From Fourth International, Vol.14 No.4, July-August 1953, pp.83-88.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
Eisenhower’s election and the defeat of the Democratic-Labor coalition has been the outstanding event of American politics since the National Convention of July 1952. This first Republican victory in 20 years invested direct control of the government in Big Business and High Finance, signified by the cabinet composed of millionaires and one labor lieutenant of capital. It considerably increased the influence of the military caste upon the administration and its policies. It pushed to the forefront of power the most sinister and anti-labor elements in the ruling class, evidenced by Taft’s domination of Congress and McCarthy’s unrestrained witch-hunting activities. Extreme political reaction and unalloyed capitalist conservatism holds sway in the directing circles of the country.
The world has entered into the critical period where the general conditions have ripened to the point where a new world conflict can quickly be precipitated. However, the totality of the factors actually determining the moment of conflict is so complex, so fluid, and so subject to modifications that this critical period may stretch out over some years, without war breaking out, but during which it is possible for war to be unleashed at any time.
It is now necessary to assess the possibilities of war in the next immediate phase of world developments and to steer the party’s course in accord with this appraisal.
The political developments within the United States have been paralleled by the significant changes in the Soviet Union since Stalin’s death. Although neither set of events has yet led to any basic shifts in the world situation, they introduce certain modifications in the relations between the principal powers and in the world relation of class forces that may, for a limited period, vary the tempo of the war drive.
The secret and public diplomatic moves now holding the center of the stage are thus far preliminary and provisional. The Kremlin has intensified the drive for a deal with Washington to gain time for consolidating the new regime, to head off the march toward war, to throw blocks in the path of US imperialism and draw away its partners in Europe and Asia. In the worst event, its “peace offensive” aims to fix the responsibility for war upon the imperialists where it belongs. Mao’s government likewise wants time to develop its economy through respite from shooting war in the Far East. However, it is premature to conclude how far either Moscow or Peking can or will go in making the concessions demanded by Washington.
The Republican administration is being pulled by two contending groups of finance capitalists on war strategy. The Pacific Firsters have been pressing for resuming the Korean War and extending it into China regardless of consequences. The other group, dominant for the moment, prefers to proceed along more cautious and devious lines in solving the major problems of US imperialist policy. As Dulles’ tours indicate, neither group intends to be swerved from the objectives of tightening the encirclement around the Soviet bloc and forwarding the military, economic and diplomatic measures required to implement global war plans and preparations. But there are increasing signs (parleys on the Korean truce, revisions of the military budget, relaxed pressure upon NATO, projected postponement of rearmament target dates, proposed lowering of draft quotas) that the leading policy makers in the White House and Pentagon are reviewing their calculations and considering a tactical readjustment in the pace of the war drive.
A series of international political and domestic factors disposes the administration to consider pausing for a while and to jockey for a better position. Since 1950 Washington has exploited its intervention in Korea to the maximum to further its war strategy and looks upon stepped-up action there as less of an asset and more of a liability. The new developments in the USSR and their repercussions, the setbacks to American power in Korea by the mounting colonial revolution, the undermining of imperialist France in Indo-China and North Africa and of Great Britain in the Middle East, Malaya and Africa, the anti-imperialist upsurge in Latin America, the insecurity of Washington’s Western European allies, the crisis of NATO, the delay in the rearmament of Germany and Japan – all induce Eisenhower and his advisors to reconsider their tactics in the international situation. The uneasiness among the American population over the Korean War and the growing financial difficulties imposed by the militarization program (the inescapable Federal deficit, higher interest rates, continuing inflation, the weakness of the dollar) operate in the same direction.
The early May speeches of Churchill and Attlee show how hard the Western European partners and Asian countries are pressing, the administration to agree to negotiations with the Kremlin. This pressure cannot be arbitrarily brushed aside unless Washington is ready to risk heading into war without the acquiescence of its allies.
The administration would view any negotiations or agreements as tactical maneuvers. Without altering its plans of world conquest or military preparations, it could utilize the breathing spell to improve its positions at home and abroad for the inescapable showdown while deluding public opinion that Wall Street’s government is actuated by “peaceful” intentions and the menace of war really comes from Moscow’s refusal to be reasonable or from Peking’s “aggressive” moves.
