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The New International, December 1943

From the Theses of the Workers Party:

The Main Political Problem

The Fight for a Labor Party


From The New International, Vol. IX No. 11, December 1943, pp. 329–331.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The working class of the United States faces the gravest responsibilities in its history. Already it is compelled to meet the offensive against its economic standards and its political rights which American capitalism has launched in the very midst of the war. Tomorrow it will be faced with the crisis of the post-war period and the life-and-death problems that the crisis will pose. Powerful though it is, the United States cannot escape the mounting effects of the general decay of world capitalism. All it can hope to accomplish is to delay the appearance of the more malevolent of these effects, but even then only by accelerating their advent in other countries; to mitigate the violence with which they strike the country, but only by increasing the ruinousness of the coming crisis in other lands. Sooner or later, less violently at first or more violently, the fury of the fundamental crisis of decay will nevertheless be felt in the United States. No country today can escape making the basic choice of society – barbarism or socialism. At best, it can postpone the decision.

The development of a new barbarism is most spectacularly visible in the triumph of fascism in Germany and its works, both before and during the war. But this development is inherent not in the mythical “Aryanism” of the Germans, nor in their equally mythical “racial soul,” it is a product of capitalism at a certain stage of its evolution, or rather, or its decline. If the United States is not the very next in order after Germany, it is nevertheless – barring the victory of socialism – somewhere on the list.

The decay of capitalism into a new barbarism simply means an unprecedentedly intensive exploitation and disfranchisement of the working class, mass suffering unknown in modern times, and permanent war interrupted only by short periods of truce. The long-lasting crisis of 1929 and the devastating war that began in 1939 are only harbingers of what decaying capitalism has in store for society.

Labor – Discontented but Unprepared

The American working class, by and large, has lost its confidence in the ability of the ruling class to establish a peaceful, secure, orderly and prosperous regime after the war. It greets all the wordy but hollow “post-war plans” for social and economic stabilization and reconstruction put forward by the defenders of the old order with the skepticism and even cynicism which they merit. However, while its faith in the old has waned considerably, even if not with a fully conscious understanding of the reason for this lack of confidence, the working class in the United States has not yet acquired either understanding of or confidence in a new, or socialist, order.

In a word, the American working class is most inadequately situated at the present time to meet the deepening crisis.

Between its state of economic organization and its state of political organization and class consciousness, there is today a more striking contrast than ever before, and this at a time when the contrast jeopardizes its whole future.

In the trade union field, the American working class is today better and more fully organized than ever in its history, or even in the history of the international working class. There are now almost thirteen million workers organized in the trade union movement. This is not only more than there have ever been, but the type and composition of its organization are most significant and promising than ever before. Not only are almost half the trade unionists in the country organized for the first time on an industrial basis, but they cover industries which were citadels of open-shopism in the past – the basic, key, heavy, mass-production industries. The tone of the labor movement in this country is set today not so much by the “aristocracy of labor,” the highly skilled and highly paid craftsmen, but by the most important and basic sections of the American proletariat.

From the standpoint of organization, and even more important, from the standpoint of militancy and determination to safeguard their economic standards regardless of any other consideration, including demagogical appeals directed to them about the “war for democracy,” the American workers are today undoubtedly the vanguard of the international working class.

On the political field, however, the American working class only brings up the rear. In no important country of the world is labor without a mass party of its own, and even in the countries ruled by reactionary dictatorships there are hundreds of thousands of workers who feel an allegiance to the old working class parties that are now outlawed. The outstanding exception is the United States.

In the United States, the masses continue to follow the political path of bourgeois reformism, exemplified by Roosevel-tian New Dealism. If they look upon it today, in the light of bitter experiences, with reserve and with greater skepticism and even disillusionment, the modifications in their attitude have not yet expressed themselves in a mass movement for a party and a program of their own. The parties that stand openly on the program of revolutionary socialism are still a tiny minority of the working class; the proponents of a Labor Party with a reformist program are not organized and are themselves a small minority; and even such timid steps in the direction of independent political organization as the formation of the American Labor Party in New York represents are not only far, far from adequate but arc still isolated phenomena standing on the platform of the New Deal.

This does not signify that the working class is politically content. In the very nature of the situation in the United States today, where economic and political institutions, economic and political life, are so closely, if not inseparably, intertwined, every important economic struggle of the workers is at the same time a political struggle. Like all other classes, the American proletariat, too, looks more and more to the government in negotiating or solving its economic problems and less and less to the individual employer. The increases of governmental intervention and direct participation in every sphere of economic life, and in social life in general, is calculated to heighten the political consciousness of the American worker to an ever greater extent. The more openly class character of the government’s intervention in economic and social life is calculated to heighten the class consciousness of the American worker.

