Socialist Appeal Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Socialist Appeal, February 1937, Volume 3 No. 2, Page 13-15
Transcribed and Marked Up by Damon Maxwell in 2008 for the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line.

The Appeal and the Left Wing

THE APPEAL, since its foundation, has attempted consistently to carry forward within the Socialist party the tradition of revolutionary Marxism. During these years of transition in our party, the uniform perspective of the APPEAL has been the development of the party into the revolutionary party of the American working-class. It has greeted whole-heartedly every step forward along that road, and criticized – as a Marxist journal must – every retreat. It has actively done its own not inconsiderable share in promoting that revolutionary development.

The APPEAL has repeatedly stated that success in the great task ahead requires as a primary condition the creation of a National Left Wing which would gather together all genuine left wingers within the party. Only through such a National Left Wing can the activities of left wingers, now working to a considerable extent as individuals or in informal local groups, be coordinated and consciously directed in such a manner that the best possible results for the party as a whole can be obtained. Such a Left Wing will prove the most efficient, the most democratic, the most rapid method for assuring and completing the revolutionary development of the party as a whole.

The APPEAL never regarded the former Militant grouping as a Left Wing in its own meaning of the term – that is, as a revolutionary Marxist tendency. In the struggle against the Old Guard the Militant group played an unquestionably progressive role; and it would be in a sense correct to say that, prior to the Cleveland Convention, with the then existing relationship of forces, the Militants functioned as the “left wing” of the party. However, the Militant group was in reality an amalgamation of several quite different political currents, temporarily united only in opposition to the extreme and sterile reformism and bureaucratic rule of the Old Guard.

With the departure of the Old Guard, the foundation on which the Militant group was based immediately dropped away. A process of differentiation necessarily set in. separating the right wing Militants, whose political opposition to the Old Guard had never been based on clear and fundamental principles from the left wing Militants. Indeed, this process of differentiation was already apparent at the Cleveland Convention itself, where the strength of the right wing Militants centered especially in the New York delegation.

The right wing Militants moved steadily ahead, and were indeed the major influence in the public life of the party. Through them (and their dominant motive was of course the retention of the remains of the Old Guard forces), the CALL pursued its reformist policy during the campaign; the miserable showing was made in the struggle with the Old Guard in Pennsylvania and Connecticut ; the party failed even to take a position with reference to the French and Spanish events; Wisconsin was allowed without protest to slide into a wholly reformist Peoples’ Front conglomeration. ... It became more and more apparent that the right wing influence centered in New York; and that the local administration under the leadership of Jack Altman was – though for some time in a veiled and hypocritical manner, without showing true political colors – its spearhead. Local New York somehow found itself – as if by accident, few members understanding just why –marching in a Peace Parade under the leadership of the American League Against War and Fascism, slipping into relations with the Stalinist North American Committee to Aid Spanish Democracy, nominating labor bureaucrats for office only to have them repudiate the party .... And, likewise almost as if by accident, it gradually became apparent that a systematic campaign of provocation was being carried on against the genuine left, particularly against the members of the former Workers’ party. The City Convention during the summer raised eligibility requirements for the City Central Committee from the already extremely bureaucratic two years to three years. No single former Workers party member was permitted to speak for Local New York during the campaign. None was given any post to fill or function to perform, in spite of the long and fruitful experience in the revolutionary movement possessed by many of them. And soon, on the flimsiest of pretexts, various comrades were brought up on charges – for accepting an invitation to speak on the Soviet Trials in New Jersey, for criticizing the policies of the Blum government, for suggesting in inner party circles that a party member was influenced in certain opinions by Stalinism.

During the past two months Altman’s hand has been more openly shown. At a party membership meeting on Spain, held in December, he defended politically the People’s Front government in Spain. In the current city elections for the City Executive Committee, he joins in organized and open backing of a right wing pro-People’s Front slate. It is reported that his group has taken on definite organizational form. And to make his purpose quite clear, he has brought formal charges against James Burnham for a political criticism which Burnham made at an inner party meeting held under the auspices of the New York Revolutionary Socialist Educational Society.

