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Socialist Appeal, August-September 1935, Volume 1 No. 5, Pages 1-10
Transcribed and Marked Up by Damon Maxwell in 2009 for the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line.

Notes Of The Month

N.E.C. Has Shown It’s Colors; The Left Wing Must Now Show Its!

The victory of the New York old guard and of the right wing of the Socialist party throughout the country at the meeting of the National Executive Committee held in New York on July 15-14, was a decisive one.

But it is a mistake of the first magnitude to consider the left wing as having been smashed to pieces without any hope of consolidating itself for the future and becoming much stronger than it ever was.

The attitude of all genuine left wingers of the party, of all revolutionary Marxists must be:


Capitulation of N.EC. Does Not Give Party a Chance to Go Forward.

One of the characteristics of a Marxist is to face reality. No illusions, no exaggerations. Consequently we must reject completely the opinion of Comrade Norman Thomas that the agreement between the New York old guard and the majority of the NEC “gives the party a chance to go forward with new energy and new devotion to cons true five work.” We stand on the fundamental basis that the party can not grow and become a factor in the American labor movement under the leadership of the right wing. It may achieve apparent successes by an alliance with the upper layers of the American Federation of Labor bureaucracy; it may achieve some electoral victories by concealing whatever socialism it adheres to, But those victories will be temporary and extremely ephemeral. They will be the “victories” of the Socialist and Communist parties of Germany before Hitler smashed them without any resistance on their part.

Victory for us means the organisation and the training of the working class for a final assault upon capitalist rule and the conquest of power by the workers under the leadership of the revolutionary Socialist party. That can be achieved only by revolutionary Marxists and not by cringing reformists.

Not An Agreement But a Surrender

Not much need be said with reference to the agreement itself. It is not an agreement; it is not a compromise. Those two words generally indicate that in a controversy both sides gain and lose some parts of their demands. Not so in this case! It is a capitulation. The majority of the NEC accepted the terms of the New York old guard. That is the only correct way to characterize the “agreement”. Graciously and magnanimously does Algernon Loe declare, on behalf of the right wing, that what the N.E.C. did cannon be considered a victory or a defeat for any side. Pitifully do some vague and peaceful “militants” point to the fact that the old guard agreed to take back the Yipsels as an indication that something was won for the Militants. The fact is, that the New York old guard remains in power; it has been given the express right to criticize the Declaration of Principles while the same right was not granted to the opponents of the Declaration from the left; above all if has been furnished with one of the most grotesque definitions of Communism which places in its hands the power to expel any members and to refuse admittance to anyone who does not agree with the reformist conception of socialism.

The only thing the old guard did not ask for specifically, namely an order to stop publication of the Socialist Call. The old guard undoubtedly expects to get the that later.

Definition of Communism Indication of Low Intellectual Level

The definition of communism as formulated in the agreement will go down in history as the example of the lowest intellectual level reached by any group in the socialist movement anywhere in the world. Now lower depths of stupidity can be reached. The left wingers can possibly console themselves with the idea that the definition is so utterly stupid that it is meaningless and consequently cannot be used as a basis for expelling anyone. Of course it would be foolish to rely upon the meaninglessness of the definition because that very meaninglessness will be utilized by the right wingers to expel revolutionaries.

According to the majority of the NEC any one is a communist who advocates or practices four things: 1) violent insurrection; 2) dictatorship or abandonment of democracy either as a fact within the party or as an ideal method of achieving Socialism; 3) subjection of the party to a bureaucratic mechanical discipline from abroad such as that imposed by the Third International; 4) the use of deceitful or underground tactics even as a means to a worthy end.

It does not appear whether one has to advocate or practice all of the conditions enumerated above or any one of them. If all, then not even a member of the Communist Party could be excluded from membership in our party. If on the other hand, as is surely the case, any one of the conditions is sufficient to keep one out of the party then there is very slim possibility that any one who disagrees in the least with the reactionary right wing will be permitted to remain in or to join the party. This and this alone explains the reason why the old guard is so satisfied with the “agreement”.

