From New International, Vol.12 No.3, March 1946, pp.93-95.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
(We present for the time first time in these pages an important document from the archives of the Workers Party, dealing with the conflict over party organization that accompanied the 1939-40 dispute on the “Russian Question” in the Socialist Workers Party. The document, entitled Resolution on the Organization and Tasks of the Party, was presented to the 1940 convention of the SWP by the Minority group. It sums up its fight against the bureaucratic conservatism of the Cannon regime and lays the basis for the organizational concepts upon which the Minority organized itself in the Workers Party. The document assumes a contemporary importance today in the light of the new opposition that has emerged in the SWP against the bureaucratic character of that party. – Editors)
The main task of the party in the present period has been and remains to organize and orient itself in such a manner as to enable it to meet most effectively the decisive test of the war. The party, and above all the party leadership, has thus far failed to carry out this task.
The present party leadership revealed a complete failure to respond to the problems created by the outbreak of the war. Although the war has lasted for more than six months, this failure has yet to be overcome. For the proposal to set the party in motion on a new footing, corresponding to the new situation, the leadership substituted the policy of dead calm and indifference which has kept the party in a state of paralysis for half a year. The proposal for a plenum of the National Committee to meet the war situation promptly was resisted for weeks on the most absurd of pretexts. At the plenum and since it was held, not a single serious step has been taken to adjust the outlook and activity of the party to correspond to the war situation. The party press has virtually ignored the Second World War, has given no analysis of it, no analysis worthy of the name of the new Stalinist turn, no analysis of the succession of steps taken in the war by the Soviet Union. It is significant that of all the important radical labor organizations, our party is virtually alone in not having issued a manifesto on the war to this very day. To all intents and purposes, the party continues along its road as if the Second World War had not broken out at all.
This entirely negative reaction to the war crisis has clearly disclosed existence of a party leadership permeated with routinism and conservatism. This spirit is communicated to the ranks with demoralizing effects. It is reflected in the passivity or rather in the haphazard direction and general lack of initiative of the leadership. It is concerned more with the preservation of its authority and with acting as a “court of appeals” over the branches than with launching and carrying through systematically the indicated campaigns of the party. It displays the greatest sensitiveness to healthy criticism from the ranks and little sensitivity to political events. It leaps readily from its state of passivity whenever it is confronted with such criticism.
The painful but all-important process of making the turn from the past of the movement as a propagandist group to a movement seeking to exert growing influence among the masses, is confined to episodic advances in isolated situations and, above all, to resolutions which remain on paper. The Transitional Program, upon every single letter of which the present leadership insisted when it was formally adopted, has been put into effect spasmodically or not at all. The taking of bold steps calculated to speed the party’s intervention in political events, is frowned upon, tendencies in that direction are usually attacked as “ultra-leftist” and “adventurist,” although these are scarcely the most dangerous or widespread tendencies in the party. All the failures and shortcomings of the party are usually attributed to the “objective situation.”
The results have been a condition that is little better than stagnation in the party, which would be worse were it not for the numerical contributions to party membership made by the youth, and a state of constant friction and bad relationships between the members of the party (and especially of the youth), and the party leadership, which resents all serious criticism and resists it with the stubbornness of a petty bureaucracy.
The more serious the criticism of the party leadership, its policy and its regime, the more clearly does it reveal that it is dominated in actuality by a clique which was never elected by the party membership and which has not justified its existence by a separate political platform of its own. Convinced that its permanent domination of the party leadership is for its best interests, and is predestined, regardless of the political or organizational question under discussion at any given time, it consistently pays only a verbal respect to party democracy and readily violates it when it conflicts with its own clique interests.
It is necessary for the party to lay the greatest stress upon this situation, not to the exclusion of or for the purpose of minimizing the importance of other defects and evils, but precisely in order to proceed to their correction. Without eliminating the stranglehold of bureaucratic cliquism which has imposed the present regime upon the party, it is impossible to adopt and carry out correct policies, to improve the composition and functioning of the party, or to remedy any of the other serious shortcomings of the party.
The Second World War, the war danger in the United States, and the struggle against it – these must constitute the central axis around which all our work revolves. The party must be organized and oriented in this spirit, because it must stand out in the eyes of growing numbers as the party of militant struggle against war. It is therefore necessary to proceed along the following lines:
The change in the social composition of the party cannot be achieved by the mere assertion that such a change is needed. It is realizable only by planfully directing every branch, and every member in it, to concentration on the trade unions and other mass organizations, and on the factories. In this respect, the youth movement is our most important single instrument. It is composed of comrades with a relatively high political education who, unlike the youth of the “prosperity” period, are revolutionary-minded, militant and devoted to the cause. Despite the evident difficulties, they must be systematically directed to enter industry, in which they can acquire an experience and training indispensable to their own development and at the same time become the most effective organizers for the movement.
