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Socialist Appeal, January-February 1936, Volume 2 No. 3, Pages 1-2 and 8
Transcribed and Marked Up by Damon Maxwell in 2009 for the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line.

From Our Viewpoint

Old Guard Determined To split Party on National Scale

THE refusal of the old guard to accept the compromise decision of the National Executive Committee promises to bring to a head the struggle between the old guard and the Militants and to solve the problem of that struggle once and for all. With an intransigence worthy of a better cause the old guard refuses to give in one inch and openly proceeds to prepare a national split in the Socialist party. “We have just begun to fight,” screams the New Leader. Very well! The left wing must be prepared to finish it.

It should now be clear even to the meekest and most fearful of the party members that the old guard is determined to have its way or split and attempt to ruin the party. To those who would make a fetish of democracy and unity it should be evident that the old guard wants neither democracy nor unity. It wants to rule the party in its own way and nothing less. The decisive manner in which it rejected the compromise of the N.E.C. proves that beyond question.

That compromise is not one which can be approved by a revolutionary Socialist. The only possible reason why the N.E.C. was justified in arriving at such a compromise was the certainty that the New York old guard leadership would reject it. Otherwise it would have been a dangerous thing to do as it would have left the situation just where it was without having settled anything at all.

The difference between the left wing and the old guard comes to the surface with reference to their attitude on the N.E.C. decision. The left wing disapproves of it hut a? a disciplined group accepts it; the old guard scornfully rejects it. The question as to which group is more loyal to the party has been answered conclusively.

* * *

It has been plain to many for quite some time that conditions in the Socialist party in New York were driving towards a split. The old guard composed of men who tenaciously clung to a theory of socialism which brought nothing hut disaster to the working class of Europe saw younger elements appearing on the scene, elements who were unwilling to swallow the kind of socialism taught by Oneal. Lee and Waldman. Most of these younger elements came into the party at a time when the depression was destroying the entire base for the reformist movement. In addition to the effect of the crisis in capitalist economy the victory of fascism in Germany shook the very foundation of social democracy. The result was the rise of an opposition to the old guard, an opposition which challenged the theories and the policies of those who were openly declaring that the German Social Democracy was one hundred, percent correct in all its miserable policies which led inevitably to the destruction of the working class movement.

A peculiar combination of all anti-old guard elements in the Socialist party destroyed the hold which the New York standpatters had on the national organization. This occurred at the Detroit convention of the party. In spite of, the fact that the anti-old guard combination, had elements which were in complete theoretical agreement with the New York social democrats, n declaration of principles was adopted at that convention which represented the first hesitating step away from the worship of bourgeois democracy as a cure-all for the ills of society.

It was a grim and ominous portent for the old guard. The handwriting on the wall was clearly visible. A fight to the finish was determined upon. The New York leadership organized a bitter struggle against the declaration of principles characterizing that rather innocent document as “communistic.” That struggle failed. The old guard then proceeded to carry on a guerrilla warfare both against the anti-old guard majority on the National Executive Committee and more especially against the Militants of New York.

The publication of the Socialist Call by the Militants and the success of that venture showed that the opposition forces had real strength. There arose the possibility that the old guard would lose organizational control in New York just as it had lost it nationally. Under these circumstances the great believers in democracy began to crush democracy in the party. Under the threat of a national split in the party a majority of the N.E.C. actually entered into a “peace pact” with the old guard, an agreement which the Militants correctly rejected because they were not a party to the agreement and because it gave the old guard practically everything it wanted.

* * *

But no agreement could bring peace into the party. The old guard refused to grant the minority freedom to advocate its views and used the “peace pact” as a justification for its arbitrary acts. Enraged at the failure of the NEC, at. its meeting in October, to forbid the Thomas-Browder debate arranged by the Socialist Call the old guard determined to clean out the Militants und passed a motion to reorganize Local New York.

That of course meant that the old guard was determined to get rid of the Militants through splitting the party. The left wing dared not refuse to accept the challenge. The refusal by the old guard to reconsider the motion for reorganizing the local was accepted by the Militants as an indication of the determination of the old guard to split the party and the Militants thereupon walked out and proceeded to organize the Socialist party of New York free from the crushing domination of the old guard.