Meanwhile, what of the left Militants in New York and their outstanding leaders, comrades Zam and Tyler? Instead of going resolutely forward toward the revolutionary path, and joining in full collaboration with the left wingers in the party outside of New York and the members of the former W. P. newly entering the party, their policy has on the whole been dominated by a desperate effort to maintain the old Militant grouping intact – that is, to avoid antagonizing Altman. In spite of resolutions and motions in small committees, and speeches in small rooms, they have failed to check Altman’s course; and in virtually every important incident have given way before him. All this, under the mistaken theory that thereby – by not “antagonizing” anyone – there would be an opportunity to persuade the maximum number to come along with the true Left. The results have been, of course, just the opposite: one after another, in his own way, Altman has been picking off the former Militant leaders – the two Barons, Gross, Siegel, Levenstein ... and undermining the ranks. By failing to resist Altman, to fight against him openly when necessary, the left Militants merely made it easier for him to pursue his own course and draw together his own forces.

Left Militants Conciliate

In the formation of the R.S.E.S. Zam begged the ex-WP members to accept a minority position far under the proportion of their real strength, and to have the ex-WP ranks enter only in small groups – again, in order not to “antagonize.” The ex-WP members accepted so absurd and politically false a course only because of their anxiety to raise no obstacles against any step looking toward a genuine national left wing formation, and in order to demonstrate to the full their willingness to collaborate without any thought of “prestige.” The right wing was less accommodating; it refused, as right wings always do, not to be “antagonized.” The Local New York administration replied to the formation of the R.S.E.S. – as was described in the Dec. 15th issue of the APPEAL – by passing a motion designed to make impossible the functioning of any inner party grouping.

All of the efforts at conciliation on the part of the Left Militants in New York led nowhere; led, rather, to losses for the left and gains for the right. And, in the end, during the weeks just past, Altman and his colleagues from the former Militant grouping, have themselves taken the initiative, broken with the Left Militants, and lined up definitely in a right wing formation: making this fully apparent by the charges against Burnham (preferred against the opposition of the Left Militants), by support of the right wing slate in the City Elections as against the slate of the Left Militants, and by the daily clearer emergence of an organized right wing, pro-People’s Front tendency.

The break between Altman and the Left Militants is, certainly, all to the good; though the manner in which it has occurred has been far more to the advantage of Altman than to the left wing. But what is the reply of the Left Militants? Their reply, up to the present, has been the refusal to take any steps toward a united left wing; and, on the contrary, the feverish attempt to pull together a grouping which would be “anti-Altman” on the one side, and exclude the APPEAL supporters and ex-WP members on the other. As this issue of the APPEAL goes to press, Zam has called a meeting on the above basis – a meeting, for attendance at which the necessary and sole requirements are a dislike of Altman and non-membership in the former WP.

We must speak frankly: If Zam goes through with the formation of a grouping on this basis, it must be described as a centrist grouping, and an unprincipled grouping as well. Indeed, it amounts to no more than a bargaining counter for garnering Convention delegates. What is or can be the political foundation for a such a group? Some of its proponents try shamefacedly to pretend that it rests on, a Labor party position differing from that of the APPEAL. To this three replies can be made: first, the APPEAL has never put forward its Labor party position as a necessary part of the program of the left wing in its initial stages; second, the Labor party question is at present not a live question in the labor movement of this country – there being no prospect in the near future for a national Labor party – and it consequently can in no way serve as sufficient justification for an independent grouping; and third – and most revealing – Zam invited to this Sunday meeting a number of Socialists, not formerly members of the WP, who support the Labor party position of the APPEAL, and oppose his own position.

Role of Centrist Group

This proposed grouping of Zam’s has no real political foundation in the life of the party. Its role cannot possibly be anything other than to attempt to play off the Altman forces against the genuine left wing; to try to hold a “balance of power.” And through such maneuvering it must necessarily injure the real interests of the left, and aid the strategy of Altman. It is a concession to the false notion discussed in the APPEAL Platform that the party in its development faces a danger “from the right and from the left.” This notion the platform sufficiently disposed of. The whole course of the party since Cleveland proves beyond a shadow of doubt that in becoming the revolutionary party of the American working class, the only serious obstacles are from the right, are in brief from the influence of Peoples’ Frontism in the party.

