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Fourth International, July 1948


The Editors

The Thirteenth Convention
of the
Socialist Workers Party


From Fourth International, Vol.9 No.5, July 1948, pp.131-133.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Thirteenth National Convention of the Socialist Workers Party, held July 1-5 in New York City, was preceded by the Republican and Democratic conventions and followed by that of the Wallace party. These four conventions offered sharp contrasts in their respective class characters and political roles.

Three of these conventions, despite minor outward differences, possessed the same class character and fulfilled an identical political function. The Democrats, the Republicans and the Wallaceites frankly came forward as defenders of the rotting capitalist system. As such, their program was devoted primarily to preparing for a new war.

The Republicans and Democrats did this by ratifying through their conventions their Congressional bi-partisan war conspiracy with its ECA, its huge military budgets, “peacetime” conscription of the youth, its red-baiting, its anti-labor offensive, and so on. The Wallaceites paraded as a “peace party” opposed to these bi-partisan war-makers. But pacifism of the Wallace variety is a no less necessary element in capitalist war preparations than the Prussian-type militarism of Republicans and Democrats. While the latter arms the imperialist military machine, the former disarms and disorients the people in their resistance against the warmakers.

In direct contrast, the convention of the American Trotskyists was a genuine mobilization of anti-war fighters. Our program and our spokesmen correctly linked the struggle against war with the workers’ struggle to abolish capitalist rule and install socialism.

From this Convention came the call for a new revolutionary change in the USA. The Sons and Daughters of Liberty, heralds of the fight for Independence in the Eighteenth Century; and the heroic Abolitionists, torch-bearers of the anti-slavery crusade in the mid-Nineteenth Century, found their Twentieth Century continuators in the participants in the SWP Convention.

Today’s Freedom Fighters serve and speak for a new rising class – the industrial workers; they consciously blaze the trail for the socialist reconstruction of society; they are tierce guardians of the people’s democratic rights against the tyranny of the rich and privileged. That is why this Convention issued its clarion call for a completely new type of political regime – the Workers and Farmers Government.

The difference betweerj the three capitalist parties and their revolutionary opponents was no less marked in the character of the delegates to the respective conventions.

Holding the center of the stage at the Republican and Democratic conclaves were the corrupt machine politicians, the corporation lawyers, the Big Brass and the whole retinue of office-seekers, wardheelers and grafters. There was not a single true representative of the working people among them. Those who spoke “in the name” of the people were actually their mortal foes, concerned exclusively with exploiting the poor for personal gain and in the interests of the billionaires.

The Wallaceites, who posed as champions of the people against these servants of the monopolists, are no less skilled in the art of false promises. The “New Party” convention was dominated by two types of political procurers: Liberal phrasemongers leashed to capitalism and Stalinist stooges promoting the Kremlin’s foreign policy.

The delegates to the SWP Convention were in their majority members, builders and leaders of unions in basic industries. Incorruptible, virile and dynamic, they were a representative selection of American working men, women and youth, both Negro and white, whose life’s work is to build the political instrument for the liberation of the American people.

The whole contrast between the capitalist conventions and that of the SWP was memorably summarized by James P. Cannon, the Party’s National Secretary, in his keynote speech on “The Two Americas,” broadcast to the country on July 1.

“There are two Americas,” he said. “One is the America of the imperialists – of the little clique of capitalists, landlords, and militarists who are threatening and terrifying the world. This is the America that the people of the world hate and fear.

“There is the other America – the America of the workers and farmers and the ‘little people.’ They constitute the great majority of the people. The)’ do the work of the country. They revere its old democratic traditions; its old record of friendship for the people of other lands, in their struggles against kings and despots; its generous asylum cnce freely granted to the oppressed.

“This is the America which must and will solve the world crisis – by taking power out of the hands of the little clique of exploiters and parasites, and establishing a government of workers and farmers.”

The Work of the Convention

The SWP Convention had a twofold character. It was both a public action and an intra-party gathering. The one launched the first presidential campaign in the twenty years of the American Trotskyist movement. It provided a forum from which the SWP presidential and vice-presidential candidates, Comrades Farrell Dobbs and Grace Carlson, brought over national radio networks the message of socialism to millions of Americans.

The other aspect of the Convention was concentrated upon ways and means of implementing the presidential campaign along with the program and work of the party in the day-to-day struggle in the next immediate period. In this respect, it was a gathering of co-thinkers preoccupied with building a stronger and better party organization.

Despite the limited resources and numerical, strength of the Party, these two distinct political tasks were carried out in the best traditions of Trotskyism. The Convention was a magnificent success.

In its public action and internal deliberations alike, the Convention was true to the spirit of revolutionary Marxism which demands unswerving allegiance to principles and straight-forward answers to all vital problems of the working class.

The radio speeches boldly challenged the capitalist legime with hard-hitting agitation, effectively delivered in the spirit of Bill Haywood, Eugene V. Debs and other pioneers of American Socialism and Communism. The power of these broadcasts is confirmed by hundreds of letters from listeners in every part of the country, asking information about the Party, requesting literature for distribution in their locality, and offering to help in our election campaign.

This stirring start tor the SWP presidential campaign likewise stimulated and inspired the party ranks who had just passed through a painful period of recession in activities. This came as a reflection of the ebb in labor militancy caused in the main by the misleadership and betrayals of the top union bureaucracy, the Social Democrats and the Stalinists.

