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Socialist Appeal, October 1936, Volume 2 No. 9, Page 12-13
Transcribed, Edited and Formatted by Damon Maxwell and David Walters in 2008 for the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line.

Secession in Pennsylvania and Connecticut An Editorial

AT THE Cleveland Convention, the Militant majority, having settled accounts, after its own fashion with the New York Old Guard, called a halt in mid-stream. In a vain and desperate attempt to check the power of the prevailing political winds and currents, it tossed over the sails and rudder of political principle. With such a trimming of the party ship, it proceeded to—“maneuver.” A reformist election platform, concession and compromise on organization policy, watering down of the trade union resolution, shelving of the united front resolution, places on the N.E.C., all of these and more were undertaken. For what purpose? To consummate a deal with Hoopes and Hoan and McLevy. But this deal, alas, from the first was not worth the paper and the words that sealed it. It was like a contract to deliver the moon, contradicting the laws of politics no less than the latter would contradict the law of gravitation.

In its analysis of the Convention, the APPEAL stated that the price of this deal—sacrifice of principle and disorientation of the membership—was too high, too high indeed to pay for any maneuver. Now, four months after, we have a more ample test from experience to apply to the bargain, to determine what was received for value given. And the test shows us a net gain of—zero; and after loss added to the original purchase price. In rapid succession (leaving out of account the accepted Old Guard cohorts in Maryland, Rhode Island, etc.) the Jewish Federation, the Finnish Federation, the majority in Pennsylvania and Connecticut have pulled stakes and departed. Yes: Pennsylvania with its two N.E.C. members, elected at Cleveland, and Connecticut with its doughty, finger-shaking Jasper McLevy. Departed, and left no addresses. Forced the departure deliberately: in Pennsylvania and Connecticut carrying it through openly by amending the respective State Party Constitutions to strike out the clause providing for affiliation with the Socialist Party of the U. S.

Militant and Right Wing Attitude Contrasted

The record, on both sides, of every secessionist move is virtually identical: a bold, aggressive fight by the right; an ambiguous policy of conciliation, pleading and compromise on the part of the Militant leaders. The Jewish Federation, after openly and brazenly flouting the party in every available manner, and sending accredited delegates to the Convention of the Social-Democratic Federation, was begged by the July meeting of the N.E.C. to remain loyal, and given another month to apologize. Mayor Stump of Reading opened the Pennsylvania Convention with a smashing attack on the party; the Militants replied by squabbling for hours over the seating of delegates, and climaxed their efforts by sending Dr. Jesse Holmes to the platform to plead for peace, apologize for “left wingers,” and call for true idealism and brotherhood. In Connecticut McLevy. before opening up, was obliging enough to permit the Militant delegates to vote unanimously for his entire slate of candidates and his State election platform. His motion for disaffiliation struck like a bombshell after such whole-hearted “maneuvering”; but Devere Allen’s pleas for harmony, peace and fair play, like the New Milford delegate’s plagues on both the houses, fell on deaf ears in the camp of the Sales-Tax Mayor.

Why these ungrateful rebuffs from the right wingers? These rejections and blunt refusals and final divisions? Is it because these are “disloyal men,” corrupt fakers, of ill will and evil intention? Not at all. It is because these men—the leaders of the Jewish and Finnish Federations, the municipal socialists of Reading and Bridgeport—do not differ an iota in fundamental political principle from the New York Old Guard, from Waldman and Oneal. The municipal socialists are perhaps more “practical” politicians, somewhat more active and less given to “theory”; but basically they are the same: conservative reformists. And, as the laws of politics teach us, those who hold the same political principles end up, sooner or later, in the same political organization. The identity of principle forces the organizational fusion. The incidental and temporary causes which kept Pennsylvania and Connecticut (as well as Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Washington....) from breaking away at Cleveland could not operate for long. The water and the oil refused to become a stable compound. And therefore the splits. In the same light we can predict with fair assurance that others who differ in no important political particular from the already departed, but who are restrained now by local political exigencies, will not be long in following. For in what, except in accent and stature, do they differ from Hoopes or McLevy?

The tactic of conciliation and compromise has netted, then, exactly nothing. No single segment has been “saved” for the party; no right wing group has been wheedled into abandoning the direction dictated by its political nature. Indeed, it is worse than nothing. For the policy of conciliation and compromise has enabled the right wing leaders to depart with their following intact, with their forces in good order and their morale high. They have retired from the field as victors not as defeated. And, conversely, the loyal party membership has not had the opportunity to learn from the secessions, to discover more clearly their political meaning, to understand the issues involved in them.

Necessity of an Offensive Against Right Wing

A sharp, clear political offensive against the right wing reformist leaders, on the contrary, would have disorganized the enemy, would have thrown them into confusion, would have forced them into retreat; and, furthermore, would have won over large sections of their following, who remained with their old leaders only because the significance of the fight had never been made clear to them. Most important of all, a clear political offensive would have educated, armed and strengthened the loyal party members, would have prepared them for the tasks that lie ahead. What a magnificent opportunity, for example, the Connecticut Convention would have been for a pitiless exposure of reformist municipal socialism at its worst—exemplified in the flesh by the petty office-seeker McLevy, with his open-shop industrialist friends, his support of the Sales Tax, his reactionary educational policy, his fake “good government” slogans—and a stirring contrast with it of the ideas and principles of revolutionary Marxism. But instead: unanimous support of McLevy’s candidates and platform. To compromise with a hardened reformist leader is always a double loss: he is lost to begin with, and you lose 6thers in the failure to conduct a correct fight against him.

No tears need be shed that Hoopes and Stump and McLevy have left the party, nor that others will probably follow. We may and should regret that the party has been weakened in a way that was unnecessary by their leaving. But regret is less important than the firm resolution to learn from experience—if not from the experience of others (which is often the best and cheapest method) then at any rate from our own. The party must decide its course. More and more clearly we can realize: the party must become in word and act the party of revolutionary Marxism in this country. There is, whether we like it or not, no other path. There is simply no room in the United States for two parties of parliamentary reformism—and that road is now monopolized by the Social-Democratic Federation. Until the Socialist party decides clearly its path—the revolutionary path—and acts accordingly, it courts the danger of losing, to the parliamentary reformists on the one side, to the Stalinists on the other. But once that decision is made, and once actions flow properly from it, the road is clear and the future mighty with promise.

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