However, the growth of the class consciousness and independent political organization and activity of the working class is not automatically and arithmetically guaranteed by economic and political activities of the capitalist class or its regime. The political thinking, organizing and action of the American workers must be stimulated and promoted inside the labor movement itself on the basis of both the needs and the experiences of the working class.

The Need for a Labor Party

These experiences and needs make the formation of an independent working class party in the United States the problem of the day that most urgently demands solution. The formation of a Labor Party is the most important forward step that the working class can take today in this country. That makes the struggle for a Labor Party the most important and most urgent political task of the revolutionary vanguard.

The workers today cannot give political leadership to the widespread discontentment of the people today. In the absence of a radically different and progressive working class party the masses have no alternative to Rooseveltism except political indifference or the time-worn American practice of punishing the Democratic incumbent by voting for the Republican aspirant (or vice versa).

The working class will be unable to maintain itself politically, much less rally the masses of the people in general, in the big crisis of tomorrow if it does not have a party of its own with a bold program for the solution of the crisis at the expense of the monopoly-capitalist minority. In the absence of such a party, which offers a progressive alternative to the status quo, the masses of the people, the lower middle classes in town and country, that enormously important section of the people that will be represented by the homecoming war veterans, and even large sections of the working class itself – all these will tend to accept a reactionary alternative and fall victim to the social demagogy of this or that fascist or semi-fascist clique.

Even now, millions hope for, and tomorrow will be ready to fight for, what they vaguely call a “change.” In the post-war crisis, they will number tens of millions. The bourgeois-reformist politicians to whom labor is now attached will seek to maintain, more or less, the status quo – that is, precisely the situation which generated the crisis as well as the demand for a “change.” If labor then tries to maintain the unmaintainable status quo by remaining the tail of a bourgeois political kite, it will easily fall as the victim of those who exploit the popular demand for a “change” for reactionary and anti-working class purposes. If labor puts forward, on the contrary, a bold political program for social reorganization in behalf of all the “little people,” it can crush the reaction and move to the leadership of the country with the support of the masses.

The organization of a Labor Party by the powerful trade union movement would be an immense step forward by the American working class – it declaration of political independence, its most important proclamation hitherto of its separation from capitalist politics and capitalist political parties. However, this step would be vitiated in the long run and the working class doomed to defeat if the program of such a party (and correspondingly, its leadership) were imbued with the reformist conceptions, platforms and practices which have paralyzed the traditional parties of the working class in other countries and brought about such disasters in many. To be effective in the highest degree an independent Labor Party must not take capitalism as its basis and seek to hold its together with repairs at this or that point. It must rather put forward such a program as disregards entirely the interests of capitalism and the class which is its beneficiary, disregards entirely the “sacred right of private property” which is only the right of the monopoly capitalists and imperialists to exploit and oppress the masses, and directs itself exclusively to defending and promoting the class interests of the proletariat and those sections of society who are its allies in the struggle against the monopolists and their reaction.

Against Reformism

The Workers Party, which vigorously and assiduously champions the formation of an independent Labor Party as a great historical advance by the United States working class, is a party of revolutionary socialism and internationalism, and consequently an intransigent opponent of social-reformism in all its varieties. While urging the formation of an independent Labor Party based on the trade unions and democratically controlled by them, it nevertheless counterposes to the adoption or retention of a reformist program and a reformist leadership by such a party the adoption of a militant, bold, working class program of struggle against the capitalist offensive, the capitalist class and capitalism itself, with the aim of raising labor to the position of ruler of the country in a workers’ government. The Workers Party thus distinguishes itself from all other parties and groups in the working class not only by its fundamental program of revolutionary socialism, but also by the program for immediate political action which it advocates for the working class and by the militancy of the struggle it carries on for it.

It is difficult to indicate concretely the prospects for the formation of a Labor Party in the United States or the stages through which it will pass.

The lesser likelihood is that the working class, in breaking with the bourgeois parties and developing their independent political class consciousness, will move directly to affiliation with or support of a revolutionary socialist organization such as the Workers Party. The main task of an organization like the Workers Party is to help develop the class and revolutionary consciousness of the proletariat. At the present time, in this country, the first step in fulfilling this task is to work and fight for independent political organization and action by labor. In advocating the formation of a Labor Party, the Workers Party, far from diminishing its own significance as a consistently revolutionary proletarian organization, can only enhance it, and draw into its own ranks those workers who reach agreement with its program not only in the written word but also in the deed.