During the past two months the APPEAL supporters, including the Associate Editors who are also Directors of the R.S.E.S. (Shachtman, Draper, Burnham) have, formally and informally, by discussion and correspondence, attempted to work out with the Left Militants a solution for the problem of a genuine united national left wing. The calling of the Special Convention pushed the need for a solution ahead; for, in spite of the serious practical difficulties, the left wing is compelled politically to make coordinated preparation for the Convention. A National Conference was proposed, to which all left wingers would be invited, and at which there could be ironed out the perspective for the left wing in the coming period, the Convention strategy, the question of a national left wing organ; and, if possible, the setting up of a representative national leadership. In December, the left Militants refused this proposal. Many left wingers throughout the country, however, demand it. The APPEAL insists on a gathering – whatever its formal status – which is open to any left winger who wishes to attend. We have nothing whatever to hide; and no fear of placing our views – individual or collective – before any section of the party membership. Zam and Tyler have refused such an open meeting.[1]

It was against this background that the Appeal Association of Chicago decided to call an Institute for the week end of February 20-22, a meeting which is open to any and all left wingers in the party. We believe that under the concrete circumstances this is the biggest step forward that can be taken at the present time. It is not our intention to try, by any artificial coup or through any mechanical majority, to turn the Institute into a “national left wing conference.” After what has happened, the problem of the national left wing will have to wait at least until a conference which can be called for the days immediately preceding the Convention.

The APPEAL has not taken and does not take an “ultimatistic” attitude toward the national left wing. It has been our belief that a sufficient measure of fundamental political agreement exists among left wingers to make it possible for the left wing to function as a unit, leaving open certain questions for further clarification and future decision. The fundamental agreement that distinguishes left wingers we find on the two great issues now facing the party and the movement: first, a clear, specific position on the Peoples’ Front, such as presented in the resolution carried in this issue; second, the clear acceptance of a revolutionary perspective for the development of the party, such as given in the Appeal Platform. If agreement oh such a basis is not possible, then this should be openly recognized, and the political motivation for disagreement given. The APPEAL is not prepared, and will not be, to arrange any “deals” or maneuvers which involve the watering down of principle in order to gain some temporary organizational advantage. Such gains, in the long run, always turn out to be losses.

The APPEAL is not interested in questions of “prestige.” The Chicago Association has called the Institute independently not in order to “steal a march” on anyone in the party, but because the majority of the Board of Directors of the RSES refused to join in the call. We wish it understood that the Institute is open to all left wingers in the party; and we urge left wingers to demand that Zam, Tyler, and the other Left Militant leaders attend, and state their case.

The perspective of the APPEAL remains what it has been: to do its part in the great task of making our party the revolutionary party of the American working class. It is this perspective which guides and controls its policy.


1. To complete the record of the negotiations for a national left wing conference it must be stated that a group of left Militants decided to call a left wing conference at Pittsburgh to which conference only thirty to forty leading comrades were to be invited. The supporters of the APPEAL in New York rejected the proposal for a “leadership conference” and insisted upon a general left wing conference. When comrade Goldman was informed by Frank Trager of the “leadership conference” proposal he also rejected it and on his own individual responsibility suggested that sixteen comrades – seven from the left Militants, seven from the former WP and two from the Appeal Association – meet to discuss the problems facing the left wing without assuming any authority to decide on any of the problems. The gathering should be not in the nature of a conference of the left wing but of a consultation exploring the possibilities for a conference. This was acceptable to comrade Trager.

The “Appealites” of New York rejected the idea on the ground that what is needed is not a discussion group but a general conference with moral authority to decide matters. The left Militants at the time of writing have not yet replied. It is clear that no authoritative national left wing conference will meet and consequently the Appeal Association has decided to hold an Appeal Institute.

Top of page

Socialist Appeal Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 27 November 2008