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Socialist Appeal, February 1937, Volume 3 No. 2, Pages 19-21
Transcribed, Edited and Formatted by Damon Maxwell in 2008 for the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line.

The Burning Need – A National Left Wing Conference


THE ADOPTION of the new Declaration of Principles at the Detroit convention in 1934 marked a milestone in the post-war development of our party. The initial blast was fired then, albeit weakly at reformist socialism in the American section of the Labor and Socialist International. This was a result, mainly, of our reactions to the crushing defeat of the German movement, with Austrian defeat coming close behind, emphasizing the lesson – reactions made against the background of the world capitalist crisis and its profound manifestation in the United States. Other parties affiliated with the Labor and Socialist International, for the same reasons, experienced the development of left wing currents of varying degrees of clarity. In Spain, the strong left wing of the Socialist party unfortunately failed to complete its revolutionary development before it was thrown into the struggle of 1934 and the present civil war with fascism.

The new Declaration of Principles Was carried over the bitter opposition of the Old Guard, the dregs of reformism, which defended the policies that led to the defeat of the social democracy in Germany and Austria. Following these defeats, they attempted to rationalize them. Since political parties of the proletariat move on their principles, it was natural that the Old Guard fought the new principles and their supporters. Throughout the two years following the Detroit convention, the inter-party struggle grew in intensity. The Militants were formed and led the fight against the Old Guard. Although their highest theoretical development was reached in the Boundbrook program, yet, in practise it was not used to attack consistently the political position of the Old Guard. The Militants showed, by the primarily organizational nature of the fight they waged, the weakness of their position theoretically. It became, so far as most of them behaved, a fight of activism versus passivism and not revolutionary principles versus reformist principles.

At the Cleveland convention the Old Guard withdrew from the Socialist party, failing to get seated. They had their theoretical “say,” but received no principled answer. The Cleveland convention, after which the Militants took the leadership of the party, did not answer the pressing problems that faced the party and the world movement. This failure accounts for the weakness of the party s activity since Cleveland, which closed the first chapter in the struggle to create a party of revolutionary socialism.

Today the party stands half-reformist and half-revolutionary with all the weaknesses that such condition imposes. The entrance of the former members of the a Workers’ party, together with the departure of the Old Guard, has created an entirely new situation within the ideological and political life of the party. Burning events in the world struggle have moved forward so rapidly, that former Militants have been forced to take political positions, some to the right, some to the left. Others indulge in the well-known political game of dodging.

This new state of affairs, both within the party and the world struggle, requires a national left wing conference at which a national left wing tendency may be formed upon a revolutionary program. This is the vital need in the Socialist party today, if revolutionary potentialities of the party are to be realized. And, among the parties of the proletariat in the United States, it alone has such potentialities.

Boundbrook Program Outlived

It is necessary that the program of the national left wing conference deal concretely with the most important issues confronting the world labor movement, approaching them, quite naturally, from a revolutionary point-of-view It is improper, as some hold, that the national left wing conference base itself upon the Boundbrook program. At the Cleveland convention, the overwhelming majority of the Militants, voted against the amendment to the national election platform on the question of the road to power. The amendment contained on this important point the basic principles of the Boundbrook program. Yet, objections of Militants to the amendment on grounds of differences as to the character of an electoral platform to the contrary notwithstanding, the important thing to the Militants was really their deal with the Wisconsin Socialists, not their own principles This one instance from many holds a lesson for those who wish to approach the question of a national left Wing program abstractly. The task of building a revolutionary Socialist party puts foremost the question of educating the membership in revolutionary principles. This can be done, in a sure and correct way, only by answering the vital issues that confront the movement today from the standpoint of basic revolutionary principles. This is not only the Marxist way, it is the tested experience of elementary pedagogy.

The national left wing conference should be called by the existing left wing groups in the party today, of which the most important are the supporters throughout the country of the SOCIALIST APPEAL and the Revolutionary Socialist Educational Society of New York City. Since these groups recognize the necessity of a national left wing conference, a clear agreement on the basis for the left wing in the coming period should be the main aim, and an effort should be made by these groups to reach such an agreement as soon as possible. When such an agreement is reached, the national left wing conference should be called for the week-end of February 20th. This would enable more left wingers to attend and, more important, give a month prior to the national convention during which the results of the conference could be discussed and support gained for its program preparatory for the convention. All things considered, Chicago is the most advantageous city in which to hold the national left wing conference, being centrally located and with greater availability of housing.