Let us subject the definition to a short analysis. In the first place it must be recognized that there are actually fourteen conditions instead of four, any one of which is sufficient to stamp one as a communist. Either advocacy or practice of any one of those ideas or acts enumerated makes one a communist. Consequently the ideas and acts enumerated must be multiplied by two. And to divide them in detail they are as follows: 1) violent insurrection; 2) dictatorship; 3) abandonment of democracy as a fact within the party; 4) abandonment of democracy as an ideal method of achieving socialism; 5) same as 3 in original; 6) use of deceitful tactics even as a means to a worthy end; 7) use of underground tactic even as a means to a worthy end. Difficult indeed would it be to discover an opponent who would not violate one of the fourteen conditions.

Infantile Ideas of Definition

As for the ideas contained in the definition they are so infantile as to make an analysis almost impossible. The definition mentions practice of violent insurrection. Where and when did the highly intelligent members of the NEC voting for the definition find any, member of the Socialist party practice violent insurrection? And by the way, perhaps the theoreticians who framed the definition would explain to ordinary mortals what the difference is between violent and non-violent insurrection?

That part of the definition dealing with the abandonment of democracy as a fact within the party is applicable to only two categories of persons: one, the Stalinists, and, two, the old guard. Right wing socialists in control of the party have never distinguished themselves for their devotion to democratic procedure within the party. And the old guard members of New York must have smiled cynically when reading this part of the agreement. And as far as abandoning democracy as an ideal method of achieving Socialism is concerned, since we do not live in an ideal capitalist world the question of an ideal method to change an ideal world is really of no vital interest except as the formulation of such an idea reflects upon the intelligence of the formulators.

The idea contained in the fourth clause of the definition easily takes the price for imbecility. To attempt to define a political current in the working class movement by a moral judgment involving deceit or underground tactics is the height of something or other. That part of the definition does not specify whether the end for which the deceitful or underground tactics are to be used is a political end. Under that clause of the definition anyone applying for membership could and should be examined with reference to his moral and ethical concepts involving all human conduct.

To take the above characterization of communism seriously as a political characterization would be almost as stupid as the characterization itself. But to ignore it because of its ridiculousness would be wrong for two reasons. One, because every intelligent member of the party, even though he may not agree with the left wing, must blush with shame at the low intellectual level of the leadership of the party as indicated by the definition. And the second and more important reason, as indicated above, because the definition furnishes the right wing with the necessary excuse for the extirpation of all revolutionary sentiments.


A revolutionary socialist will enter into practical compromises depending upon the strength of the movement he represents, but he must not compromise on principle.

NEC Has no Authority to Lay Down Fundamental Principles

Here it must be stated clearly that the NEC usurped its authority. It had absolutely no right to formulate a fundamental principle for the party. That is the duty and privilege of a convention of the party and not of the NEC. The Detroit Convention adopted a declaration of principles. Every member of the party became obligated to be guided by that declaration and if he did not agree with it he had the right to criticize it and attempt to change it at the next convention. The NEC was elected to carry on the work of the party in accordance with the principles laid down in the declaration. The members of the NEC have no more authority to change the fundamental. principles of the party as formulated by a convention than any rank and file member.

If the declaration of principles needed clarification and definition, the NEC had only a limited right to make such clarification and definition. But it could not alter any of the provisions of the declaration by the subterfuge of definition or clarification. It could not add anything of fundamental importance to that declaration. And the definition of communism attempts to add, even if it does not do so clearly, a fundamental principle which is not included in the declaration.

Under the definition of communism as formulated by the majority of the NEC a member of the party is not permitted to advocate the idea of “dictatorship”. The word “dictatorship” is not mentioned in the declaration of principles but it is nevertheless clearly implied as applicable under certain conditions. Neither the declaration nor any resolution prohibited the advocacy of the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat. It was not within the power of the NEC to do anything which the Detroit convention would have frowned upon.