What else could they have done? Wailed for the axe of the rid guard to descend upon their heads? Capitulate to the old guard? It would have amounted to a betrayal of the socialist movement. Unity is an idea which appeals to all of us but there are times when principles are above unity and in order ultimately to achieve real unity of the revolutionary proletariat it is essential to split. In this case the Militants however can justifiably claim that the split was precipitated by the old guard and that they acted in the defense of the Socialist party. And the failure of the old guard up to the present to get any favorable response through the general membership outside of New York is proof positive that the membership considers the old guard as the splitters.

The action of the Militants in holding an emergency conference at Utica and in transforming the conference into an emergency convention shows a highly realistic attitude to the whole situation. The Militants proceeded on the correct supposition that no compromise was possible or desirable. Anew set up in New York was essential. A party without the old guard had to be and was created.

* * *

The New York Militants had all the right in the world to expect that the new state committee elected at the Utica convention would be given recognition by the N.E.C. The action of the old guard in attempting to expel the Militants was a slap in the face of the N.E.C. and those about to be expelled represented the living forces of the party. The interest of the party as well as the interests of the Militant faction cried aloud for decisive action by the N.E.C. But the majority of the N.E.C. in order to placate two members of the N.E.C. compromised on the basis simply of suspending instead of revoking the New York charter and of ordering a new registration and election instead of recognizing the new state committee. We repeat; that decision had only one possible justification – the certainty that the old guard would reject it.

With the rejection of the compromise by the old guard the situation remains practically as if the state committee, elected at Utica. had been recognized. In rejecting the compromise the old guard and their followers have read themselves out of the party in New York. The old guard is calling an eastern conference in preparation for a national split. The N.E.C. is obliged to take drastic action against those who attend that conference. The N.E.C. is obligated to do everything in its power to isolate all the old guard followers BEFORE THE PARTY CONVENTION. The convention should be made not a splitting convention but a convention where vital problems facing the socialist movement especially during a presidential campaign should be discussed and solved.

A group has a right to appeal to a convention of the party for a final decision on any grievance it may have but on condition that it abides by the decision of the N.E.C. up to the time of the convention. By openly proclaiming its defiance of the N.E.C. and its readiness to split the party the old guard has forfeited that right.

* * *

The old guard boasts of the fact that it has a majority oŁ the New York membership behind it. Figures are produced to prove that the “bolters” consist of a small minority of the membership. This is shown by indicating what the dues paying membership is and the number of those who voted for the Militants. Assuming the correctness of the figures published in the New-Leader it is obvious that the old guard at the very best is left with a dues-paying membership, in the foreign federations. All the active members have left and joined the Militant. New York Local. A decisive majority of the upstate locals were represented at the Utica conference. No revolutionary Socialist should for a moment begrudge the old guard its “majority” of dues-paying members. The question of majority and minority is not at all decisive in this case. It is fundamentally a question as to which group has the members who will make a living, functioning organization out of the party. And no one need doubt that all the life and activity is concentrated in the Militant group.

* * *

Let us assume that because of the refusal of the old guard to accept the N.E.C. decision there will be to all intents and purposes a new Socialist party in New York. It may be premature to discuss such a problem but due to the fact that the Appeal cannot come out as frequently as intended a few general remarks are not out of place. To a revolutionary Socialist the character of the new party is an exceedingly important question.

We are here faced with the glaring fact that at the Utica convention no theoretical problems were raised and no resolutions were passed to indicate what the new party would stand for. The obviously conscious attempt to refrain from raising theoretical questions can perhaps be justified by the claim that it would be incorrect tactically to raise any questions which might possibly have brought division at such a crucial moment. Nevertheless we must draw the necessary conclusion from that very fact. And the conclusion is that the Utica convention was composed of a heterogeneous group representing the crassest reformism and all shades of left socialism, with the dominant majority of a distinct centrist character.


