedom of the unions and for workers’ democracy within the unions. Precisely because monopoly capitalism is less and less willing to reconcile itself to the independence of trade unions, the labor agents of monopoly capitalism will become less and less able to maintain their influence over the great masses in the unions. That is why we shall succeed in proving our right to the leadership of the trade unions as the defenders of trade union independence and trade union democracy.

For the Defense of the Soviet Union!

12. Our struggle against the war program of American imperialism and its consequences is already meeting with interest and response in the ranks of the Stalinists. The catastrophic consequences of Stalinist leadership in the Nazi-Soviet war must increase the present ferment among the workers hitherto influenced by Stalinism. The Stalinist move toward a united front with Hillman and the AFL bureaucracy against all opponents of Roosevelt’s war program is extremely distasteful to the many Communist Party militants who see no reason to change their opinion about Hillman, William Green and Co. The further consequences of the Roosevelt war program – strike-breaking, attempts to place a ceiling on wages, priorities unemployment, etc. – will make the new Stalinist line increasingly repugnant to thousands of genuine militants whom the Communist Party still has within its ranks. These militants will find in us, if we only take the trouble to reach them, the revolutionary alternative to the Stalinist betrayal.

13. Our program for revolutionary defense of the Soviet Union has made its way into the Stalinist ranks despite all the frantic attempts of the Kremlin’s hirelings to portray us as enemies of the Soviet Union. Only our program explains to the perplexed Stalinist workers why, despite all the heroism and the superior morale of the Red Army and Soviet masses, the German war machine has continued to win victories over the Soviet Union. Trotsky’ analysis explains to these workers how Stalin beheaded the Red Army and left the Soviet Union leaderless in industry and agriculture; every day’s headlines only confirm the Trbtskyist contention that Stalinism is incapable of defending the Soviet Union. Only our analysis of the anti-revolutionary character of Stalinism explains to the workers why the Kremlin has refused to arouse the masses of Europe and undermine Hitler in Germany by the revolutionary weapons which Lenin and Trotsky so successfully employed in 1917-1920.

When the workers now under Stalinist influence realize the extent of the continuous defeats sustained by the Soviet Union, there is great danger that they will fall into despair and passivity, for they will be unable to explain to themselves why the workers’ state is unable to defend itself successfully against a fascist regime. Unless these workers are reached in time by us, their disillusionment may lead them to drop out of the revolutionary movement altogether. We have the urgent task of saving these workers for the revolutionary movement by preparing them ideologically in due time.

14. Our program for the revolutionary defense of the Soviet Union has been confirmed not only against the Stalinists, but also against all the petty bourgeois renegades who denied the Soviet Union its character as a workers’ state and who refused to defend it. The unparalleled morale with which the Red Army and the Soviet masses rallied to the defense of the workers’ state can be explained only by our analysis of the class character of the Soviet Union. The Soviet masses, despite the oppression which they are under from the Kremlin bureaucracy, proved to be wiser politically than the “cultured,” petty bourgeois snobs who abandoned the Soviet Union; the masses were able to distinguish between the Soviet Union and Stalinism even if the Eastmans, Hooks, Burnhams and Shachtmans did not. The Soviet masses threw themselves into the struggle against the Nazi war machine as no “democratic” country – France, England, Czechoslovakia, Norway, etc. – has been able to. The Soviet masses understood that Hitler was attacking, not merely the Kremlin, but the nationalized property established by the October revolution. That this unprecedented upsurge of morale has proved insufficient to halt the Nazi war machine is a tragic confirmation of the fact that only under a revolutionary leadership can the workers’ state be saved. But if the Soviet Union should fall, that loss will only crown the crimes of the petty bourgeois renegades who turned their back on the Soviet Union in its hour of danger.

15. The history of the last two decades demonstrates that the American working class will have its chance to conquer state power before the rise of a mass fascist movement. The rise of fascism and its seizure of power has occurred only where the conservative labor parties (Social-Democratic and Stalinist) prevented the proletariat from utilizing a revolutionary situation. But first came revolutionary situations in Italy (1919-21) and Germany (1918-19, 1923-24,1929-31). Only when the workers’ parties failed to lead society out of the impasse did it become possible for the fascists to recruit mass movements with which to crush the workers’ organizations. This is the historical law which is demonstrated by the history of this epoch of wars and revolutions.

And this law provides the answer to the question whether fascism can be prevented by the American working class. Fascism can and will be prevented by the building of a strong revolutionary party able to utilize the revolutionary opportunity. That is the great historic task of the Socialist Workers Party. We shall have our chance. And we shall not miss it.

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Last updated on 17.8.2008