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Socialist Appeal, March 1937, Volume 3 No. 3, Page 29-36
Transcribed and Marked Up by Damon Maxwell in 2009 for the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line.

The Crisis in the Party


DURING the past month it has become clear to every alert party member that our party is in the midst of a serious crisis. It would be a mistake, however to imagine that the existence of more or less organized “factions” or “groups” is the mark of the crisis. On the contrary, groups and factions are entirely normal and healthy in the life of an active and democratic political organization. It is through such groups, functioning within the disciplined framework of the party as a whole, that differing ideas and methods are presented for discussion and decision to the party membership. Though internal groups may and should disappear temporarily from time to time, on the rare occasions when there is no important divergence on political issues among the membership – indeed, a group which is not built on a specific political platform is of necessity an unprincipled organizational clique – nevertheless the long continued absence of groups is a sure proof not of united vigor, but of sterility and political death. This is precisely the meaning of the complete absence of internal groupings in the parties of the Communist International. They are absent in the C.I. because critical thought is prohibited. Differences of opinion are settled not by democratic discussion, but by expulsion – or, in the Soviet Union itself, by the still more direct methods of the G.P.U.

The existence of groups in our party, then, is not what indicates the crisis. What shows that there is a crisis is, rather, the fact that certain groups and individuals in the party call for the splitting of the party, call for the expulsion, not merely for the political defeat, of the group or groups to which they are opposed. It is essential that the party membership understand the exact political mature of the crisis, so that it may act on the basis of such understanding, and not through either ignorance or prejudice.

The present crisis, as the APPEAL has already made dear, is not something altogether new and unexpected. It is, in reality, simply one stage further in the process of development which began nearly four years ago, and which has twice before reached the level of crises: once in connection with the “Declaration of Principles”; again at the Cleveland Convention. The actions taken at Cleveland, the split with the main forces of the Old Guard, in New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, though representing a progressive answer to the immediate issue then so sharply posed, were yet insufficient to solve the fundamental problem. For this reason, the subsequent sharpening of new conflicts, the breaking out of a new crisis could not have been avoided, no matter what efforts were made at postponement. The calling of the Special Convention precipitated the new crisis at the new stage of the development of the party as a whole. This result necessarily followed from the calling of the Special Convention precisely because the fundamental problem is not vet solved. And until it is solved, in one of the only two possible ways, new crises, in varying degrees of intensity, will periodically arise.

What, then, is the fundamental problem? The APPEAL has repeatedly stated it; it is neither complex nor mysterious It is simply this: will the party continue forward on the road through which it will become the revolutionary party of the American working class? or will it slip back into reformism and disintegration? Since 1933 this has been the basic problem underlying every other issue in the party, and every organizational struggle; and it will continue to dominate the party until it is finally settled, one way or the other. For it is not yet settled Even the split with the main forces of the Old Guard did not settle it, as the present situation in the party makes sufficiently obvious.

Since Cleveland the problem has, in some measure at least been fitted into a new setting. This is due to the extraordinary rapidity of social and political changes, both nationally and internationally. To mention but a few of the more important: The new imperialist war has moved appreciably nearer, and throughout the world all political policies are dominated by preparations for the war The social conflict in Spain reached the climax of open civil war. The General Strike in France showed that the French proletariat is on the eve of decisive struggles. The Soviet bureaucracy, seeing the approach of the war, finds it necessary to advance its new policy with multiplied speed and ruthlessness, as shown above all by the Moscow Trials. In this country the C.I.O. movement and the wave of strikes show in their own way the deep repercussions of the growing international clash of forces. All of these great events, directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously, leave their impress on our party, and help to determine the present program and relationships of groups and individuals.

