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Socialist Appeal, December 1936, Volume 2 No. 12, Page 7-8
Transcribed, Marked Up by Damon Maxwell in 2008 for the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line.

The N. E. C. Meeting

THE NATIONAL EXECUTIVE COMMITTE, at its meeting last month, was confronted with a heavy responsibility and a great opportunity. The party had just emerged from the most trying electoral campaign of its history. During the months of the campaign, the consequences of the steps taken at Cleveland were being-drawn one by one. The New York split widened to a national cleavage. At the same time, events of crucial importance were developing with extraordinary rapidity on the international scene: the war was approaching ever more quickly; France was in the throes of pre-revolutionary struggle; open civil war had begun in Spain.

It was the duty of the N.E.C, first, to sum up the lessons of the months since Cleveland; and, second, to give clear and decisive leadership to the party as a whole for the months to come, to present a perspective which would project the party actively into the heart of the class struggle, and advance it vigorously along the revolutionary path. It must be stated, however, that the N.E.C. failed grievously to fulfill this duty; the results of the meeting will be a disappointment to every militant party member. (The vague and indefinite resolution on party perspectives is practically valueless).

The lessons drawn are confined to a single vague paragraph of the Convention Call. “The Socialist Party has successfully carried on a campaign under the most trying conditions. In spite of the confusion and hysteria, the party remained true to its principles ...” What do such sentences mean? How are they to be interpreted? The N.E.C. gives us no inkling. What were and are the concrete problems, the specific issues, the proposals for answers? We look in vain to the N.E.C. for a reply.

Not a word about what is happening in France, though France is today the key to the world situation: the outcome in France will decide for the period to come the fate of the European proletariat. Not a word about the shifts and development in the European working-class parties, though these are of inestimable importance for the future of our own party. No word on the attitude of Blum or the British Labor party or the Soviet toward the Spanish Civil War and the Non-intervention Pact. No comment on the new Soviet Constitution, and all that it symbolizes in the life history of the first workers’ state. No mention of the Communist party .in this country, though during the campaign it showed itself as our most bitter enemy, and has now launched a drive against us of incredible viciousness. The party membership has a right to expect something more from its leadership.

It is necessary to comment more at length on two of the resolutions that were passed: the resolution on Spain and the Convention Call.

The Resolution on Spain

The Spanish Civil War has now reached a stage where it is clear that its outcome will be decided on the international arena. It cannot be thought of as in any sense a mere local or internal struggle. This was, indeed, true from the beginning, as the forces of reaction well understood, in spite of the vain attempts of Blum and Stalin and Baldwin to confine the issue to the Peninsula. Now, however, with the recognition of Franco by Italy and Germany, and by the wide scale appearance on both sides of men and munitions, from other nations, there can be no reasonable doubt in anyone’s mind. The results in Spain will profoundly influence the course of the labor movement in every country of the world. The Spanish Civil War, directly or indirectly, is in fact the most burning issue before the working class in every country.

The N.E.C., therefore, rightly devoted a considerable portion of its time to the Spanish events, and adopted two resolutions – one public, one internal – on Spain. Unfortunately, however, the resolutions are woefully inadequate.

The N.E.C. failed entirely to distinguish two questions which must be distinguished if we are to have a policy even approximately correct on the Spanish question: the questions of material support and political support. This is a distinction which it is necessary to make in connection with every struggle of the workers and their allies. As Socialists, we participate in and give material aid and support to every struggle of the workers and their allies which is, implicitly or explicitly, directed against the class enemy; and we give material support also to non-proletarian struggles of a progressive kind, as for example, colonial uprisings and revolutions. This is elementary, and goes almost without saying; as Socialists we take it for granted. And we give such support independently of political views, of political agreement or disagreement. On the picket line we do not ask a worker to prove that he voted for Norman Thomas before being willing to fight alongside him. He can be a Communist or a Democrat or a Republican, so far as material support goes.

Political Support

The application of this general strategy to the Spanish Civil War is clear. We send material aid to all in Spain who are fighting in the trenches and on the barricades against the armies of the counter-revolution. If their guns are pointing at the hordes of Franco, they are at least to that extent supporting the Spanish revolution, whatever their ideas are, whatever party they belong to, whatever leaders they hold allegiance to.

But the question of political support is an entirely different one, and must in no way be confused with the former. We give political support only to those with whom we agree politically, and we criticize politically those whom we hold to be pursuing a false policy. The reason for this is simple enough to understand. If our analyses are correct, a false political course in Spain will in the end bring about the defeat of the workers no matter what occurs at the moment on the battlefields, no matter how much sacrifice and heroism are displayed by the anti-fascist armies. Only a correct policy will make possible the triumph of the workers, the establishment of the workers’ state, and the achievement of socialism. We must, therefore, if we are serious in our aim of aiding the Spanish proletariat, use every means in our power to change the false and disastrous policies of the leaders of the working-class parties in Spain, and to substitute for them a correct policy. Otherwise we ourselves will share jointly in the responsibility for the disaster to which those false policies are sure to lead. The analogy to be found in our attitude toward a strike holds here also. If the strike leadership is in the hands of class-collaborationist bureaucrats, and if they are pursuing a policy which will result in a defeat of the strike, the imperative duty of revolutionists, along with the elementary task of giving all possible material support no matter what the policy, is to criticize and attempt to change the false policy. Otherwise, the revolutionists are, once again, jointly responsible for the defeat. Naturally the bureaucrats complain that such criticism “in action” is a “sabotage” and “disruption” of the strike; but Marxists understand, and the workers in time come to understand, that the only genuine support of the strike includes integrally such criticism.


