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Fourth International, March 1943


The Editors

Month in Review


From Fourth International, vol.4 No.3, March 1943, pp.67-69.
Transcribed, Edited & Formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for the ETOL.


The Murder of Heinrich Erlich and Victor Alter is a Blow Against the Soviet Union – American Labor Unites Against the Anti-Labor Congress – Gandhi’s Fast Ends but the All-India Crisis is Just Beginning

AMID OUR REJOICING AT THE SOVIET VICTORIES comes the news that Stalin has delivered a terrible weapon into the hands of the foes of the Soviet Union. A score of Nazi divisions could not have done as much damage as Stalin has done by his murder of Heinrich Erlich, leader of the Jewish Socialist Bund of Poland and a member of the executive committee of the Labor and Socialist International, and Victor Alter, President of the Polish National Council of Trade Unions. The news of this foul crime will unfortunately serve to alienate from the Soviet Union the sympathies of wide sections of the working class in many countries.

On February 25 the American Jewish Labor Committee announced that it had just received word from “official sources in Washington” that Erlich and Alter had been executed in December 1941 – 14 months ago. Washington in all probability knew this long ago but releases it now when the “democracies” are beginning to exert strong diplomatic pressure on the Kremlin. What that anti-Soviet pressure means is dealt with in detail in this issue in the article by Felix Morrow on The Class Meaning of the Soviet Victories. As yet the American capitalist press has treated the news about Ehrlich and Alter quite perfunctorily. 1f the Washington-London negotiations with the Kremlin do not go well, however, the press will probably wax indignant about these murders. The cynicism of the “democracies” is indicated by the fact that they remained silent as long as relations with the Kremlin were satisfactory. But their connivance in a conspiracy of silence until now should in no way obscure Stalin’s responsibility for the crime and for having given this weapon to the bourgeoisie.

Stalin’s capacity for invention is extremely limited, and the infamous. Moscow Trials are again the model for his justification of these murders as of so many others. Once the Jewish Labor Committee made the story public, the Stalinist version was published in the February 27 Daily Worker , which cites “the Soviet Consulate in New York City” as its authority. We can list only a few of the obvious falsehoods:

  1. “Ehrlich and Alter were first arrested in the Soviet Union for working with the Polish espionage service.” (Our italics) Actually, they were arrested in Poland in September 1939. They had refused to flee with the Beck government and had remained behind to continue the struggle against the Nazis. They were either turned over by the Nazis to the GPU, or were arrested by the GPU as soon as the Red Army occupied the territory which fell to the USSR in the joint Hitler-Stalin partition. Their “espionage” work, therefore, could only have been done before the Polish territory became Soviet – not to dwell on the absurdity of charging such public figures with doing espionage work. Nobody ever heard of a trial, but they were sentenced to death, later commuted to ten years imprisonment. After the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, they were released after protests had been made to MOSCOW by many labor organizations throughout the world.
  2. “Alter and Erlich resumed their anti-soviet work after their release ... The hostile anti-Soviet activities of Erlich and Alter went so far that they called upon the Soviet soldiers to cease the shedding of blood and to conclude a peace with Germany.” (Our italics.) Had they previously carried on anti-Soviet activities, why did not Moscow do the obvious thing – expel them from the country upon their release? Actually, they were not permitted to leave the Soviet Union. They were doomed men, released – an old trick of Stalin: thus he released Rakovsky and sent him as a Soviet delegate to the Red Cross conference in Tokio – in order to make more plausible their later murder. The official work assigned to them was to aid in organizing the former Polish prisoners-of-war into an army with its own commanders under the direction of the Red Army. The project never materialized. Difficulties between the Poles and the Kremlin soon developed, and many of the Polish soldiers were evacuated to the Middle East, but Erlich and Alter were imprisoned again in December 1941. The immediate purpose was probably as a warning to the Poles – a warning more palatable to the Sikorski government since the victims were not Polish capitalists but leaders of the Polish labor movement; the long-range purpose was to frighten into submission to Stalin the socialist and trade union elements of Eastern Poland. Nobody in the labor movement outside the Stalinists will believe for a moment that Erlich and Alter called upon the Soviet soldiers to make peace with Germany; Stalin is merely repeating here the “Nazi agent” formula of the Moscow Trials, on the principle perfected by Hitler that if you repeat a lie often enough people will believe it. Not the least of Stalin’s reasons for murdering these men is that under their leadership the Bund declared its belief in the revolutionary integrity of Leon Trotsky and branded the Moscow Trials as frameups.
  3. “Erlich and Alter were once again arrested for these activities. On December 23, 1941, they were tried by the highest Soviet court and were both sentenced to the highest punishment. The sentence was executed.” Why is this the first Stalinist word about that “trial” 14 months ago? Why was it not announced at the time, and why were Erlich and Alter’s comrades abroad – the British Labour Party, the Socialist Party and Social Democratic Federation in the United States, the Australian Labour Party, etc. – not given an opportunity to provide counsel to defend them, the minimum requirement for assuring that it would not be a kangaroo court? The truth is of course that the charges are so absurd that Stalin dared not let the men have counsel to defend them – just as in the Moscow Trials he dared not agree to the August 21, 1937 request of the Labor and Socialist International and the International Federation of Trade Unions for “defending counsel who are absolutely independent of the government.” Nor did Stalin dare permit any time to elapse between sentence and execution – if, indeed, a trial was ever held at all. Had time elapsed, the entire labor movement of the world except the Stalinists would have energetically voiced its demand for the freedom of Erlich and Alter. Even without knowing anything except that they were probably in prison, many demands for their freedom – Citrine for the British trade unions, Green for the AFL, Murray for the CIO, etc. – have been sent to Moscow during the last year.