Dictatorship of Proletariat is Democracy for the Workers

Revolutionary socialists believe that between capitalist society and, socialist society there will be a period when the proletariat supported by the majority of the middle class will control the state apparatus. This will constitute the transition stage in the progress of mankind towards a classless society. During that period the working class under the leadership of a revolutionary Marxist party will take over all the means of production and in general do everything necessary to build the structure of a world socialist society. The working class will not hesitate to suppress all efforts of the expropriated capitalists to regain their power. The working class, organized in such forms as will be best adapted for the task of creating a hew society, will then have real democracy.

Revolutionary socialists use the term “workers’ democracy” or the term “dictatorship of the proletariat” (especially in Europe) or “workers’ government” to designate that transition stage.

It is absolutely out of the question for a revolutionary Marxist to surrender his belief in the necessity of a transitional stage as described in very broad outlines in the preceding paragraphs. That must be repeated and insisted upon frankly and determinedly.

Should anyone be so naive as to raise the question of discipline, the answer is short and decisive that discipline applies to actions and not to beliefs in fundamental principles.

What Is Necessary for the Future

The revolutionary elements within the party cannot of course accept the action of the NEC at its last meeting as final. Contrary to the hopes of the small revolutionary groups outside of the party, the revolutionary elements will not desert the Socialist party but will entrench themselves more firmly and wage an organized struggle against the majority of the NEC.

Not to antagonize the majority of the NEC the militants confined the struggle to New York and would not broaden the struggle on a national scale. Meanwhile the old guard did carry the fight outside of New York and obtained substantial support from people all over the country. The old guard although never capable of showing aggressiveness against the capitalist class showed a good deal of it against the militants and in the end that was an important factor. The majority of the NEC acted as it did because it is composed of people who are essentially with the old guard in principle and because the militants failed to put up a principled struggle throughout the country. The first reason of course, is decisive, and the second subsidiary.

Recognizing this mistake, it is not at all difficult to lay out a program for the mobilization of the revolutionary elements of the party for a struggle to make of the Socialist party a revolutionary instrument. We must organize the revolutionary elements on a national scale: we must formulate a program of revolutionary principles; we must propose activities for the party which will bring the party into contact with the labor movement and not only with the bureaucracy of that movement; we must educate the loft wing and the members in general in the principles of revolutionary socialism.

We must from now on wage a principled fight so that we shall know who can be counted as for us and who against us. This does not mean to follow a sectarian line. We shall make blocs with other elements of the party when it will be necessary but never at the expense of principle.

An organized left wing fighting to make the Socialist party into on instrument for revolution will be the most valuable single factor in the development of the revolutionary movement in this country.

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William Green Breaks Trade Union Unity

There is no principle to which the working class must cling more tenaciously and which revolutionary socialists in particular must fight for more arduously than the unity of the working class in the trade unions. On the political field it is sometimes necessary to split because of differences on fundamental principles. On the political field it is necessary at times to be exclusive. But as far as trade unionism is concerned, all attempts to split the working class because of differences in political or economic beliefs is absolutely destructive to the interests of the working masses. They who do anything to create division amongst the workers in the arena of trade unionism, no matter what their motives are, must be fought most vigorously.

It matters not from whore the threat to trade union unity comes, from right or left. It must be fought. When the Communists followed their splitting policy of dual unionism their success was so insignificant as not to constitute a menace. Fortunately for the workers it was only in one or two industries where the Communists succeeded in building up a functioning union. In all other industries their unions had imposing names with a few Communist functionaries as members.

The miserable failure of the Communist dual union policy led them ultimately to surrender such an insane tactic and once more they are sending their followers into the regular unions. Their policy is still far from a correct one; it is still essentially disruptive. But they have at least formally given up their dual union policy and that is some advance.

Now comes William Green, arch-reactionary, and issues a ukase to the effect that all A F of L unions must expel the Communists or run the risk of having their charters revoked. Green’s order came immediately after the Communist Fur Workers’ Industrial Union had decided to liquidate itself and have its members join the International Fur Workers’ Union, affiliated with the A F of L. In effect Green said that the majority of the organized fur workers cannot join the A F of L. This is splitting with a vengeance.