The Attack of the Communist Party

For a considerable time following the adoption of the new People’s Front orientation by the Communist International, the chief object of the Communist party in this country with reference to the Socialist party was to obliterate the memories of the “Third Period” and of the Madison Square Garden episode. The violent abuse of the Third Period changed to kindliness. Social-fascists became the best of comrades. The united front and then the People’s Front became the order of the day. But an unfortunate conflict arose, and Browder was placed in the most perplexing dilemma faced by any of the little leaders of the Third International. The new line of the C.I. with respect to the parties of the Second International was predicated on the assumption that these parties were reformist, social-democratic, in policy; and indeed flowed from the fact that the C.I. itself had taken over a reformist policy. But in this country the Stalinists discovered that the Socialist party was rapidly leaving reformism and social-democracy behind; so determinedly, in fact, that in the Spring of 1936 it split with the spearhead of reformism and recruited into its own ranks the revolutionists from the former Workers’ party. Here was a formidable obstacle indeed: The plan of the C.P. to enlist the masses of the democratic countries for the coming war dictated joining with the reformist parties of the Second International in anti-revolutionary Popular Fronts which would simultaneously make ready a mass recruiting base for the war and wipe out any independent revolutionary political organization. But the Socialist party of the U. S., though still formally a member of the Second International, was proving a recalcitrant mistress. Instead of leaping happily into the arms of her Peoples Front lover, she was turning in the opposite direction, toward direct struggle against capitalism – even, unfortunately for Browder, against democratic capitalism – and against the approaching war. She carried through her divorce action against Waldman, and then – horror of horrors – instead of knocking at Browder’s door on 13th Street, she was discovered consorting with “the vanguard of the bourgeoisie, the counter-revolutionary assassins,” in short, the Trotskyites.

Stalinists “Help” Us

The blows fell on Browder. And to cap them off, the Socialist party insisted, insisted against the very best and most sympathetic advice of the Ninth Convention of the Communist party, on conducting an independent working-class campaign in the 1936 Elections. This was too much. And from then on the Stalinists have carried on against the erring Socialist friends a campaign whose intensity and viciousness is unparalleled in the history of the labor movement in this country – all, of course, as the recent “Appeal to Socialists,” published by the Stalinists, points out, in the most friendly spirit “of comradely assistance,” all of course “to help you in the task of saving and building your party.”

Consider the election campaign. What did the Stalinists say to us? They said that we were the tools of the Landon-Liberty League-Hearst combination. They said quite flatly that Norman Thomas was the stooge of Hearst and Landon. They said that we were destroying working class unity and directly aiding fascism and reaction because we pointed out that Roosevelt also was an agent of the bourgeoisie. The main fire of their attack, identical with the attack of the Social-Democratic Federation (because proceeding from an identical political line), during the entire campaign was directed against us. Every vote they gave to Roosevelt, master-strategist of American imperialism, was a blow against reaction (Browder boasted about it in his post-election report); every vote they took away from us was a victory for progress.

It has been the same with every issue which has arisen during the months since Cleveland. When we point out that the issue in Spain is socialism vs. capitalism, that the workers of Spain cannot win in the end by confining their struggle to the preservation of capitalist democracy, then we are, say the Stalinists, allies of Franco. When Norman Thomas and Devere Alien join a Committee to defend the right of asylum and of a fair hearing, so fatefully threatened by the Moscow Trials and the lynch campaign against Trotsky, they have become tools of assassins. When the CALL calls for no support of the U.S. government in any war, Browder, in his Madison Square Garden speech, carefully suggests that it is preparing to sell out the United States to Japan. When our comrades call for a class-struggle policy in the Workers’ Alliance and an end with behind-the-back deals with supervisors and purely parliamentary slogans, they have become disrupters of the unity of the unemployed. When our party demands as an international perspective a break with the class collaborationism of the People’s Front and an advance along the road of revolutionary struggle for socialism, we have gone over into the fascist camp and have joined the enemies of the Soviet Union. And in recent weeks, in California, Newark, New York City, Boston, our comrades distributing leaflets and literature, are set upon physically by Stalinist hoodlums.

Stalinist Cure for S. P.

