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Socialist Appeal, June 1936, Volume 2 No. 5, Page 7-8
Transcribed and Marked Up by Damon Maxwell in 2009 for the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line.

Convention of Socialist Party of Illinois

By Rudolph C. Olson.

IF ONE were to judge the progress of the Socialist party of Illinois within the last year simply by the report of the State Executive Committee furnished to the delegates at the Peoria convention held April 4-5, the situation would not be very encouraging. A decrease in membership was reported and under ordinary circumstances that would be an ominous sign. Taking actual conditions into consideration, however, the fact that the membership decreased so slightly is an indication that the party is at bottom a very healthy organism and is able to withstand a lot of punishment.

How can a party grow when it is convulsed by a constant struggle due to the determination of a small group of conservative Social Democrats not to lose complete control? It can be argued that in Illinois the militants were dominant but the answer to that is that ours is a national party and not a state party. Whatever affects one part of the organism is bound to affect the rest of it.

The period beginning with the Detroit convention and, we hope, ending with the Cleveland convention will go down in the history of the Socialist party as a period of transition. A period when old ideas were being discarded and new ideas not yet assimilated. A period of intense strike. A decrease in membership was inevitable.

But in and of itself a decrease in membership is nothing to be alarmed at. A party which attempts to reorganize itself into an instrument of struggle must necessarily lose many members who did not join for the purpose of struggle. Such a loss is a sign of recuperation and growing health.

Should all of the adherents of the old guard plus the federations decide to make their exit from the party we would suffer a considerable loss of membership but we would gain tremendously in the quality of our membership and, what is more important, in the possibilities of attracting new members of the right kind. We must lose many members in order to grow.

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A change in procedure made the convention far more interesting and instructive than the usual run of Socialist party conventions. Instead of killing the first day with useless speeches cue to the fact that the resolutions committee is never prepared to report until close to the end of the convention, reports on the most important problems confronting the delegates were presented and discussed. Special reports were given on War, the United Front and the Labor party. Since draft resolutions had been prepared by a, subcommittee of the State Executive Committee the delegates were in a position to discuss the questions much more intelligently.

This procedure can be improved by preparing the draft resolutions early enough so that the members can discuss them in their branches and instruct the delegates on how to vote.

Less important resolutions were prepared and presented by the resolutions committee in the usual manner.

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The convention adopted what can be termed a model united front resolution. Going on record in principle in favor of the united from the convention limited the tactic to such occasions where the attainment of a specific objective was desired. Permanent united front organizations with a theoretical program, such as the American League Against War and Fascism, were frowned upon. The united front is to be created for action and locals of the S.P. permission to join any united front with any organization for the purpose of achieving an immediate objective. No unit of the party is permitted to join any permanent united front organization without the permission of the State Executive Committee.

On the war question the convention took a decisive stand. It wavered only on one important point, that involving individual opposition to any draft. The resolution adopted puts the Socialist party on record against every capitalist government , including, its own, it case of any war. While declaring for the conditional defense of the Soviet Union it rejects the idea that the Socialist Party can support a capitalist government with the Soviet Union. The delegates also went on record against supporting so-called democratic capitalist countries as against fascist countries.

Only a small minority of the delegates took a consistent revolutionary position that in case of a draft the individual Socialist must not go to jail because of his refusal to be drafted If he goes to jail he must do so because of his anti-war activities no matter where he may be in the shop or in the army. This does not mean that a revolutionary socialist should expose himself as such, immediately upon his being drafted into the army but it does mean that such a Socialist is in duty bound to be with the soldiers and not in jail where it will be impossible for him to carry on propaganda and to take advantage of the inevitable resentment endangered by the hardship of war. The majority of the delegates accepted the pacifist position of the conscientious objector. It is obvious that a great deal of education will be necessary before the majority of the members of the party will accept a revolutionary socialist position on that question.

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It was on the Labor party question that the convention stumbled. The majority of the delegates did not grasp the .fundamental idea of Marxism that only the working class is the revolutionary force in modern society and that the middle class, including the farmers, must of necessity play an auxiliary role either with the capitalist or with the working class. In favoring a Farmer-Labor party instead of a labor party the majority did not do so simply because it favored the use of the name “farmer-labor” on the ground that such a name would help labor obtain the support of the farmers. The majority actually thought that the farmers as a class must be placed on a basis of equality with the workers as a class. There was no distinction made between the individual farmer who might be just as good a Socialist as the individual worker and the farmers as a class which must at best be led by the working class. As a matter of fact there was a tendency to consider the farmers more revolutionary than the workers.

Nor was the concept that the Socialist party must under all circumstances be critical of the Labor party because of it? inevitable reformist role understood by the majority of the delegates. Judging by the reaction of the delegates to the whole problem of a Labor party it is safe to say that should a Farmer-Labor party be created in the very near future most of the members of the Socialist party would have no reason for remaining in the Socialist party. The Farmer-Labor party would be sufficient for them.

At the present time there is not a single question of such great importance to our party as the question of our participation in a Farmer-Labor party. The great task of the revolutionary Socialists at the present moment is not to give way to the popular idea of joining any kind of a Labor party. Revolutionaries might be isolated momentarily because of their position on this question but to surrender to the prevailing mood of the party members is to help the party commit suicide. Above a;; must revolutionary Socialists fight for an independent election campaign in the coming presidential election. It is one of the great opportunities to build our party.

The Peoria convention was not at all clear on this question. The Labor party resolution was referred to the incoming Executive Committee for redrafting. It is to be hoped that the Executive Committee will not surrender to the confusion that prevails on the Labor party question.

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Members of the party who are consumed lay an inordinate ambition to run for and get elected to office were given something to think about in a resolution dealing with the conduct of a political campaign. All candidates are instructed to stress the issues and to make a clear-cut campaign for socialism and not attempt to get votes by concealing their socialism. The Reverend Waltmire of Chicago was not mentioned by name but it is obvious that the resolution was aimed at the kind of campaign which he wants to conduct. To him as to all right wingers a political campaign has as its main purpose to get into office. The resolution takes the revolutionary position that a political campaign is only one phase of the activities of the party and like all other activities its aim must be to organize and teach the masses for the purpose of waging a struggle against the capitalist class.

The resolution dealing with the inner party situation was clear and decisive. It supported the National Executive Committee in all its actions and declared that only those of the New York members who registered in conformity with the N.E.C. decision were to be considered members of the party. Nothing showed the isolation of the old guard adherents more than the vote on this resolution. All they could muster were four solitary votes. After that these four made their exit.

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A convention does not build a party. It merely sketches the general direction in which the party should travel. If the activities of the Illinois party will conform to the spirit of the resolutions passed at the convention and if the national convention will act in the same way as the Illinois convention, it is safe to predict that we shall succeed in laying the foundations of a revolutionary party. And this will be certain if the number of dues-paying members will decrease during the next year by reason of the defection of the old guard and all its satellites.

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