Instead of extending the conflict in the Far East and marching straight toward all-out war, as demanded by the Pacific Firsters, Eisenhower could take advantage of a slight delay for a detour to arrive at the same end. The President’s hard core of provocative demands in his foreign policy response to Moscow and Dulles’ tough talk are aimed to set the stage for squeezing the maximum concessions from the Kremlin and Peking under threat of total war against the Soviet bloc. If this incipient deal should fall through, that failure could be held up as added and conclusive evidence that it is unprofitable and futile to “appease” Moscow and that it is imperative to go full speed ahead. On the other hand, if sizeable concessions can be extracted, these can help fortify American positions on the international arena and become springboards for the aggressive moves in view at the next and very near stage. The duration of such an interlude could be used to cinch up on military preparations, extend bases in Western Europe and Japan, and try to beat back the anti-imperialist movements in the Far East, Middle East, Africa and Latin America.
A limited shakedown in American economy could simultaneously be used to try to weaken and housebreak the labor movement.
For these reasons a partial and temporary agreement between Western imperialism and the Soviet bureaucracy on certain disputed issues is not excluded. This could terminate the shooting war in Korea and ease the strain in other places (Austria). But it would not put an end to the cold war or eliminate the danger of world war. Such an interlude would be fragile in its foundations, highly unstable and short-lived.
It could be upset – and even prevented – by the threat of a major depression in American economy, by the sudden and serious weakening of capitalist powers and positions in Western Europe, or by renewed outbreaks of the revolution in the colonies or elsewhere. Even if Washington and the Kremlin should come to terms, neither has control over the operations of world economy or the unfolding of the world revolution. Either of these processes, aggravated in the extreme in this epoch of imperialist death agony, can intervene with explosive force to wreck the diplomatic calculations of the American imperialists and Soviet bureaucrats and suddenly place before them the necessity for new decisions.
In the event that no truce is concluded in Korea, and negotiations on other questions collapse, this turn of affairs could lead to the resumption of hostilities in Korea and the spread of war in the Far East, which could touch off World War III.
The primary task of the party in the light of these events is to expose the real aims of Washington’s diplomatic dealings and warn that at best they would do no more than temporarily postpone the projected assault upon the Soviet bloc. They would not end the aggressions of imperialist policy at home or abroad, or the counterrevolutionary activities of the Republican administration. The American people must put no trust in the peaceful pretenses of official propaganda. In addition to the slogans already popularized, the demand should be raised to do away with all secret diplomacy. The party should demand that the American people themselves have the right to make the decisions on the issues of peace and war.
The Republican victory has broken the political coalition between the White House and labor’s officialdom which existed under Roosevelt and Truman and has modified relations between the administration and the union movement. Under the Democrats the union officialdom relied upon influencing the White House in their favor in return for delivering the vote and blocking independent political action.
The brazen plundering of the country’s resources and gouging of the working people by the profiteers and landlords has reached unprecedented proportions under the new Republican administration. This forces the union officialdom into a more critical attitude on domestic issues which directly affect their interests and organizations.
At the same time, suspicion of the Big Businessmen and Brass Hats in the Administration helps create a more receptive audience in the union ranks for criticisms of Washington’s policies and suggestions for a new political course for American labor.
Underneath the surface passivity of the labor organizations run currents of restlessness which now and then spurt forth in department stoppages and spasmodic strikes. The man-hours lost through strikes last year was the largest since 1946. This is paralleled by increased questioning among the workers of the consequences of official foreign policy and the political role of American labor. These are significant symptoms.
However, the continuance of the arms boom, full employment, minor concessions by the corporations, the strait-jacket of the bureaucracy, have prevented any wide and deep-going strike struggles except for the steel and coal strikes over the past period. Despite accumulated grievances, no significant change has occurred in the situation of the workers, as analyzed in the last Political Resolution. A basic change can come about only with a worsening in the material conditions of the masses.
Neither the administration nor its labor agents would ease their respective witch-hunts in the slightest in case of a partial deal with the Kremlin. But the consequences of altering the rate of the militarization program and the conclusion of a truce in Korea could modify the prevailing relations between Big Business and organized labor. A slackening in production, with consequent unemployment, would lead to a worsening in the economic outlook and living conditions of the workers. The elimination of overtime and the difficulties in getting two jobs would pinch the budgets of many families burdened with installment or mortgage payments. Even a minor shakedown would permit the employers, sure of support from government agencies, to take the offensive against the unions, tighten the screws upon the personnel in factories and offices, further hack away at union conditions and organizations and increase the speed-up. The monopolists will seize the chance to try to pound the powerful labor movement into submissiveness and regiment it still more for the next phases of their war-drive.