A United Defense Organization

SO LONG as members of the Socialist party did not participate actively in the various struggles of the workers there were very few party members or sympathizers arrested; so long as there were infrequent arrests the need for a defense organization was not felt amongst party members. Before the question of a Socialist defense organization could be raised it was necessary that Socialists and sympathizers feel the lash of the master’s whip. No sooner did members of the party become active in the class struggle than some of them experienced the “hospitality” of capitalist jails and the question of creating an organization to defend those caught in the net of capitalist justice came upon the order of the day.

The arrest of Hapgood and two other Socialist party members in Terre Haute while helping striking workers against the terror of martial law created a very dramatic issue and a great opportunity for our party to build a defense organization. The opportunity was taken advantage of to some extent but it was far from having been exploited to the fullest extent possible. That this is so is evident from the fact that at the present moment all that we have is a name, a secretary and an address. These things are not to be sneered at. They are important but they are not sufficient.

What was the reason why practically no organizational results followed from such an important case as the Terre Haute case? Fundamentally because the case was actually given over to reactionary labor leaders of Indiana. No real attempt was made to organize the Labor and Socialist Defense as an independent organization which would handle the Terre Haute cases. So much effort was made not to antagonize the labor leaders that the result was that the labor leaders used the Socialist and Labor Defense when they were in need of it and afterward simply threw it overboard.

In Terre Haute there is not a remnant of the Labor and Socialist Defense. Who can deny that? The fact that proves it beyond any possibility of contradiction is that Hugo Rasmussen, a member of the party and the leader of the Indiana workers’ Alliance, was in jail sixteen days in Terre Haute without any publicity on the case and with practically nothing done about it. It is the fault of no one in particular. It is due to the fact that no independent organization existed which would immediately take the responsibility of handling the matter and as a result another case which could have been used to build up the defense organization was muffed.

Let the comrades learn a valuable lesson; when there is a case to be defended the party members with close sympathizers must organize their own forces and ask the labor movement to help. Do not permit the big labor leaders to assume control The organization will be killed if you do.

* * *

At the present moment however the task is not only for the Socialist party to build its own defense organization but also to take the initiative in creating a united defense body for the purpose of defending all victims of capitalist class justice regardless of religion, color or political beliefs. This can best be done on the basis of existing defense organizations.

There are at present four defense organizations: the International Labor Defense which is controlled by the Communist party; the General Defense controlled by the Industrial Workers of the World; the Non Partisan Labor Defense under the domination of the Workers’ party and the Labor and Socialist Defense controlled by the Socialist party. The above organizations have the support of various labor unions. In addition we have numerous united front committees taking care of individual cases. The duplication is tremendous. Money and effort are wasted. Unity is demanded by the situation. Julius Hochman, one of the leaders of the International Ladies Garment Workers, at a recent meeting held in New York for Angelo Herndon, boldly raised the question of one defense body. His proposal found a favorable response in many quarters.

There is only one realistic approach to the problem of creating a unified defense organization. It must be on the basis of a combination of a membership organization with united front controlling committees. At the present stage a membership organization, with control by the membership of all leading committees, will mean the use of the organization as a political football and its inevitable breakup. Simply an organization with united front committees without any membership branches will mean an ineffective organization as far as mobilizing the masses is concerned. A combination of the two is the only solution at the present time.

In practice this will mean that leading committees be established in important centers composed of representatives, in equal number, of all four defense organizations with prominent labor leaders to serve on the national and local committees. The members constituting the organization will be willing to follow the leading committees because those committees will actually represent all the currents in the labor movement. When and if rivalries and factionalism will disappear the membership can be given the full power to elect the leading committees.

With the disappearance of the “Third Period” madness of the Communists, the question of program will not be difficult to solve. A legal and mass pressure defense based upon a realistic conception of the class struggle must be the basis. There will of course be differences of opinion but these can be thrashed out after the unified defense organization is created.

The Socialist party has two tasks to perform with reference to defense work. First to build the Labor and Socialist Defense so long as no united defense organization exists. Second to take the initiative In creating a united defense organization.

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