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Socialist Appeal, July 1936, Volume 2 No. 6, Pages 1-3
Transcribed and Marked Up by Damon Maxwell in 2009 for the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line.

The Cleveland Convention

THERE can be no doubt about what was the outstanding achievement of the Cleveland Convention. From any point of view with which we approach the problems of the Socialist Party, it was, of course, the final and irrevocable break with the New York Old Guard. This was apparent even on the surface: more of the time of the Convention was spent on the mechanics of the split than on any other subject, indeed almost more than on every other subject. Our judgment of the Convention must, therefore, be based first of all on our judgment of the character and meaning of this split.

A Convention, however, is not an isolated or “special event”, standing apart from the day-to-day course of Party life. It is, rather, a culminating point of previous developments, and reflects these developments in its own nature, both their weakness and their strength. Thus the Cleveland Convention marked the climax of the two year struggle which has gone on since the Detroit Convention of 1934, the climax of the actual struggle which has gone on, not of the possibly more correct struggle which we might have wished or the more reactionary struggle which we might have feared.

This struggle has been expressed above all as a fight for organizational power between the Right Wing under the leadership of the New York Old Guard, on the one hand, and the general left wing under the leadership of the New York Militants, on the other. This organizational fight, in the form it has taken during these two years, was concluded at Cleveland by the organizational victory of the Militants, and the split of the Old Guard.

Progressive Character of Split

Of the fact that this victory and this split are thoroughly progressive in character, again there can be no doubt. In themselves, apart from any other factor, they constitute a long step to the left. The matter can be put very simply: The Socialist Party with Waldman and Oneal out of it is by that very fact to the left of the Socialist Party with Waldman and Oneal in it. Contrary to the expectations of many, the Right Wing from outside New York did not leave the Convention with Waldman. That will no doubt come in due course. But in any case. the New York group was the head and the intelligence of the Right Wing. And with New York gone, the Right Wing is less than half a man. The Socialist Party _has shaken from its back the incubus which was sucking its vigorous blood. The heaviest parasite, dragging the party back at every progressive step, has been removed. And, consequently, revolutionary socialists in the party can now breathe and move more freely. The balance 6f forces in the party has altered sharply in favor of the left.

The progressive implications of the split with the Old Guard were immediately evident at the Convention. At once the party began to face—even if in a confused and ambiguous manner—certain of the results of its step. The KIND of party was seen, almost automatically, to be different. The Labor resolution called for the coordination of the work of Socialists in the trade unions—an approach to revolutionary fractions in the unions, anathema to the theory and practice of the Old Guard. Tentative moves toward increased discipline and against “States’ Rights” were present in the resolution on organization. And the Convention adopted a war resolution which is the most theoretically advanced statement ever accepted by the party.

Political Nature of the Struggle

It must, however, be understood that the organizational struggle and the organizational conclusion, as is always the case—no matter how predominant they may have appeared during the past two years and at the Convention —in the last analysis only mirror a deeper political struggle. hi the long run it is the political struggle—the battle over political ideas and principles—which is decisive. This political struggle has been that between classic Social-Democratic reformism, the Social-Democratic reformism of the 1914 betrayal to the War. of the executioners of the German revolution, of the capitulators to Hitler, represented intransigently by the New York Old Guard; between this and, lined up against it a broad, amorphous leftward sentiment, united negatively in opposition to the Old Guard and in dissatisfaction of varying degrees of clarity with classic reformism, functioning under the leadership of the New York Militants. The anti-Old Guard forces have comprised an extraordinary diversity of tendencies, ranging from revolutionary” Marxist to non-political activists who were convinced only that the Old Guard was a “do-nothing’ outfit These tendencies have held together simply because of the united opposition to Waldman-Oneal. But, taken as a whole, in spite of their formlessness, the anti-Old Guard forces were progressive: they represented a determination to learn from history, from the defeats in Germany, Spam and Austria, and to prepare for the crises ahead; they have been forces in movement, and the movement, however zigzag, has been away from reformism in the direction of a revolutionary position.

In between these two conflicting currents have stood the “practical politicians,” Hoan and Hoopes and the majority of the Pennsylvania and Wisconsin organizations. These, little if any distinguished from the Old Guard in political conviction, have been concerned primarily with securing an outcome which would be of most value to them in their local business.

The Militant leadership has then necessarily been faced with a double struggle—organizational and political. But it has given these two aspects a false relative evaluation, consistently placing the organizational ahead of the political, subordinating the latter to the former, and conducting the fight in that perspective. The organizational fight has been in many respects vigorous and skillful. In spite of the fact that the Old Guard is led by trained and experienced politicians, the Militant leadership out-maneuvered them. This has come to a head in recent months with the smashing victory in the New York Primaries and in the Convention itself. But the deficiency in the political struggle, apparent throughout the two years, was clear also at the Convention. The organizational victory over the Old Guard at Cleveland was not at the same time a decisive political victory over “Old Guardism.” The organizational steps should properly have come as the culmination of the successful ideological and political conquest of Old Guard reformism. As things stand, however, the ideological and political conquest is for the most part yet to come.

A brief analysis of certain features of the Convention will make the distortion apparent.

Victory Through Alliance

The organizational victory at Cleveland was won by an alliance of the Militants with Hoan and Hoopes. These latter, true to their long-time role, attempted organizational compromises even at the last moment, on the seating of the New York delegation—proposing first a 22-22 Militant-Old Guard seating, and then a 32-12. Entirely properly, both major contestants rejected the compromise. Wisconsin and Pennsylvania then, having given their all for conciliation, went along with the Militants in the final vote.