The idea of facing toward the unions and the factories can become – as it has been too often in the past – meaningless without a party activity which would realistically make possible contact with and success in these fields. Party activity in the trade unions means not so much the elaboration of grandiose “trade union policies” and maneuvers with other union groups – we are far too weak as yet to entertain such ambitions – but the popularization of our immediate demands and slogans among the masses of the workers. Chief among these must be, in the coming period, those demands and slogans which are directly related to the war danger which is so keenly and deeply felt by the working masses and the youth. This means the revival and extension of the campaign principle of party activity. It means, above all in the present stage, concentration upon the printing and distribution on a large scale of the simplest and most popular leaflets and cheap pamphlets, each confined to a single slogan expressing and popularizing our program. These must be written and disseminated with an eye toward the industrial workers and be calculated to arouse them to political consciousness and action, and above all to the consciousness that our party is the only militant anti-war organization. If the activity of the party and youth membership, and the columns of our press are organized in this spirit, we shall accomplish more toward rooting the party among the industrial workers than a dozen formal and detailed resolutions on trade union work. This is especially true of the work among the Negroes as a group which, as the most down-trodden and oppressed, must find in the party a consistent champion. The activity of the Negro department has already shown how fruitful this work can be for the party, and the weak support thus far given the department must be greatly increased.
Because of its essentially propagandists past, which has fostered corresponding habits, the party has not developed the practice or technique of recruiting. Hand in hand with a far too high standard of political requirements for membership which has served to limit recruiting possibilities, has gone a low standard of activity requirements for those already in our ranks. The campaign principle of party activity can degenerate into a purely literary effort unless it is integrally coupled with systematic recruiting efforts. These efforts, in turn, would be nullified unless we eliminated from our minds the sectarian rigidity with which we tend to approach the potential recruit, that it, again, the far too high standard of political and theoretical qualifications we set for party membership. The development of the average recruit toward a full-fledged revolutionary position will take place during his membership and activity in the party rather than prior to it. It is not so much the program as it is written down in our fundamental documents that must – or can – attract recruits to the party, but the program as translated in the daily political activity of the party that will accomplish this end. In this sense the campaigns of the party must be recruiting campaigns as well. It is in this sense that the mass actions of the party must be conceived. An attitude of alertness and boldness, of seizing on appropriate occasions, can often make such mass actions possible and fruitful. This was demonstrated during the anti-Coughlin anti-Bund campaign of the party. Such an attitude should not be decried as “baseless in the present objective situation” or as “adventuristic,” but should rather be encouraged.
The most important single section of the movement in this country is our Youth organization. The fact that the party leadership has never paid attention to the problems and development of the youth save, in most recent times, for purposes of factional advantage, is a standing indictment of this leadership. The importance of the Youth organization may be understood not only in the light of its comparatively large membership and the fact that it contributes the overwhelming majority of the party’s new membership, but above all by the fact that it represents the generation that will do the fighting in the war and, therefore, constitute the main reservoir of revolutionary mass strength. The party must devote a hundred times more attention in the future than it has in the past to building and
strengthening the Youth organization. This requires not an ignoring of its mistakes and defects, but, among other reasons, in order to remedy these mistakes and defects, a comradely and serious attitude toward it and its problems. Up to now the party leadership has had a bureaucratic and contemptuous attitude toward the youth, on those occasions when it has bothered to concern itself with the organization. The critical attitude of the youth toward the political and internal problems of the party has been generally healthy and progressive, which is added reason why this attitude should be encouraged instead of rudely denounced and attacked. A party leadership can establish its authority with the youth, and with the movement generally, only by a patient attitude and one which welcomes criticism. This in turn will enormously facilitate its task of educating and training the youth for the revolutionary proletarian movement, its task of correcting the mistakes and straightening the line of the youth.
The course of the present discussion in the party has revealed the need of greatly intensifying the work of revolutionary Marxian education in fundamental principles among the party membership. The educational work of the party has declined noticeably in the past couple of years, which is especially dangerous in view of the newness of many party members and the prospect of gaining still other new members. The ability of the party leadership to base its case to so large an extent upon appeals to prejudice, to “faith,” as well as the injurious effects of the party leadership’s theoretical and political helplessness in dealing with new problems or new manifestations of old problems, would be greatly reduced by planned training of all party and youth members in the basic principles of revolutionary Marxism, including, especially, the question of the nature of the party and its role in the revolution. The discussion has also revealed more clearly the ever-latent danger of the tendency to regard “politics” and political or theoretical discussions as a luxury, particularly as a “luxury” which is counterposed to “practical” work. At bottom, this expresses the tendency to remove the practical, daily activity of the party membership, especially in the mass organizations, from political direction and control, which can only mean in the last analysis from the direction and control of the party. While such a tendency is often understandable, in that it represents a reaction against dilettantism or permanent “discussionism,” it is nevertheless necessary, by combatting the latter, to resist and overcome the tendency referred to. It cannot be resisted, however, by demagogic attacks upon the democratic right, and need, of discussion which only fosters this tendency.
