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International Socialist Review, Spring 1957


The Editors

We Must Start From Where We Are


From International Socialist Review, Vol.18 No.2, Spring 1957, pp.40-41.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


WE ARE glad to publish Harvey O’Connor’s contribution on the subject of socialist regroupment. A long-time foe of monopoly capitalism and champion of socialist ideas, O’Connor is the author of the well-known work, Empire of Oil. We hope others will follow him in presenting their ideas on what should be done to bring together the genuine socialist forces in America.

In considering the problem of regroupment, the question immediately arises: Where to begin? To us, it seems necessary to begin with what we have, namely, tha existing organizations. The powerful socialist party that we wish to see built cannot be conjured from the atmosphere. It must be constructed by and with the human material now available.

Historical continuity is a consistent feature of the socialist movement everywhere. Each generation of socialist fighters has stood upon the shoulders of its predecessors. How will our youth learn, if not from the older generation – studying both their failures and their triumphs, for the history of the socialist movement from the time of its founders is compounded of both. To us, it seems neither necessary nor desirable to attempt a new start that leaves the past out of account.

O’Connor, on the other hand, would begin by rejecting what he calls the “old sects.” He would do this, apparently, without any regard for the programs they follow. Indeed, it appears that he would not even inquire into the relative merits of the different programs, assuming them all to be bad or inadequate or of no consequence one way or the other, since they are the product of “endless scholastic disputes.”

We believe a good architect does not reject the material at hand because it does not conform to ideal specifications. Since O’Connor rejects the existing organizations, which, we consider to be the only realistic starting point in a socialist regroupment, he is under an obligation to tell us where he would begin. We agree with him wholeheartedly that the new socialist movement will be based on young people. But winning the youth for socialism must be the goal of the new movement. Obviously it cannot be the starting point.

So the question remains: Where to begin? Upon further reflection O’Connor will, we feel sure, find it desirable to define his attitude toward the existing socialist organizations. They are the repositories of that body of experience in socialist struggle upon which the youth must draw; they embrace the builders of the initial structure of the party of victorious American socialism – there are no others.

We must confront another question. Political power is wielded by social classes through political parties. The transference of power from one class to another is not an automatic process. The party of socialism, facing a well-organized capitalist class highly conscious of its interests, must strive to excel the enemy in both organization and conscious will. It cannot, if it is to reach the historic goal, be an amorphous all-inclusive society of undisciplined dabblers, for whom discussion and debate are the highest forms of political activity.

This at once brings up the question of principle, or program. A party with a vague program, or, worse still, no program at all, would be like a soldier without a gun.

How are we to distinguish between the programs now extant, those of the Communist Party, the Social-Democracy and the Trotskyists, unless we compare them carefully ? We think that this comparison is a necessary first step toward regroupment of the forces of revolutionary socialism. We would like O’Connor to take an active part in this process of examination and evaluation. He can do much to help crystallize political ideas.

We must say quite frankly that we cannot agree with O’Connor that the disputes about what should have been done in Russia, etc., were simply “scholastic.” Stalinist policies gave the Soviet Union a totalitarian police state, replete with frame-up trials and executions, mass deportations and slave labor camps, thereby retarding the country’s development and besmirching the good name of socialism. Stalinism in its evil course, aided and abetted by the Social-Democracy, sabotaged the revolutionary struggle for socialism and thereby helped prolong the life of capitalism. Why is it “scholastic” to discuss all this?

Stalinism and Social-Democracy have delivered grievous blows to socialism. But we are not among those who believe that the negative experiences of mankind are a dead loss. People learn from all their experiences, whether positive or negative. In the regroupment of the revolutionary socialist forces in America, we are convinced we shall see a synthesis of both.

O’Connor sees “not too much hope for any early coalescing of existing (socialist) forces, for the disagreements in the past have been too hopeless, strange and bitter to assure any genuine unity now among those who are quarreling about the wrong things.”

More optimistic are we. Out of the present ferment in the radical movement and the coming radicalize tion of the workers we see the emergence of a revolutionary socialist party that will lead the working class in conquering America for the American people.

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