Stalin has dealt the Soviet Union another terrible blow. It starkly illumines again our fundamental thesis that the real defense of the Soviet Union must be waged in spite of and against the Cain in the Kremlin.


THE MOST IMPORTANT EVENT OF THE MONTH IN THE trade unions was the announcement by CIO President Murray that the AFL, CIO, the Railroad Brotherhoods and the National Farmers Union have joined forces to fight on a local state and national scale against anti-labor legislation.

The statement of the CIO Executive Board explaining the need of this united front for intensified legislative activity declared:

“Our national economic problems are problems which go far beyond any question of mere negotiations with employers and the statement of grievances with employers.

“Today the War Labor Board in Washington must pass upon all wage matters. The Office of Price Administration and the Department of Agriculture and other Washington agencies make policies which will decide whether we will have a really effective price control or whether prices will skyrocket upward so that wage adjustments will become meaningless.

“These same agencies in Washington decide whether we will have a fair distribution of food and other necessities of life through overall rationing or whether those with the most money will get the largest share of our limited supply. Congress passes on all of these matters and also decides whether through tax cuts there will be taken out of pay checks of our members taxes to such an extent as to cut down their food budgets and their health.

“All of this has placed on the shoulders of the CIO and its members an increased responsibility which goes far beyond wage negotiations and grievance adjustments. Our members paying a victory tax out of their pay envelopes each week have realized that the real questions relating to their everyday working life are being decided in legislative and political fields ”.

This statement of the CIO confirms in its own limited way the analysis of the problems confronting the American workers in this Second World War set forth in the political resolution adopted by the Tenth National Convention of the Socialist Workers Party last October. [1] That analysis stated:

“The most elementary economic problems facing the workers today are political problems. The questions of food, rent, the price of clothing and other necessities, the owning and operating of automobiles are controlled directly by political authorities and agents. Wages and hours of labor and working conditions are routed through War Production and Labor Boards, etc ... All these issues, affecting millions of workers, requires the united struggle by all the toilers, including the unorganized and white-collar workers, against the government of Big Business.” (p.44.)

This prospective coalition of the trade unions against anti-labor legislation constitutes a belated admission of the vital fact that the trade unions cannot restrict their struggles to safeguard the interests and gains of the labor movement to the economic field but must throw their full force into the political arena. It is an as yet partial indication of the desire and the demand of the most intelligent and class-conscious workers for a break with the Democratic and Republican Parties and for independent labor political action – a demand manifested in the November 1942 elections, when millions of organized workers stayed away from the polls because they had no candidates of their own.

This growing discontent of the advanced workers with the capitalist parties and their policies and their striving for an independent role in American politics is not overly welcomed by the official leadership of the trade unions. They hesitate to break with the capitalist parties and, above all, with the Roosevelt administration whose domestic and foreign policies they support. Nevertheless, they cannot completely ignore the realities of trade unionism under wartime conditions nor the demands of their rank and file for struggle against Big Business and its political servants in the government.

They have therefore been forced to take this half-step toward independent political activity. They will undoubtedly seek to discourage direct political intervention by the organized workers themselves, offering them instead lobbying in the legislative halls within the framework of captivity to the old two-party set-up.

The conservative aim of the leaders of the CIO, AFL and the Railroad Brotherhoods does not, however, detract from the objective significance of this step toward united political action which they have been compelled to take by force of necessity. What they view as a substitute for an independent political organization of American labor can be transformed by the intervention of the workers themselves into the real thing.

The trade union leaders have placed themselves in an extremely contradictory position by this action. Murray, Green and their colleagues confess that, after the capitalist candidates have been elected, it is then necessary to wage a united struggle against them and their union-busting schemes. Why, then, shouldn’t labor unite; form its own national political party; and fight before, during and after elections for its own policies, its own candidates, its own aims? Why do the leaders of labor try to bolt the door after they let the thieves into the House of Congress?