These provocations would arouse anger and protest among the workers. Despite a disadvantageous economic situation and the handicaps of their leadership, a growing spirit of resentment and resistance to the aggressions of the employers could erupt in sporadic strikes and wild-cat actions.
A major shift in the economic situation would have to intervene before any drastic shake-up in the relations between the capitalists and organized labor would develop and before the mass of workers could begin to pass over from their present relative quiescence to large-scale class action and fierce social struggles. But the relaxation of war tension, coupled with Republican reaction spearheaded by McCarthyism and punctuated by Big Business attacks on labor, can shake the relative stability of class forces and give rise to a conjunctural sharpening of the class struggle. How deeply this would go and how long it would last would depend on unforeseeable circumstances.
The notion that little if anything effective can be accomplished in action by the militants in the union movement until a general war has run a considerable course, is false in perspective and practice. The transition of the workers to a more energetic state will be the result of prolonged molecular processes. Even small signs of a shift in their moods and actions must be noted and their first expressions grasped if the militants of the vanguard are to fulfill their role as a ferment in the process of radicalization.
Without plunging into any ill-considered or reckless moves, party members and sympathizers must remain alert to changes in the moods and movements of their shopmates and be ready to work with them as they rise up to defend their conditions. They should look for openings to bring forward the ideas and proposals of the transitional program as a guide to the activity of the militants and thereby extend the influence of the party and its program.
It would be wrong and unwarranted to overlook opportunities of this kind and permit them to pass by without intervention on the ground that they will not decisively alter the over-all situation. Even if the war drive should be stepped up and the war advances rapidly, cutting across a sharpening of the class struggle, and suppressing for a while its manifestations, such efforts would be justified. They preserve the working class from demoralization and despair, strengthen the militants in the eyes of the union ranks, help them cope with repressions and victimizations and win supporters for our movement.
The Theses on the Coming American Revolution, adopted in 1946, govern the broad course of the party m the historical unfolding of the struggle for socialism in this country. The work of the membership in the next period should be conducted in accord with the main line of orientation laid down in the political resolution of the 15th National Convention. Anything at variance with this revolutionary orientation must be rejected. All the specific tasks indicated are designed to implement our course of continuing to build an independent revolutionary party rooted in the mainstream of the organized working class.
For the coming months there is no single task within the frame work of our major orientation like the national election campaign in 1952, upon which our forces are to be concentrated and to which others are to be subordinated. The party has to engage in a general rounded program of activities suited to available forces and resources. The most important are the following:
The Labor Party provides the most general formula for our efforts to advance the politicalization of the union militants. For the time being our work around this issue is largely confined to education, propaganda and agitation. There are now few signs of organized moves in the direction of the Labor Party in the mass organizations. But the ranks manifest a willingness to listen to arguments for independent political action which must be cultivated. Regardless of the low ebb in the Labor Party movement, the party must persevere in its preparatory work in the CIO-PAC, the AFL-LLPE and unions and watch for occasions to hammer home the urgent need for the Labor Party in the press, unions, and mass organizations.
Possibilities for fruitful trade union work are present even under adverse conditions. But the type and scope of union activities necessarily vary according to objective circumstances. Participation of the comrades in union actions is almost wholly – and rightly – confined at present to issues which remain within the framework of official policy and do not. bring them into direct conflict with local and international officials.
However, it is possible, and advisable, within these restrictions to carry on certain types of work: to circulate the paper, fight shop grievances, oppose the witch-hunters, improve their own political education, contact the best militants and recruit them into the party. Through a judicious use of appropriate slogans from the Transitional Program it is possible to raise and help generalize the thinking of workers and guide their development. To carry out this union work it is imperative to improve the coordination of union fractions nationally and locally. Both have been extremely lax in the past period. Rectification of this will help increase the effectiveness of the fractions.
The party must take note of two important aspects of the union movement.
- The presence of two different strata among the workers. One comprises the older, better-paid, more skilled and privileged, with lengthy seniority, who tend to be conservatized, more tired, less mobile. The other embraces the younger, poorer-paid, less skilled, without much seniority or stake in the job, harder-driven and discriminated against. These underprivileged layers, often including ex-GIs, women, Negroes, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and other minorities, are less conservatized and likely to be more impatient, vigorous and combative. We must consciously direct attention to these fresh elements and base our work more and more upon them because they are the best material and will be the main driving force in the formation of any emerging left-wing.