But the efforts of the Stalinists are not by any means confined to mere pedagogy. They propose to do more than to teach us little lessons in Marxism-Stalinism. Browder is a practical man as well as the teacher of the American proletariat. He intervenes more directly and with more specific proposals. During recent months especially the mimeograph machine and printing presses of the Stalinists have devoted a flattering amount of attention to material specifically designed for Socialist party members. Scarcely a meeting goes by that we don’t have placed in our hands a lengthy document explaining just what is wrong with us and just what we should do to cure it (as Amter gracefully puts it: “You are the patients. You must also be the doctor. We Communists can only assist you.”) The trouble with the Socialist party, as summed up by the Stalinist diagnosticians, is: You have swallowed the Trotskyist poison. The prescribed cure is simply: You must vomit forth this poison. A leaflet recently distributed by the Chicago Y.C.L. to “All Sincere Young Socialists,” puts it in capital letters: “THE RIDDING OF YOUR RANKS OF THIS POISON IS TASK NO. 1 FOR SINCERE YOUNG SOCIALISTS!”

There is nothing accidental in the appearance of these documents. Already last June, at the Ninth Convention of the C.P., the Socialist party was told “if you swallow poison, be sure to have a glass of emetic on hand and drink it quickly.” The approach of the Special Convention poses the question more sharply. As already commented on in the APPEAL, Browder posed the central task of the coming months in his December 4th report to the Central Committee. It is advisable to quote again from this report the lines which have given the leading directive for Stalinist activity since that time: “The Socialists must understand that nothing of a constructive nature can come out of the Socialist party except on the basis of struggle against the counter-revolutionary Trotskyite poison. The Socialist party must rid itself of its poisonous influence ...” Then, more concretely: “The only way to rid the Socialist party of Trotskyite influence is by concentrating the struggle for the expulsion of the Trotskyites against their most apparently harmful manifestations. The Socialist party has called a special convention for the next March, as you know. We must consult with the best elements in the Socialist partly about their problems in the most helpful way ... They must prepare for the March convention of the Socialist party to get results, to win the Socialist party for the united front and make a clean break with counter-revolutionary Trotskyites.”

Here, then, announced openly by the chief spokesman of the Communist party, is the proposal of the Stalinists for the solution of the present crisis in our party. It is summed up in the central slogan: Expel the Trotskyites!

As the Convention draws nearer, the activity of the Stalinists redoubles. One of its latest, and most extraordinary, manifestations is a 16 page brochure, handsomely printed, entitled “Appeal to Socialists,” and obligingly distributed to all Socialist party members free of charge. Every party member should, we urge, take advantage of this generosity; it is a document to read and to ponder.

“Through this bulletin,” the “Appeal to Socialists” begins in a thoroughly comradely fashion, “we wish to participate in your pre-convention discussion.” The Stalinist conclusion will not come as a surprise. If the Socialist party is to be saved, “it can only be done by the convention definitely deciding to break with all Trotskyite and semi-Trotskyite policies, and the complete elimination of the Trotskyites from the Socialist party.”


To understand fully the exact meaning of the Stalinist attack, it is necessary to answer carefully two questions: (1) Just what are the “Trotskyite and semi-Trotskyite policies” with which the party is asked to break? (2) Just who are the “Trotskyites” whom the Stalinists want to have “eliminated”?

(1) The Stalinist literature makes absolutely clear what they mean by the Trotskyism which, like a cancer, is eating out the vitals of the Socialist party. Trotskyist poison, says Browder in his report, leads the Socialist party to come “out in principle against the Peoples Front in America and advocated its liquidation in France and Spain.” Further, Trotskyist sectarianism leads to “an unprincipled split with its local organizations, which had somewhat of a mass base in Connecticut and Pennsylvania; it split with the New York Old Guard which had trade union connections.” In addition, “Trotskyism” calls “on the Spanish people to abandon their present democratic struggle supposedly for an immediate socialist revolution” (from the Chicago Y.C.L. pamphlet). And Trotskyism calls for no support of any war undertaken by any capitalist government.

The list could be easily multiplied. But the general point is clear: “Trotskyism” means anything, anything whatever, which opposes the present People’s Front line of the Comintern, any criticism of the People’s Front anywhere, any opposition to Stalinist social-patriotism in favor of the revolutionary struggle against war, any belief that the issue of our epoch is that between socialism and fascism and not between democracy and fascism; in short, “Trotskyism” means any advocacy of the ideas and methods of revolutionary Marxism, as opposed to Stalinist class collaborationism and betrayal; it means any sign of refusal to accept ideological dictation from the C. I., any breath of criticism against the Soviet bureaucracy.

