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Socialist Alternative, November 1936, Volume 2 No. 10, Pages 7-8
Transcribed, Edited and Formatted by Damon Maxwell in 2008 for the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line.


NOTE: The following is a continuation of the discussion of the Labor party begun in the July issue of the APPEAL.


IT IS our task to build a leadership for revolution. This cannot be done by refusing all positions of leadership now, but by leading the workers in their struggles for immediate demands, while refusing responsibility for any program less than a socialist program. At their present stage of development, the unions of farmers and industrial workers can work with socialists, and even under socialist leadership for the attainment of specific objectives compatible with the aim of the Socialist party. Socialist leadership of a Farmer-Labor party or any reformist political party is out of the question. History has shown (and not only in Minnesota) that such leaders soon forget their socialism. The united front on specific issues is much superior to a permanent labor party.

*  *  *  *

“Building the S.P. while building and thru building a Labor party” apparently means that a large section of the Labor party is to be absorbed into the S.P. after learning by experience in the Labor party that the S.P. is necessary, and the F.L.P. inadequate without it. Of course it is not necessary to organize the F.L.P. in order to discover these workers. If they do not become disillusioned with the F.L.P., there is no likelihood of their joining the S.P. If they do become disillusioned, why should they turn to those who advised building the F.L.P.? To the ordinary worker, advocacy of a F.L.P. by socialists means that the socialists have not the courage of their own convictions, and faith in their own party.

*  *  *  *

The Farmer-Labor Party of Minnesota rose out of the trade unions, and is today largely based on them. Also federated in the party are other workers’ and farmers’ organizations, and ward clubs of individual members. These are represented in central bodies and conventions. As is inevitable, it has become the stamping ground of “politicians.” Socialists, communists and I.W.W.s became leaders in this party, and became opportunist politicians. It will be pointed out by advocates of the Labor party that mistakes were made, that the S.P. was not held intact as an independent unit, etc.

“But,” it will be said, “the F.L.P. of Minnesota is not the kind of a third party we are going to build. Criticism of it is not pertinent.” Perhaps it is not the kind of a party you intend to build, comrades, but the F.L.P. of Minnesota is not a fond hope, but a reality and it will have more influence on the coming F.L.P. than you will have. Every F.L.P. conference is oriented towards it. Don’t react against objectivity to the extent of applying Christian science to politics.

The fact is, that if the S.P. participates in the building of a Farmer-Labor Party with the attitude now prevailing in the party the case of Minnesota will be repeated.

Wisconsin Example

Wisconsin comrades started out “according to Hoyle” in the case of the Wisconsin Farmer-Labor Progressive Federation. Then they dropped the federation idea for individual membership. They were confident of their power in the federation, being the only highly organized force in it. They failed to put up a candidate for governor within the federation, and instead prepared to support Phil LaFollette. This amounted to abandonment of socialist agitation. They demanded that he join the federation and stand on its platform. Then came the Oshkosh convention. LaFollette thumbed his nose at the federation, refused to join and wangled “production for use” out of the platform; and the federation supported him by nominating no one. That left the Socialist party free to run a candidate for governor but it failed to do this. The Labor and Socialist Press Service says of Wisconsin: “The original agreement leaves the socialists free to support Norman Thomas and George A. Nelson.” Congratulations, comrades!

The advocates of building a Labor party will also point out the mistakes made in Wisconsin and say we must avoid them. In fact, everything in the way of a F.L.P. that has to date taken concrete form is not acceptable to any Socialists not already entangled in it. It is time we stop endorsing air castles and start looking critically at realities. The F.L.P., in spite of the efforts of radicals in it, will be built largely around certain politicians. The unavoidable lack of discipline determines that. The “chances of election” will largely determine the choice of candidates.

Attitude to Existing Labor Party Determined by Conditions

This is no brief for remaining aloof from a Farmer-Labor party. Tactics in this regard must be constantly adjusted to conditions. The important thing is our attitude toward the F.L.P. We cannot commit ourselves to the idea that a F.L.P. will be of benefit to the workers, now, and from now on. Much valuable evidence has accrued since the Cleveland convention and will continue to materialize in the future, and we must keep our minds open to consider it. If we really act as revolutionary Socialists in the F.L.P., we may well find ourselves opposing it. We may find that we have to expose its fallacies to such an extent as to completely discredit it. He who denies these possibilities is indeed dogmatic and worse than sectarian. We must maintain a critical attitude. Only thus may we retain our “organizational identity and independence.” The danger lies in participating in a F.L.P. without this attitude.