It is more likely that the first steps in political and class consciousness will be taken by American labor in forming a Labor Party. At the present time the overwhelming majority of the labor officialdom, its Stalinist wing prominently and viciously among them, is opposed to the formation of a Labor Party and seeks to keep labor tied to the wagon wheels of capitalist politics. The fight for a Labor Party thus becomes at the same time a fight to expose the labor lieutenants of the capitalist class.

It is even possible that the labor leadership will remain stubbornly and stupidly opposed to the formation of a Labor Party even in the turbulent days of crisis ahead, opposed even to the formation of a thoroughly reformist party which is strictly under their control. Their efforts to liquidate or at least to deepen the paralysis of even such a caricature of an independent working class political party as the ALP shows how strong is this possibility.

In such a case, the movement for independent political action would not be stopped cold, but would merely take on different forms. Given the continued opposition to a Labor Party by the trade union bureaucracy, it is possible that such a party would come into existence “from below,” as a result of a powerful political upsurge in the ranks sweeping over the heads of the official leadership, and throwing up a new leadership, at least in part. That is, a development might take place in the political field comparable with the rank and file upsurge that produced the mass unions of the CIO.

However, there is greater reason to believe that the sharpening of class antagonisms in the country will generate enough pressure upon at least a section of the labor bureaucracy to impel it to take the leadership of an independent labor political party lest the movement of the masses “get out of hand.” Such a prospect is not immediately in sight, that is to say, not before the 1944 elections. But the declining ability of the remnants of “New Dealism” to give any serious concessions to labor, or even to the labor officialdom, is a factor that will impel the labor movement, from bottom to top, to seek more radical means of wresting concessions from the government. More radical means can only signify the formation of an independent political party of labor, or at least the first hesitant, timid, half-way steps in that direction, upon the model of the New York ALP, whose leaders are already engaged in initial, if not very bold, attempts to spread their organization to other states.

Danger of “Third Partyism”

Finally, it is possible that the prospects of an independent Labor Party will be thwarted, at least for a time, by the subversion of the movement into a middle class “third party.” This was the case in 1924, when La Follettism absorbed and destroyed the Labor Party movement. However, it should be borne in mind that by 1924 the first big post-war crisis had come to an end and the “prosperity period” was setting in. There is no realistic similar prospect ahead. The United States faces not another “prosperity period” but another crisis in the midst of another world crisis. While the danger of “third partyism” undoubtedly threatens the incipient Labor Party, it has neither the strength nor the prospects it had twenty years ago.

In any case, the revolutionary vanguard cannot and does not content itself with passive contemplation of prospects and possibilities from the sidelines. It is its duty to participate in the struggle and help direct the course of events. To direct them in a forward direction, which means in the general direction of the socialist power of the proletariat, means, concretely, now, in the United States, to concentrate and centralize all political agitation, propaganda and activity around the slogan of a Labor Party and a workers’ government. A Labor Party as a radical break with the parties of capitalism; a workers’ government as a radical break with the rule of capitalism.

That the workers will conceive these two ideas in a reformist manner, that they will think of realizing them by reformist means (that is, without a fundamental and revolutionary assault upon capitalist class rule) – that is the greater probability, above all in the first period of the struggle. Nothing could be more “natural,” for that matter. This concerns the Workers Party only insofar as it means that at each stage of the struggle it must put forward such demands, such a program, such a road, as will help bring the working class and its party into clearer and more conscious conflict with its class enemy, as will help them shed their reformist illusions, as will help them, through their own concrete experiences, understand the need for the final struggle for power and the socialist reorganization of society.

As part of its campaign for a Labor Party, the Workers Party therefore puts forward from the very beginning a minimum program as its proposal for the program that an effective and militant working class party should adopt. Even if, as is most probable, the coming Labor Party does not adopt such a militant program, the Workers Party, while giving full support to all the practical activities of the Labor Party and those who are working to form it and build it, will reserve the right to present its criticism of the program that the Labor Party has adopted and the leadership that represents it, and the right to continue urging upon the party the program which it, the Workers Party, considers suitable and necessary in dealing with the social problems facing the working class.

The Workers Party as a consistent revolutionary socialist organization thus not only maintains the organizational and political independence which are indispensable to its proper and effective functioning, but remains an advanced but inseparable part of the working class movement, distinguished from its other sections only by its uncompromising opposition to capitalism and all its supporters and by its unequivocal support of both the immediate interests of the working class and its socialist future.

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