- The Negro workers play a twofold role inside the union, and between the Negro community and organized labor. Their struggles against discrimination on the job, just in themselves, can also serve to heighten the consciousness and militancy of the white workers and in some cases push the union bureaucrats into action. The colored workers also transmit class militancy and radical ideas to their own Negro community. These considerations urge that particular attention be paid to the struggles and demands of the Negro worker. Wherever the union is officially on record to fight discrimination, the militants must keep this from remaining a dead letter and try to realize it side by side with the Negro members.
The party’s attitude toward the NAACP as the predominant national organization of the Negro people is to support it, help build it, function within it, make it a better agency of struggle for Negro rights. This long-range work must be carried on with the same patience and persistence as union work, despite the undeniable difficulties imposed by its petty-bourgeois leadership and many other shortcomings of the organization. Efforts should be exerted to link the unions more closely with the NAACP and interest Negro unionists in becoming members and activists in the local organization, as the nucleus of its progressive wing and sympathizers with our ideas.
In addition to engaging in local movements on Negro grievances, local initiative can be taken on burning national issues, such as Los Angeles exercised in the Moore bombings, and Buffalo on the Willie McGee case.
Special attention should be given to holding classes for Negro contacts; to the Marxist education of our Negro cadres and to acquainting party members and sympathizers with the socialist approach to the history, struggles and problems of the Negro people.
Particular heed must be given to the special needs and problems of young workers in industries, offices and neighborhoods in order to attract them to our movement.
Activities on the campus should stress
- taking party campaigns to the students in local and national flections such as in the Dobbs-Weiss campaign and defense cases like the Kutcher, Trucks Law and Illinois 1030 fights,
- entering campus protest movements against the witch-hunters to protect academic freedom,
- where feasible, forming groups or clubs to educate the student youth in socialist ideas.
Agitation for child’s care and recreational centers and for better school facilities offers one of the best approaches at present to the general field of struggle for women’s rights.
In the shops the union membership can be mobilized to demand equal pay for equal work, uniform upgrading and the abolition of discrimination against women workers.
The intensification of the witch-hunt which intimidates so many likewise engenders opposition in widening circles menaced by McCarthyism. This provides a broader basis for organizing resistance to the witch-hunters. Our party has never failed to support any struggles against encroachments on democratic rights or in defense of the victims of reactionary attack, from the Stalinists in the Smith Act and Rosenberg cases to the Quakers and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
On its own behalf the party has carefully selected those issues and cases to fight back on which had the widest appeal and promised to rally the widest support. It has been practically impossible and politically undesirable to openly contest every act of victimization. At the same time, wherever the basic rights and legality of the party were threatened by federal, state or local legislation and effective forces could be mobilized, the party has accepted the challenge, as in the Seattle ballot case, the attempt to rule the SWP off the ballot in New York, the Illinois petition law 1030, and above all the Trucks Law in Michigan and the Devine Bill in Ohio.
This series of actions springs from our determination to fight the witch-hunters for the utmost freedom of functioning under the given conditions. The party is resolved not to yield an inch more to the reaction than is necessary or compulsory. The revolutionary vanguard has the duty to contend for the broadest scope for its political work, submitting to restriction and repression only against overwhelming odds and irresistible force, and returning to the open field as quickly as changed circumstances permit.
The principled character of our policy in defending all victims of reaction, and the vigor of our defense work has enlisted broad labor and liberal support, exposed the Stalinists by contrast, and made the witch-hunters a bit more cautious in applying measures of repression against our party.
The fight for legality is closely bound up with our general activities as a political party. Participation in election campaigns is one of the best and most effective ways of establishing and safeguarding the right to function as a legal organization. The Plenum categorically rejects any tendency to retreat or retire from the electoral field under present conditions. Through such activities the party demonstrates that it is not a sect or a propaganda group but is striving to fulfill its role as guide and leader in the living mass movement. The courageous challenge to the witch-hunters on the electoral field as elsewhere attracts new forces toward a party which demonstrates that it is not cowed by the onset of reaction.
The 1952 Convention resolution states that, while it is necessary and important to carry on activity among opponent organizations, such work must be strictly subordinated to our main work in unions and mass organizations, not only in words but in practice. The party favors opponents work in Stalinized movements wherever investigation ascertains that this promises fruitful results and is not at the expense of our major line of endeavor. Naturally, those comrades working within such organizations must adapt themselves to the tasks in hand. But it is impermissible for the party press or its representatives to adopt a conciliatory attitude toward the Communist Party or to any other alien political tendency.