These are questions every worker must be pondering. They can find the answer in the resolution of the Socialist Workers Party:

“Organized labor lacks the elementary instrument to carry on such a political struggle. While Congress is the sounding-board for the anti-labor drive, American labor has not a single representative of its own in Congress. What a mockery of democracy it is in which over twelve million organized workers and their families are without one elected voice in the government! It is time the workers ended company unionism on the political field and proceeded to organize an Independent Labor Party based upon the trade unions.” (p.44.)

It is significant that the National Farmers Union joined with the trade unions in forming this legislative united front. It demonstrates anew the responsibility that the labor movement has to the other toiling sections of the population which look to it for leadership and action today as never before. The Labor Party will be a powerful attractive political force not only for the workers but also for exploited and discontented middle class elements in the cities and in the farm regions. It will be a barrier to the growth of a native fascist movement.

The forward step taken by the AFL, CIO, Railroad Brotherhoods and National Farmers Union can and must be followed up and carried through by the formation oil a stable political organization of labor. It is the unpostponable task of all militants to disseminate this idea and thereby speed the launching of such a nation-wide INDEPENDENT LABOR PARTY.


THE END OF GANDHI’S FAST WILL SCARCELY END THE deepening crisis in India. The immediate causes of the explosion last August were political – the masses in the cities, and those organized peasants in contact with the cities, understood that Britain’s difficulties were their own opportunity, and impelled the Congress to press for independence. Now the developing causes of a new explosion are economic. Food shortages and inflationary price increases have brought a new stage of hunger to the hundreds of millions who have always known hunger. The clue to Gandhi’s fast is to be found in one of the passages of his letters to the Viceroy which were not published in the capitalist press. In it Gandhi refers to “the privation of the poor millions, due to the India-wide scarcity which I cannot help thinking might have been largely mitigated, if not altogether prevented, had there been a bona-fide government responsible to a popularly elected Assembly.” Gandhi’s fast was thus identified in the minds of India’s masses as a protest against their steadily worsening conditions of life.

There is no question that Gandhi is right in blaming the British rulers for this situation. A national government responsible to a popularly elected Assembly would be under pressure to take certain elementary steps: rationing, fixed prices for consumers’ goods, prosecution of at least some price violators and hoarders and black market operators, etc. Such steps would be dictated to any government seeking popular support. The British regime, however, neither has popular support nor can it seriously hope to seek it. Its sole support within the population comes from precisely those elements – landlords, importers, food concerns, money-lenders, speculators, etc. – who are profiteering from food scarcity and selling supplies to the growing British and American armed forces in India. The loss of the one and a half billion tons of rice normally imported annually from Burma and French Indo-China is of course a factor, but subsidiary to the unbridled profiteering. Herbert L. Matthews reports in the January 7 New York Times that “Government authorities generally agree that rationing of the whole country is impossible because of the millions of small producers,” but that would be no obstacle to a popular government which would authorize mass consumers’ committees to police rationing and prices. But the British dictatorship would not dare permit the intervention of the masses, neither in this field nor in any other. The result is that the rich and the armed forces in the country are getting the lion’s share, while the masses do without. Even a member of the Viceroy’s Council admits that

“Queues for daily necessaries have become a common feature in our towns ... and prices of foodstuffs have gone up so high that large masses among the middle classes and laborers are experiencing acute hardship.” (New York Times, January 8, 1943.)

Coal, charcoal and wood are becoming almost unobtainable, which deprives the poor not only of heating but of their only means of cooking. The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce, warning of “serious danger of food riots” – some are already reported in Bombay Province – blames the government for the situation, a fact obvious to all.

If the next explosion in India comes on this basis, it will have far more of a class character than that of August. It will be directed not only against the British rulers but also against the native profiteers. Gandhi understands this very well and his protest was undoubtedly designed to assure the masses that those sections of the bourgeoisie associated with the Congress are not to be blamed for the high prices and scarcity. Nevertheless, when the masses begin to move against the native profiteer who is conniving with the British, they will tend to make little distinction between the food profiteer and the munitions profiteer. Moreover there must be a growing awareness of the inadequacy of the “non-violence” methods advocated as a creed by Gandhi and eagerly accepted as a political method by the Congress bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie fear with good reason that mass revolutionary methods of struggle will lead not only to the ousting of the British but to deep-going inroads into the political and economic power of the possessing classes. But the masses are learning that neither their political nor their economic needs are served by any other method than the road of revolution.


1. The Workers and the Second World War, Pioneer Publishers, 116 University Place, New York City. Price: 10¢.

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