This conclusion is of great significance. Some comrades delude themselves with the notion that the attack of the Stalinists is directed merely against the died-in-the-wool “Fourth Internationalists,” against those who base their political position on the complete theory of the “permanent revolution,” the complete analysis of the Soviet Union which is associated with this theory, etc. Let them not be deceived. It may be that the Stalinists look upon the Fourth Internationalists in the Socialist party as the chief immediate danger and the most unrelenting advocates of revolutionary as opposed to Stalinist ideas. But their attack is directed against every idea and policy which is incompatible with the present line of the C.I., and will continue until every such idea and policy is beaten down – unless, of course, that attack meanwhile is met and defeated.

(2) We are led to a similar conclusion in answer to the question, Who, in the eyes of the Stalinists, are the “Trotskyites”? Does this mean the Socialist party members who were once members of the former Workers party? Once again, do not be deceived. Let us consult the “Appeal to Socialists”: “Under the influence of these fascist agents within the working class” the Socialist party “discovered that the line of the Seventh World Congress, the policy of the People’s Front in the struggle against reaction and fascism was ‘opportunistic’.” In this respect, then, the entire party is apparently Trotskyite. (It should be kept in mind that this “discovery” was made by the Socialist party some while before the entrance of the Workers’ party members.) Let us go on: “The real danger of the Trotskyites to the Socialist party is seen by the extent to which they have corrupted some of the elements of the former ‘Left.’ They have practically captured the SOCIALIST CALL. They maneuvered and succeeded with those persons who are close to their views ... to take over the SOCIALIST CALL and removed the former editor, Levenstein, who was not satisfactory to the Trotskyites.” Now comes a real revelation: “The present staff in the national office is, like THE CALL following a policy very close to the Trotskyites ...” One entire article is entitled, “The SOCIALIST CALL’S, Trotskyite line.” And Norman Thomas’ Trotskyite leanings have been a hundred times assailed in the Stalinist press.

Against whom is the Stalinist attack directed? The Stalinists themselves give the answer: against everyone, anyone, who does not accept the Stalinist ideology; that is, against every revolutionary Socialist, every genuine left-winger, every near left-winger, in the Socialist party. And the attack will not rest until every revolutionist, every left-winger, is whipped into line – unless, once more, we stand up like revolutionists and like men, and smash the attack head on.


What is the aim of the Stalinist attack on the party? The whole content of their campaign, as well as the nature of the international line of the C. I., give the answer. The aim is to destroy the Socialist party as an independent political force; to make the Socialist party simply an instrument of Stalinism. And, after all, what other aim, could the Stalinists have? To succeed in accomplishing this aim is, in point of fact, a life-and-death matter for Stalinism. The Stalinist preparations for the war cannot be carried through if a strong revolutionary current blocks the social-patriotic path. The war is not far off. Therefore the Stalinists must use every device to break up any revolutionary or potentially revolutionary organization in this or any other country before the war begins.

We “exaggerate the danger of the Communist party”? The APPEAL has often been thus criticized. Let the critics consider the fate of the Spanish Socialist Youth. Two years ago they were a powerful organization, moving rapidly in a revolutionary direction, the main hope of the Spanish working class. The Stalinist campaign swung into action. With the help of demagogic – and most friendly – “unity” slogans, they put across a merger between the Socialist and Stalinist youth into an “independent revolutionary youth organization.” Today this organization is an affiliate of the Third International, part and parcel of the Stalinist world machine, committed to the most extreme Popular Frontism, its internal political life strangled, and now in the forefront of those in Spain who are hounding the revolutionists who call for a revolutionary struggle against Franco. In Catalonia the Socialist and Communist parties united, and the subsequent history is identical. Politics, alas, is not a nursery game. There is only one way to make peace with Stalinism: and that is by becoming a Stalinist – though even that, as the Trials show, is often not enough.

The Stalinists propose, as their solution for the party crisis, that the Convention “expel the Trotskyites.” Suppose it were true – as we have seen it is not – that they meant merely, expel the former Workers party members. What then? Would the Stalinists then be “satisfied”? They themselves make it plain that they would not be.