But there is another and even more compelling reason why our political support must be given only to revolutionists, and why we must make a clear-cut criticism of every false policy. We are preparing for our own revolution and our own civil war, and we must, if we are to win, learn the lessons of the experiences of the working-class elsewhere. And we can learn, these lessons only by relentless and completely objective analysis and criticism, only by absorbing everything that is correct and by rejecting all that is false. If the Spanish workers are defeated, through the false policies of their leaders, the full measure of the tragedy is not to be found alone in the suffering and death of those valiant and heroic individuals ; the full tragedy would be that they had died in vain. And they will have died in vain unless the international proletariat has learned from them –learned not so much how to fire a gun, which can be learned in other ways and is besides never decisive for a revolutionary struggle, but learned the political lessons which alone can guide us to victory. To fail, then, to analyze politically, to criticize politically where criticism is necessary, to squeeze the last drop of political understanding from the Spanish events, is in actuality to be guilty of disservice to the Spanish workers and to the international proletariat, to guarantee in advance that their blood will have been shed to no purpose.

With these distinctions in mind, the inadequacies of the N.E.C. resolutions on Spain are glaring indeed. Even on the question of material aid, the N.E.C, taking more thought of pacifist and religious “sympathizers” than of militant workers within and outside of the party avoided the crucial issues: the raising of the slogan of Arms for Spain. Materially, it is arms, above all arms, that the Spanish workers need, and the Socialist party is the only organization in this country in a position to make this clear. This slogan, moreover, publicly raised, will have an electrifying effect on the party itself, and in stimulating the class consciousness of the American workers generally. A civil war is not an occasion for Salvation Army methods and a “social service” approach. Food and bandages, very well; but first and foremost, Arms.

Political Weakness of Resolution

The thorough article analyzing this slogan in the last issue of THE APPEAL makes further comment unnecessary. The gap must be filled at once, and the party’s campaign for material aid to Spain must be centered around – “Arms for Spain.

To turn to the problem of political support: The key political question involved in the Spanish events is of course the question of the Peoples’ Front. The Peoples’ Front is simply a new name for the old policies of class collaboration and coalition government, policies with which the party split when it cast off and repudiated the reformist Old Guard. These policies are, however, the guiding lines of the leadership of every one of the powerful working class parties in Spain, of the Socialist party, the Communist party, the P.O.U.M. and even of the Anarchists. And through these policies the working class leadership is ever more grimly endangering the struggle of the Spanish workers, is preventing the growth of the revolutionary committees in the army and the factories, is liquidating the workers’ militia, is repudiating the struggle for workers’ power in favor of the illusory fight for “the democratic republic,” is thus preparing in its own way for the defeat of the Spanish revolution. All this the N.E.C. passes off with – “We cannot blind ourselves to the dangers and limitations of Popular Frontism as revealed in the present crisis ...” What are the dangers, what are the limitations? Above all, how are they to be remedied? It is to these problems that the bulk of the N.E.C. statement should have been addressed. And in the place of the Peoples Front slogans of the reformists and centrists throughout the world, the N.E.C. should have put forward the slogans which revolutionary Marxism raises in answer to the Spanish crisis: Workers’ control of the factories! Freedom for Morocco! Autonomy for the national minorities! For an independent workers’ and peasants’ militia! Land to the peasants! For the soldiers’ committees in the army, the workers’ committees in the factories, the peasants’ committees in the country! For a national congress of the committees of the soldiers, workers, and peasants! All power to the committees of the soldiers, workers, and peasants!

The Convention Call

No one will deny that in the light of the past months, the further split since Cleveland, the new national and international events, a Special Convention of the party is in order. However, nothing is automatically solved merely by calling a Convention. We must take care that the Convention which we have will be the kind that we need. The Convention Call, it must be confessed, is not a favorable omen.

In the first place, the Call is not properly motivated. It does not explain precisely why we need a Convention or what should be accomplished by it; nor does it give a lead and a direction for the preparation of the Convention itself. So far as there is a motivation, and to judge from the agenda outlined, the impression is created that the problems of the party can be solved by a series of organizational steps, by making the party “more unified and efficient in its activities,” by “reorganizing the party machinery,” by what is loosely referred to by some comrades as “centralization.”

It is certainly true that the party machinery needs overhauling, that an increased centralization of party activities is highly desirable. The spectacle of the party during the campaign in one locality conducting a vigorous socialist activity, and in another sinking into the mire of a labor party-liberal-populist-Roosevelt conglomeration such as the Wisconsin Farmer-Labor Progressive Federation, is not a pleasing one to left-wingers. Nor are the kinds of reformist and pacifist statements that appear in books and papers and magazines under the names of party spokesmen. However, on the question of centralization, what left-wingers want to know first of all is: around what policy, in terms of what perspective, will centralization occur? Centralization by itself can solve nothing. The whole meaning of centralization is to be found in its real political content, not in the organizational steps that are taken to give expression and activity to that political content. If the Convention attempts to solve the questions of party machinery and organization and apparatus without first solving the key political questions facing the party, its work will be useless and worse than useless. So far as the left wing goes, its job during the pre-convention period, while carrying party activity forward on the field of the class struggle, is to put forward vigorously the ideas and principles of revolutionary Marxism, and their application to the problems and issues now facing the party.

We must understand that our task is to build a revolutionary party, and that there is no magic short-cut toward that goal. It cannot be reached by any organizational sleight-of-hand. It will be gained only through the fusion of Marxist theory and revolutionary practice, only through the determined clarification of our ideas along with and in the very process of the militant extension of our activities in the class struggle. If we keep such a perspective in mind, the Special Convention can be made a milestone on the road; if we neglect it, the Convention may turn out a major setback to the party’s development.

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Last updated on 12 October 2008