The pressing problems of the party cannot be solved independently of the question of the party leadership and its regime. Rather, the first big and serious step toward solving them can be taken only frankly and fearlessly facing the question of the party regime and by changing this regime.
The passivity, routinism and conservatism of the party regime, its political helplessness which borders on paralysis, is only the other side of its bureaucratism. The party leadership is concerned above all else with its “authority” and “prestige.” It seeks to maintain these primarily by a clique formation which sedulously nurtures the reactionary idea of the Leader cult, presumably on the theory that an outstanding leader is superior to a collective leadership. Leadership is tested not so much and not in the first place by its policies and actions but, in this conception, by the degree of loyalty to the individual leader. Leading committees officially and solemnly installed by the representative institutions and bodies of the party become hollow and decorative and have a function only in so far as they agree with or accept the policies of the clique. In consequence, criticisms of the leadership, regardless of their degree of validity, are fiercely rejected as personal attacks upon the clique, above all, on its leader. A healthy relationship between the party membership and the party leadership is impossible under such conditions. Equally impossible is the normal and healthy elaboration, application, checking and revising of party policy. Under the best conditions, party democracy thus becomes a set of essentially meaningless formulas.
The sound principle of democratic centralism has been perverted in practice into a super-centralism in defense of the party leadership, that is, the clique which dominates it, and anything but centralism in the direction of the daily activity of the party. The best traditions of the revolutionary Marxian movement in this realm, especially the traditions of Lenin, are deified in the name of a “Bolshevism” which is equated with the particular interests and needs of the dominant clique.
The preservation of democratic centralism, of party democracy, requires the free and collective elaboration of party policy by the entire membership and a correspondingly free selection of a collective leadership; and, in turn, complete solidarity and discipline in action once a policy is decided upon. The present party leadership has repeatedly violated the principle of democratic centralism. The auto crisis in the party, for example, revealed the existence of a closed clique actually dominating the party leadership, deciding party policy and organization, and making it clear that the regularly elected leading committee was essentially decorative and formal. The suppression of the point of view of the minority in the present dispute, by excluding it from the regular pre-convention discussion in the columns of The Appeal, and also from the pages of the party’s theoretical organ, is a violation of the best traditions and practices of our movement, representing at bottom a bureaucratic fear of confronting a revolutionary opponent before the militant workers.
It is imperative that the deadly grip of this group, which is a typical clique because of the fact that, apart from the present dispute, it has continued to maintain itself without a separate political platform, be broken in the party, its monopolistic control of the party leadership eliminated, and the regime it has established replaced by a regime of party democracy. Collective leadership in the party is a meaningless phrase in the present concrete circumstances unless these steps are taken.
Above all, these steps are unpostponably urgent in view of the war danger. The war will put the party to decisive tests. Among them will be the test of the leadership’s ability and desire to maintain the utmost loyalty, and the utmost party democracy compatible with war conditions. The party and youth membership must have a greater assurance than it now feels that its leading committees will not abuse their positions and powers and reduce genuine party democracy to an even greater mockery than it is today, in time of peace. The elimination of the dominance of the present clique leadership, or its replacement by the minority faction, is not sufficient. It is necessary to introduce into the leadership fresh elements, primarily genuine proletarians and the most qualified youth; and we must not substitute for genuine industrial workers those who, on the most superficial grounds, try to parade as such merely on the ground that they are part of the “proletarian” faction in the party.
It is necessary, furthermore, to have more specific assurances in the party that discussion in the party, far from being curtailed and looked upon as a “luxury,” will be encouraged in the future. The fact that discussion must always be regulated by the party and its leading committees, must not be used as a pretext for suppressing discussion on the demagogic ground that “there is work to be done.” All party work will be done better and more effectively and correctly if party democracy is jealously maintained. The revolutionary party cannot be a “discussion club,” but neither must it be converted into a Stalinist “monolithic” organization. Only a rich inner life can make possible a fruitful life of activity in mass work. The party must therefore adopt the following rules:
The special technical preparation of the party for war, though decided upon some time ago, has gone the way of most of our decisions, more accurately, it has remained a decision on paper. Regardless of what else is done, the first blows of the war can scatter us all in a hundred directions unless this preparation is actually set on foot. Collectively and individually, from top to bottom, the party and youth membership must be impressed with the key importance of this question, and be given the necessary preliminary training and instructions.
Only if the party is organized and oriented along the lines indicated in this resolution will it be able to pass the test of the war crisis and utilize it to build up the mass revolutionary party of socialism.
Last updated on 1.10.2005