Then would come the turn of the Call Board, with its policies “taken from Trotskyism”; then of the National Office, with its “strong Trotskyite influence”; then of all the “semi-Trotskyites” that the “Appeal to Socialists” refers to; then of every party member who does not capitulate politically. And each successive amputation would make the next only the easier; the expulsion of the “extreme Trotskyists” would knock away the solid support of the Left Wing, would leave the remaining left wingers a hundred times more helpless.

The political mechanics of the process are unquestionable: The expulsion of any section of the Left Wing will guarantee the disintegration of the party as an independent political force. The direction of the development of the past four years would be immediately reversed. The party would head back with lightning speed into reformism and class collaborationism, and collapse with a thud into the arms of the Peoples Front.

The Paul Porter Pamphlet

It is not our intention in this article to analyse at length the attack of the Old Guard reformists on the party. The APPEAL has done this before. And, besides, the Old Guard campaign is identical in political content with the campaign of the Stalinists, from the vicious gibes at the “Thom-Trotskyist” Socialist party, to the central slogan of “Expel the Trotskyists.”

The task now is to study the influence of these attacks against the party from the outside on various groups and individuals within the party. Nor is it necessary to speculate whether any given group or individual is to be numbered among those “best elements of the Socialist party” with whom Browder, in his report, promised to “discuss ... about their problems.” That there are direct agents of the Stalinists in our ranks is more than probable but that is a minor matter. What is more important is to trace the influence of the Stalinist ideas and proposals.

Naturally these ideas and proposals find their most receptive audience in those members whose traditional positions have been farthest toward reformism; indeed, the Stalinists have in large measure merely gone back to the ideas which were once the special property of traditional reformists and near-reformists. Thus it is not at all surprising to find one of the closest parallels to the Stalinist attack emerging from the Wisconsin organization. Paul Porter’s recent pamphlet, “Which Way for the Socialist Party?”, published for party discussion by the State Executive Board of Wisconsin, with an introduction by the State Secretary, deserves the careful attention of every party member.

It does not require a microscope to discover the character of the general political content of this document. An entire section is headed, “The Need for an International Peoples Front.” We discover that in this country a farmer-labor party will be “a Peoples Front in effect, if not in name.” We learn that the war danger now arises from “the war plans of the fascist nations.” The duty of the Socialist party is to “ward off” the war danger. In doing so, however, workers’ sanctions are a minor weapon (in fact, exclusive insistence on them is “in our opinion, a new outcropping of syndicalism”); chiefly we must put “pressure on the government,” with such aims as: “Vigorous opposition to the maintenance of armaments greater than needed for coast defense” (our emphasis); “Removal from the War, Navy, and State Departments, and from the armed forces, of all pro-fascists ...; Nationalization of munitions industries.” Our peace policy “should support the peace policy of the Soviet Union; and it should demand that the American government cooperate ... with the government of the Soviet Union and with those People’s Front governments that may be established, in their efforts to prevent war through collective security.” We discover that the criticisms of the People’s Front in Spain and in France do “not stand up.” Even the criticisms of Blum’s “neutrality policy” in connection with the Spanish Civil War is pretty much unjustified. “The major difficulty with the People’s Front policy, in the present period, is that it has not been applied extensively enough.” “Not the disruption of the People’s Fronts, but their extension into an International People’s Front strong enough to overawe (!!) the Fascist International, is the urgent need today. In the U.S. it is the duty of Socialists to push our government in that direction.” (Our emphasis.)

Even Browder must be a little breathless if he has read these last proposals.

We have seen enough to draw an irrefutable conclusion: The Porter pamphlet expresses the political line of the Communist International.

Let us go on. What will the Socialist party do about this Farmer Labor party which is to be an American expression of the People’s Front? “The building of such a party is our foremost responsibility.” And when it comes? If a federated party, our party will of course affiliate. But – observe – “there are, however, a number of serious objections that may be raised against the federated structure.” An individual membership basis seems on the whole best – after all, it is “a question of tactics, not of principle.” And, of course: “Whatever the structural relationship of the Socialist party to the farmer-labor party, Socialists must continue to function as a disciplined group. Liquidation of our party is unthinkable.” So does Porter piously conclude, after just having laid the basis for the liquidation of the Socialist party into the Farmer Labor party, and the transformation of socialist activity into that of an educational league within the Farmer Labor party.