The question is not simply that of working in the F.L.P. “in order to expose it” or “in order to build it.” Proper tactics will expose it if it is bad and build it if it is good. We want to build for the benefit of the working class. We must always be ready to reject anything else, regardless of whether we, or anyone else, are building it.

Will Opposition Mean Exclusion?

Fear that opposition to a Labor party may close all doors to us is a confession of lack of self confidence. The S.P. has never hesitated to criticize the craft form of the A.F. of L. and we are still in the A.F. of L. Even the communists, who attempted to split the A.F. of L. and build a dual organization, cannot be kept out. Our members are in the unions. This F.L.P. is to be a federation of unions, etc., so we will be in it in spite of the devil and all his politicians. An incident in Minnesota, illustrates this. A member of the F.L.P. was elected to the county central committee from his ward club. He was too progressive and was bounced out of the central body. He joined the Socialist party. Then his union affiliated with the F.L.P., and he was elected its delegate to that same central body. They wanted to bounce him again, but were blocked by the union. He is in a position to put forward the Socialist position. As it is repeatedly rejected, and as the position becomes clear to the more developed members, a desire for socialist leadership will grow and result in recruits for the S.P. If the socialist position is accepted the dreams of the F.L.P. advocates will be on the road to realization. Note that whether this tactic builds or exposes the F.L.P. depends on the F.L.P. and not on the socialists. A fight to keep socialists out would cause an alignment of left wing farmer-laborites with the socialists. In fact, when the correct tactics are pursued, such an alignment will result every time we encounter opposition from the F.L.P. Should tactical considerations dictate affiliation of the S.P. with the F.L.P., such affiliation would be very difficult to refuse. Refusal would place the S.P. in an advantageous position.


California and the Farmer-Labor Party


The Farmer-Labor Party is being discussed wherever party members get together for a gab-fest. There has been all too little discussion, however, of the problems which face its development in specific situations. As one who knows the problems of his own state better than those of any other, I wish to discuss my specific area.

The slogan of the Farmer-Labor party must be considered in two lights. First, the class loyalties of the workers and the farmers. Second, the road to power.

In California we face the first problem in its gravest form. We find a major part of the proletariat to be agricultural workers. They are in constant conflict with the land owners, including the working farmers. Can we bring them both into the same party without having them constantly at each others throats in a struggle for inner-party power? Can we expect them to carry on a fight for a common program? Perhaps we could if their differences were without immediate importance, but the agricultural worker must struggle against the farmer in order to gain sufficient food to keep body and soul together until he goes on relief the next winter. The small farmer, on the other hand, squeezed between the banks and the workers, must relieve the pressure in the weakest spot, the agricultural proletariat. This problem is of grave importance to both of them. Neither of them can afford to permit the program to lean toward the side of the other. The mutual battle against the banks must be an extended one, and therefore each of these poorer classes must carry on an immediate struggle against the other. One class – worker or farmer – must lead, and if the farmer ruled the proletariat would find the party too reformist in most matters and reactionary in agricultural matters. If on the other hand, the workers ruled, the farmers would split off, and there would be no Farmer-Labor party.

There is the objection to this argument that “most agricultural workers do not vote.” Perhaps that is true. But this is not the important consideration. If we expect the revolution to be brought about by Farmer-Labor party votes, this would be a convincing argument. But if we believe the capitalist class in this country is, as in Europe, ready to resist forcibly any threat to their profits by even a reformist government, we must hold that it is not so much voters that we need, but fighters. If we form a party which, due to virtual disenfranchisement of the agricultural workers, servers the immediate interests of the farmers, (small though they maybe) we will be driving away those who should be most willing to struggle under our banner for the unshackling of their limbs. If, on the other hand, we form a pure and simple labor party, we will find ourselves driving the farmer into the ranks of fascism.

It is time for the Socialists to realize that no mass party in America can do as much good as it is certain to do harm. The farmer can be brought to realize that there is no hope for his salvation apart from Socialism. The workers must be brought to realize the same thing. But to bring more than the conscious and active ones into the party is to dilute its realization of the class struggle to such an extent that the masses will become aware of their needs only in time to be disappointed by a government that is Socialist in name only.

We can build a Socialist Party great in influence and in the trust of the masses of the workers and lower middle-class. To now we have largely failed in this. Hence the cry for a Farmer-Labor, Party. But there are ways to bring the Socialist message to the masses, and if we have failed it is because we have lacked in analysis and in effort – and now fall back on a farmer-labor party as though it would save us the trouble of making suchdifficult analyses in the future.

Thought and action can build Socialist influence. Let us think and act – then the farmer-labor party will be forgotten, as the workers and farmers turn to the Socialists for leadership.

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