No one acquainted with Communist tactics in the trade unions can have the least sympathy with them. A readiness to slander everyone who disagrees with them a vicious desire to take advantage of every difficulty in the course of the actual work for the purpose of stirring up hatred against even the most honest leadership, a willingness to unite with the most dishonest elements of the union in order to gain some advantage for themselves, – all these characterize the work of the Communists in the unions.

But those characteristics do not justify expulsion of the Communists as a group. If any one Communist is to be expelled it must be done for his disruptive work, for some flagrant broach of union discipline, in other words for the same reasons that any one who is not a Communist should be expelled. Under no circumstances should Communists as such be expelled.

The attitude of Green, Well and other reactionaries of the AF of L is dangerous to the unity of the working class. Members of the Socialist party active in the trade unions must fight every action tending to destroy the unity of the workers on the trade union field.

*  *  *  *

“Victory” For The Communists

Revolutionary Marxists following the lead of Leon Trotsky, arch-counterrevolutionist, have been contending that to guard the existence of the Soviet Union in the long run it is necessary to extend the proletarian revolution to the most advanced capitalist countries. The Communists following the leadership of Stalin have assumed the attitude that it is sufficient for the Soviet Union to make alliances with imperialist countries and to organize the “friends” of the Soviet Union to shake a weak finger at the hostile capitalists.

It was left for the Communist party of the U.S.A. to show in practice that Stalin, as always, is correct.

An admiral of the United States navy, Yates Stirling Jr. by name, having literary and political ambitions, through the instrumentality of the Hearst press, let the whole world into a dark secret, namely that the Rear Admiral and many others like him look with great suspicion upon the Soviet Union and would be inclined to help Hitler in any war against the country of the Russian workers. Those of us who are slightly acquainted with the writings of Marx and Lenin always assumed that officers of high command in the armed forces of the imperialist countries would almost surely be against the proletarian revolution and against the land of the proletarian revolution.

Without even reading any articles wherein these officers, in all probability through their ghost writers, let the world know that they are thinking about, Marxists assorted that those in the lead of capitalist armies were enemies of the working class and consequently enemies of the Soviet Union. It remained for the Communists to raise a howl of surprise when Admiral Yates put into writing his thoughts and the thoughts of his follow officers.

Either the Marxists were wrong in their assumption or the Communists are not Marxists!

Now of course as everyone knows in the Communist creed it is stated, clearly that words are not enough; that action is necessary and vital. And to be sure the Admiral’s words afforded a splendid issue upon which to mobilize the working class. It was enough to point a surprised finger, at the naval officer and bring before the working masses the conclusive evidence that amongst the high officer? of the armed forces there is anti-Soviet sentiment; the particular officer must be punished so as to teach other officers a needed lesson to keep their anti-Soviet sentiments to themselves.

A campaign was organized and on the front page of the Daily Worker everyday for about a month or so the working class was called upon to send telegrams asking for the removal of the frank Rear Admiral.

We do not know how many telegrams were actually sent and how much profit the telegraph companies made on the campaign. A great number must have been sent to induce Secretary of the Navy Swanson to send a letter to Stirling containing a polite reprimand – not for being hostile to the Soviet Union, but for making public that hostility. Of course the Communists would be satisfied with nothing short of the Rear Admiral’s removal; but the number of telegrams, alas, was not sufficient.

Now then the great lesson! To assure the effective defense of the Soviet Union it is necessary to hire a detective agency to ferret out the true sentiments of the high command, to swamp the officials in charge with telegrams for the removal of the anti-Soviet officers of the army and the navy.

And, by the way, did not the chief bureaucrats of the Communist party of France advocate the removal of the fascist officers of the French army to assure the possibility of the French army being loyal to the Franco-Soviet alliance?