The SWP aims to transform itself into a party of mass action. Such a party would become the decisive factor in the struggles of the workers and in the political life of the country as a whole. Today, however, the SWP is too small and weak to play such a roie. But, on the other hand, the Party is already so deeply rooted in the key industries and among the Negro people, that it is extremely sensitive to every change in the moods of the masses. The SWP is no sect which is satisfied to eke out a test-lube existence apart from the living mass movement. The Party’s first presidential campaign permits the Party at this stage of its growth to intervene as an important force in national and labor political affairs. Thereby it is enabled to acquire further experience and skill in applying and perfecting the agitation methods of a mass party. The spontaneous response to the Convention broadcasts has shown how much resentment is pent up in the American people against the capitalist rulers and their government in Washington.

In the atmosphere of enthusiasm generated by ihe launching of the presidential campaign, the Convention approached with sobriety and calm resolution the tremendous practical tasks confronting the Party.

Fittingly enough, the first point on the agenda dealt with the world situation and the progress made by the world Trotskyist movement. The Convention saluted the achievements of the Second World Congress of the Fourth International, expressing itself in agreement with the programmatic documents it has issued. (The International and Russian Resolutions of this Congress appeared in the June issue of our magazine; the Colonial Resolution appears elsewhere in this issue.)

Next came the report and discussion on the present position of American capitalism and its war preparations. The American Resolution, which was unanimously adopted, is published in full below.

While a few delegates supported a Minority Report urging the Party to find a way to participate in the Wallace movement, the controversy over the Wallace issue played a subordinate role in the Convention discussions. It was apparent that the SWP’s own election campaign had settled the issue, at least for the year 1948.

There was a rich report and extensive discussion on the trade union question, revolving around the task of building a broad left wing capable of giving new leadership to organized labor.

Next to the presidential campaign speeches, the high point of the Convention was undoubtedly the report and discussion, on the Negro Question. The Negro Resolution was based on the invaluable experiences the Party has gone through in this field during and since World War II. It was further enriched by the contributions of those Negro revolutionists who have come to the fore in the Party leadership. The adoption of this resolution marks the beginning of an internal party discussion on all aspects of the Negro problem.

The theoretical progress of the Party in determining its positions on different aspects of the coming American Revolution can be charted by the major resolutions at its last three Conventions. In 1944, our Party settled its line on the principal issues of world politics; in 1946, it produced the Theses on the Coming American Revolution; now in 1948, it has set forth its position on the Negro Struggle.

In addition to its regular day sessions, the work of the Convention was forwarded by a series of evening panel discussions. These covered the various departments of Party activity in the unions, in the localities, among the Negroes, in relief work, in party literature and propaganda, etc. In the Organizers’ Panel, plans lor expanding Party work among the youth were adopted.

The growing penetration of the Party into the class struggle was expressed graphically by the concentration of these panels not on abstract generalizations but rather on how best to carry out Party policy and tasks in all these fields of practical activity.

In passing, the Convention disposed of the question of unity with the Workers Party which had itself rejected some time ago unification as a realistic proposition.

On the other hand, the Convention signalized the complete integration into our ranks of the former Johnson-Forrest tendency, which had broken with the Shachtmanites a year ago.

The Convention as a whole and, in particular, the launching of the presidential campaign, constitutes a vindication of the confidence of the Party in its future. Here, too, is another vindication of the confidence that Leon Trotsky, our great martyred leader, expressed repeatedly in the future of the American Trotskyist movement.

Revolutionary Optimism

This spirit of revolutionary optimism pervaded the Convention. Our assurance that socialism will eventually be victorious in America reflects the dynamic political strength inherent in the young American working class. No major defeat has ever been suffered by the American workers. Although they are still groping their way toward clear consciousness of their political tasks, they enjoy the incomparable advantage of having no intrenched or fossilized political bureaucracy such as the Social Democracy or Stalinism to break through. There is every possibility that once they break definitively from the capitalist parties they will tend more and more to pass directly into the camp of revolutionary socialism

The revolutionary optimism of the Convention was expressed most strikingly in the resolute determination to bring the message of Trotskyism to the American workers in 1948 on a scale never before attempted by the Party. Through the first presidential campaign of the Socialist Workers Party the Delegates correctly saw an unparalleled opportunity to smash the conspiracy of silence on the part of the capitalist press and the lies and slanders of Stalinism; and to reach the working people throughout our land with the truth about the practical possibility of building socialism here. What is more, the opportunity of striking hammer blows against the war plans of the imperialists through the presidential campaigri raised the morale of the Convention to new heights.

The Convention voted to raise the largest fund in Party history – $25,000 to finance the presidential campaign and strengthen the Party. This means great sacrifices for every Party member. However, the Delegates were confident that the friends and sympathizers of the Socialist Workers Party will respond to the unexampled opportunity before us with enthusiasm equal to theirs and that new friends will be found during the campaign who will do their utmost to see that lack of funds does not stand in the way of bringing the message of revolutionary socialism to the maximum number of people.

We urge all our readers to ask their friends to back the presidential campaign of the Socialist Workers Party by sending contributions to the Dobbs-Carlson Fund, 116 University Place, New York 3, N.Y. Your help can do much toward assuring the success of the Dobbs-Carlson Campaign.

The Thirteenth National Convention marks an important phase in the transition of the Socialist Workers Party from a propaganda group to a party of mass action. After long years of study, training and persevering work the Delegates felt the hour had struck for the first big steps in the Party’s expansion.

After five full days of rich educational sessions, the Delegates set out for their homes and their front-line, local party duties charged with confidence and revolutionary determination. The entire Party, one felt, sizing up the Thirteenth Convention soberly and dialectically, is ready for action, action, and still more action.

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