Some comrades have proposed regional left wing conferences rather than a national one. It is obvious that such regional conferences would be prone to discuss purely regional and organizational problems, when what we need is a conference of the left wing national in scope and hindered by no narrowing regional and organizational matters in its consideration of the principles that must guide the Socialist party.. Other left wing comrades do not see the necessity of holding the national left wing conference until a few days before the national convention in Chicago, which begins March 30th. This, too, is not desirable; first, because it would cause the national left wing conference to lose much of the necessary value it must, and can, have in the political education of the party’s membership to a revolutionary socialist position; and second, it is most difficult to discuss adequately as they demand, the principles of revolutionary socialism for which the party must be won, immediately preceding the opening of a national convention. Under such circumstances, again, matters of organization and personnel intrude.

Raising Revolutionary Level

For left wingers to continue the past haphazard treatment that principles have received in the party is to cast suspicion on our revolutionary understanding or integrity, and for a certainty it will keep us from our goal, a revolutionary Socialist party. The truth is that there is no more effective way to do the supreme task of raising the ideology and politics of the party’s membership to a revolutionary level, at present, than through a national left wing conference. It will arouse the attention, interest and support of those principles we hold dear; it will enable us better to win the membership to them. it our task is to build a revolutionary Socialist party, then it can be done only by winning a majority of the membership to revolutionary principles. It is necessary to warn, here, against any comrades who count on taking over the party s leadership and apparatus without the political support of the majority of the party’s membership. Such things are possible, but it would be a dangerous game to play with the principles of revolutionary Socialism, aye a violation of them. It would greatly narrow the possibilities of the Socialist party’s becoming the instrument of the American working class for the principles of revolutionary Socialism, which alone lead to proletarian victory.

Immediately, all left wing Socialists throughout the country should agitate for this proposed national left wing conference. Once it has been called it is their duty to raise the question in those locals and branches where the left wing holds a majority and get a representative sent Naturally, this does not mean that the national left wing conference will have an official standing. In other locals and branches it will be necessary for the left wingers to get together and send a representative. Lone left wingers throughout the country should surely make every effort to attend, for to no little degree their failure to get local left wing support lies in the fact that there is now no national left wing program upon which to rally support. Should it be impossible to send a representative to the conference, then left wing groups should immediately begin to prepare documents which set forth fully the positions they feel the national left wing conference should take. Any suggestions or reports are not excluded for all relevant material to a national left wing is most important. In this way the national left wing conference will be as representative of the revolutionary Socialists as is possible. Every point-of-view of the left wing must be given a democratic hearing.

Although every left wing comrade worthy of the name recognizes that the whole situation within the party demands a national left wing conference in February, it may turn out that, however necessary, it is physically impossible to hold such a conference. This would be a sharp commentary on our revolutionary maturity but nonetheless such a sad eventuality must be prepared for now no matter how irritating. In this unfortunate case, it would be incumbent upon the existing left wing groups to hold jointly an informal conference of their most representative members, where they could work out a basis of agreement for a principled program for the national left wing. Of course, this would not be the program of the national left wing, but it could be the basis of a conference of the national left wing just prior to the convention. As many left wingers as are able, should attend the informal conference and participate in its discussions. The resulting program of the informal meeting should then be given the widest discussion in the party, the left wing securing the support of the member-ship and doing all they can to make it the basis upon which to elect delegates to the national convention. Where delegates have already been elected they should be won to it.

0nce the informal conference has agreed upon a pro-gram, it should then issue a call for the national left wing conference to be held in Chicago several days prior to the opening of the national convention. This would be the only thing possible to do if every effort to call a national left wing conference in February failed, but it must be recognized that this is not what .is politically necessary and would therefore only be the poor second choice. What is needed is a national left wing conference in February!

One last word. It will be difficult in either case for the comrades to come long distances and to raise the necessary money. Every possible means must be exhausted in order to be represented. Social functions, lectures, collections, loans, contributions, and anything else your ingenuity can devise should be used to finance representation. Digging into personal reserves will be necessary. Freight trains, hitch-hiking, transportation in exchange for driving, renting and borrowing of cars by joint defrayal of expenses by several comrades are possibilities. This should be as nothing compared to the exigencies of the movement tomorrow. But today is today, and correctly understood, the national left wing conference will be more important for to-morrow than the national convention. What the convention will accomplish, in terms of revolutionary socialism, depends upon a national left wing conference prior to the convention. There is no way to build effectively a national left wing without a national left wing conference. This makes it, clearly, a matter of duty to all those whose life is devoted to the emancipation of the working class, those who know that to do this monumental historic task re-quires a revolutionary Socialist party.

NOTE: Unfortunately comrade Whitten’s suggestion for a national left wing conference could not be realized. And his idea of an informal gathering of left wing representatives also struck a snag. Not as a substitute for a national left wing conference but as a step towards the formation of a national left wing and to ass-lire complete cooperation at the party convention, between all genuine left wing tendencies the Appeal Association decided to conduct an Institute where the problems of the left wing and the party will be discussed.

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