Talk to me not of world revolution! Tell me something about bad officers and about telegrams to remove then and the Soviet Union will be safe!

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Communists Favor Free Speech

An item appeared in the capitalist press of Chicago. Our eyes popped out! It was unbelievable, a vicious slander of the kept press! It dealt with the fight of the priest-politician, the great Coughlin, to obtain Soldier’s Field for the purpose of peddling his hokum to bewildered men and women who are gullible enough to believe that what the great Father says is of some benefit to them. And it also went on to relate how the legal light of the Communist party came in on an intervening petition on behalf of the Communist party praying that Coughlin be allowed to use the meeting place.

Now, alas, those who know the gyrations the Communist party is capable of making should be surprised at nothing the leaders of the C. P. bring forth from their fertile and feverish brains. But it was a little too much to expect that one should without hesitation believe the report in the capitalist press that the Communists were championing the cause of Coughlin. Not until the Daily Worker carried the same news was it possible to accept the truth of the story.

It has been a cardinal principle with all revolutionary Marxists that the revolutionary working class does not fight for freedom in the abstract, for freedom for all classes and all groups in society. A liberal democrat belonging to the American Civil Liberties Union will come out in favor of freedom of speech, of press, of assembly not only for working class groups but for fascists. But for a Marxian revolutionist, the class struggle is the dominant factor in our social system and we must lock at all things including the bourgeois freedoms from the point of view of that struggle. We fight for freedom for the working class because we are convinced that to achieve freedom for that class is to assure freedom for all of society. Freedom for the fascists means slavery for the working class and for everyone else.

We do not mean to indicate that Coughlin is a fascist. It is enough to say that he has a definite anti-working class bias. True, he cannot afford at the present time to make his hostility to radical working class philosophies his main stock in trade. At that he does not try to conceal his hatred for communism and socialism; to gain the confidence of his gullible followers he must at present stress his opposition to the “international bankers”. It is certainly the duty of every radical worker and socialist or communist sympathizer to disillusion Coughlin’s followers. And we are not at all in duty bound to see that Coughlin is granted the right to confuse, bewilder and deceive the masses.

Not that any radical, working class group claiming to base itself on Marxian principles should carry on a campaign for the purpose of preventing Coughlin from obtaining a permit. Were he definitely a fascist this would be a correct tactic but since he is not we need not go to the extreme of trying to prevent his holding a meeting. To fight for the right of free speech for Coughlin is to forget that revolutionary Marxists do not look upon free speech as an abstraction applicable under all circumstances but as an aid in the struggle for a socialist society. We must be for free speech for every working class organization regardless of our disagreement with such an organization simply because it is a working class organization and not because we look upon free speech as a fetish.

More and more does it become clear that the Communists are ready to subordinate considerations of principle to “clever” maneuvers. Obviously there are throe reasons for the actions of the Chicago Communists in petitioning the court to grant Coughlin the right to use Soldiers’ Field. One is the little publicity that would accrue to the Communist party and the Communists pay a great deal of attention to publicity in the capitalist press. A second reason is to show that they believe in real democracy, thinking thus to gain the support of liberal elements. The third and most important reason is their hope to be able to get Soldiers’ Field if the Reverend Father is granted the right to speak there.

We do not know whether the cardinals in New York favored this high strategy but it would not surprise us in the least. When once one leaves the track of revolutionary Marxism in a fundamental principle such as the necessity for international revolution, there is no telling where one will land. And if the Chicago small fry adopted the tactic described above on their own initiative it is evidence of the fact that a system which prevents freedom of criticism except by the one higher up is bound to result in a complete ignorance of revolutionary Marxism.

*  *  *  *

Which Crisis Did You Say?

Shortly after the last meeting of the National Committee of the Socialist party, the Chicago local of the Workers Party announced a mass meeting to discuss “the crisis in the Socialist party”. The “masses” turned out to the number of fourteen, practically all members of the W.P. We have not been able to find out whether the W P members, realistic Marxists that they claim they are, changed the title to “The Crisis in the Workers Party.”

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