Wherever we encounter the Stalinists in our work in the mass movement, our task is to challenge this rival and combat their ideas and influence as part of the contest for leadership of the radicalized elements. This is the more imperative in view of the latest rightward turn of the CP toward entry into the Democratic Party, supporting Democrats and liberal capitalist politicians, nestling closer to the trade union bureaucracy, and opposing in practice the real preparations for a Labor Party. This latest turn of the American CP is another link in a long chain of class betrayals.
Moreover, our opponents work encompasses a broader field than Stalinist circles alone. Wherever new formations mobilizing significant mass opposition to capitalist reaction and heading in a progressive direction, start to crystallize, as around the ADA in New Jersey, the situation should be probed for possibilities of conducting fruitful work among them.
The experiences of the last three campaigns (the Presidential, the Los Angeles and Oakland municipal elections) indicate the pattern for the party’s electoral work in the present period. The party rejects the concept that election campaigns are to be run only under exceptional conditions as incidental activities. The party has a more positive attitude on this question. It seeks to enter elections wherever conditions are not prohibitive. The Los Angeles and Oakland campaigns conformed in all respects to these requirements and demonstrated what can be accomplished today. They showed that good results may be expected in return for the energy expended.
The aims of our electoral work are not primarily to amass votes, but to reach the maximum audience with our ideas, catch their attention through the slogans of the Transitional Program and our anti-war agitation, interest new people in socialism, and thereby develop a pool of supporters from which contacts can be drawn and recruits made in follow-up activity.
Election campaigns reinforce and supplement other types of mass work. They bring the message of the party . into the unions through our candidates and help comrades in the shops who cannot otherwise openly identify themselves to refer their shopmates to the broadcasts and literature of the party as a basis for discussion. Election campaigns stimulate and elevate the political life of the branch, keep the party in closer touch with the sentiments of the people, and out in the arena of political life.
The prospective supporters of our movement have not been assembled in any single place or under any one banner, but are scattered throughout the mass, and can only be reached through precisely such means. The party’s main efforts must therefore be directed not toward propagandizing in the relatively restricted politically advanced circles, but to addressing unionized workers, Negroes and other critical-minded but politically unattached elements, with our agitation on the immediate issues of greatest concern to them, linking these up with the transitional demands and our socialist views on the problems posed by the war, witch-hunt, capitalist rule, the colonial revolutions, etc.
As the voice of socialism and principal organizer of the party, the circulation of the press must be the constant concern of the branches and not be permitted to lapse into routinism. The campaigns in the past few years have shown that circulation can be maintained and new circles of readers penetrated if this work is efficiently organized. With proper planning and direction sub campaigns can be morale builders for the branches.
The experience of numerous branches has demonstrated the value of holding regular forums on the big issues of the day.
Internal educational work should center around basic training classes for new and prospective members, classes on the Transitional Program and its application to current problems, on the basic documents of our movement, on Marxist theory, and the history of the party.
Next October will mark the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Trotskyist movement in the United States. It also coincides with the 50th anniversary of the birth of Bolshevism in 1903. Through the person of Trotsky and the Left Opposition in the Russian Communist Party an unbroken line of continuity links the beginnings of Bolshevism in Czarist Russia with American Bolshevism represented by the Socialist Workers Party.
The party should fittingly celebrate this occasion with an extensive program of public and internal activities under the supervision and direction of the Political Committee. These should be designed to inspire and inform sympathizers, contacts and members about the meaning of our prolonged fight for revolutionary socialism in the citadel of world capitalism.
The following activities are recommended to the Political Committee as part of this program:
- A 25th Anniversary Fund to be raised apart from the regular budget and ear-marked for special projects as follows:
- The holding of the Fourth Session of the Trotsky School.
- Publication in pamphlet form of the six Los Angeles lectures on America’s Road to Socialism, by James P. Cannon, and other pamphlets on the history of the SWP and the significance of its struggles.
- The sustaining and improvement of the magazine.
- Pamphlets on the CIO, the Labor Party and the Negro question.
- A special anniversary issue of the magazine and a sustained serves of articles in the paper.
- National tours and anniversary banquets.
- The Trotsky memorial meetings held in August should be linked up with the coming 25th anniversary of the party.
Last updated on: 29 March 2009