It is not necessary here to argue whether or not this organizational bloc was justified. Certainly the determination of the Militants to find a way to retain control of the national party machinery, and not to let it slip into the hands of the Old Guard, is understandable, and makes permissible a good deal of organizational maneuvering. Granted the character of the struggle during the past two years, this could have been accomplished only by the bloc which was constituted at the Convention. But this of course is what demonstrates the weakness of that struggle: it should not have been necessary to resort to such a bloc.

But, in any case, whether or not the bloc was justified or at least inevitable in the light of the previous struggle, what remains unquestionable is the fact that THE PRICE PAID BY THE MILITANTS FOR THE BLOC WAS TOO HIGH. This price was the watering down of political principles.

Some price must always be paid for a bloc, and this need not at all be incorrect. For example—again assuming the permissibility of the organizational bloc at Cleveland—the Militants were justified in making important organizational concessions in return for it (e.g., places on the N.E.C.), which they did do. Or, under these given and many other circumstances, it would be permissible to AVOID certain issues, not to bring forward EVERY political question at the given moment. This also was done by the Militants, in, for example, keeping the Bound Brook program out of the Convention. (There was an additional reason for this latter restraint in the fact that the Socialist Party membership in its present state of development is not yet prepared for the formal consideration of a rounded program.) Even such a maneuver as avoiding the issue on the United Front Resolution—though the circumstances were embarrassing, with Hooper and Hoan so obviously wielding the whip – by sending it to a Party referendum to be held later, is not necessarily to be condemned. All questions do not have to be settled at once.

It is not for the organizational concessions or for the venial sins of omission that the Militant leadership must be criticized. It is, rather, for the sins of commission: above all, on the question of the Platform.

Concession on Platform

The importance of the Platform; should by no means be underestimated. It is the public document around which the party conducts its election campaign, which sets the tone of party propaganda, and by which, in considerable measure, the party is publicly known for five most influential months.

The Platform first reported out to the Convention by the Militant-controlled Platform Committee was an out-and-out-reformist document in every line, to which the Old Guard would have objected only where Social-Democratic reformism .was confused by typically American Populist phraseology. The revised Platform, adopted by the Convention, differed in no fundamental respect. It is merely made more confusing by certain revisions, deletions and additions which mingle occasional revolutionary sentences with Technocracy and New Dealism. The entire Right Wing found it easily possible to vote for this Platform.

This, then, was the culminating item in the price which the Militants paid for the organizational alliance with Hoan and Hoppes. In effect, they allowed Hoan and Hoopes to dictate the Platform. They sacrificed, in other words, political principle “to maintain the tolerance of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

But such a price was, and is always, too high to pay. Political principles are not counters to bargain with. The attempt to do so means always the disorientation of the membership, a set-back to that clarification without which revolutionary politics are unthinkable; and, in the long run, does not solve even the organizational problems, since it bases organizational solutions upon an unstable and insecure foundation.

It is of the utmost significance that a considerable number of the rank-and-file delegates (especially from Arkansas, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, and California) sensed this distinction between what is and what is not permissible in organizational maneuvers. They raised no objection to the organizational concessions, nor to the avoidance of certain issues. But when the Platform was presented, they staged a near revolt that caused it to be hurriedly referred back to the Committee. Nevertheless, the Militant leadership did not learn from this healthy manifestation of revolutionary sentiment, and reported back the revised Platform in still reformist form. The objecting left-wingers then proceeded to move as amendments to the key sections of this Platform the corresponding sections of the Marxist Platform published in the last issue of The Appeal—the paragraph on the road to power receiving more than fifty votes. New York, however, stayed with the bloc, and joined with Hoan, Hoopes and the Right Wing to carry the Platform virtually as it stood in its revised form.

Substantially the same comment could be made on the equivocal reformulations of certain parts of the Detroit Declaration. Fortunately, the issue did not arise on the War Resolution, and the Convention adopted a statement which, though it is not without certain faults and omissions, is a mighty step forward on this, the most decisive of all questions facing the working class. Indeed, the War Resolution serves to mark off the Socialist Party of the/United States from all sections of the Third International as well as from every other affiliate of the Second International. The exigencies of the Convention prevented its discussion at Cleveland, but there is no doubt that its clarification and amplification in the months to come can provide the basis for an uncompromising attack on all forms of social-patriotism and preparations for betrayal to the coming war.

Lessons of Convention

The deficiencies of the Cleveland Convention are not at all fatal or beyond repair. Past experiences exist, for revolutionists, not as monuments to be worshipped or as losses to despair over, but for the sake of the lessons which they teach to aid in meeting the issues of the present and the future. Mistakes are deadly only when we are unwilling to correct them. And Cleveland is rich in lessons: That principles are not to be bargained with; that organizational questions must be subordinated to political and ideological questions. If the unprecedented possibilities now opened out to the party—by the now apparent bankruptcy of the New Deal, by the decay of capitalism as a whole, by the degeneration of the Communist party, by the removal of the Old Guard, by the positive achievements of the Convention itself—if these possibilities are to be realized, the left wing must now make it its primary business to conduct an unremitting campaign of education and clarification on all the basic issues of revolutionary socialism. The party membership must be won to an understanding of and allegiance to the principles of revolutionary socialism. If the Socialist party is to advance, if it is to become in fact the leader of the American working class in the struggle for power and for socialism, this is the only path.

And this primary task of education and clarification does not at all conflict with the equally essential tasks of the building of the party and the conduct of an election campaign which will make socialist history. Rather are these bound up integrally together, if we understand what it means to build a revolutionary socialist party and to conduct a genuinely socialist campaign.

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