Thus, similarly, with the Socialist leagues in the unions.

“There is today a widespread demand in the Socialist party for leagues of Socialists in all unions. The purpose is a sound one (we are all men of good will, in Comrade Porter’s eyes) : to coordinate the efforts of Socialists so that they may more effectively advance our cause. The tactic is, in most instances, of doubtful character for it may become self-defeating ... As against the formation of a Socialist league is the more diplomatic and fruitful policy of mobilizing all Progressives around a program that will be of clear and unmistakable benefit to the union.”


On the basis of his political views, how, then, does Porter analyze the internal situation in the party, and what solution does he propose? Unfortunately for the purposes of dramatic effect, there is no surprise coming. The trouble with the party is the “isolationist trend ... that is thoroughly harmful ... “The comrades in this group ... in practice ... are anti-internationalist and anti-Socialist.” The spearhead of this tendency is the Trotskyist group, but their view has spread to others. Apparently, the majority group of the Socialist Call Editorial Board has fallen under their influence. At least, the article in the issue of Jan. 16, 1937, entitled ‘Party Perspectives, No. 3 – The Fight Against War’ illustrates this tendency at its worst.” “Foremost among those who are isolating the party from the labor movement are the Trotskyists ...” (For did not the mass workers in Wisconsin elect 10 candidates to the legislature – though somehow losing 2/3 of the party membership in the process – while the sectarian “Trotskyists” across the State line, in Minnesota, merely built up one of the most powerful and militant trade union movements in American history – somehow quadrupling the party membership meanwhile, in the months since Cleveland?) Incidentally, it should be noted that “Still another group tending toward isolation is one illustrated by Norman Thomas.”

What then to do? Porter is not, of course, in a position to raise the cry for expulsion and split in quite the direct language of the “Appeal to Socialists.” Nevertheless, he makes clear that this is the real meaning of his chief concrete proposal. The main danger to the party, he has shown, comes from the sectarian Trotskyists. “Their dominant concern is one of bitter hostility to the Soviet Union” (the glib manner in which hostility to Stalinism is translated into hostility to the Soviet Union should be noted). “The history of the Trotskyists affords little evidence that they can aid the Socialist party or the cause of Socialism.” “True, there are some now associated, in varying degree, with the Trotskyists who may be able to reverse their trend and constructively assist in the tasks we outlined in the previous section; but this they can do only by abandoning the precepts of Trotskyism.” “If they (the sectarian Trotskyists) cannot accomodate themselves to the needs of the time, then they must be required to part company with us.”

This is plain enough talking. The price of remaining in the party, if Porter has his way, is to be: acceptance of his Peoples Front program. And he has already made up his mind that the greater part of the “sectarians” will not get under the line: does he not point out that only some, now associated with the “Trotskyists” have a chance of “reversing their trend.” But bluntly: Expel the Trotskyists; split the party. And expel them why? Because of their ideas; because their ideas are incompatible with Porter’s plans for the liquidation of the party as an independent revolutionary force. It is always amusing to notice how “democratic” in practice are all the brave Right Wing defenders of Democracy.

And Porter searches around for a formula under which to expel the Left. He has not worked out anything entirely satisfactory, but he offers one approach: “Almost none of them (the Trotskyists) were members of our party a year ago. They were members of another party, the Workers party, and entered our ranks surreptitiously during the confusion caused by the Old Guard split. We say surreptitiously, for no request for admission was ever submitted to a national convention ... nor even to the N.E.C. Those locals which admitted them had no authority to do so, ...” It thus turns out that the Trotskyists are not really members of the party at all; and all the Convention has to do to solve the problem is to recognize this. Have we heard this idea expressed before? Let us turn back to the “Appeal to Socialists.” We read: “When the Trotskyites entered the Socialist party it was without the consent or understanding of the members themselves.” Amter’s entire article in “Appeal to Socialists” should be read alongside of Section 3, Chapter I, sub-section 4, of Porter’s pamphlet.

The Massachusetts Liquidators

Porter’s pamphlet is not an isolated phenomenon. We do not intend, however, to list all of its parallels m other sections of the party. There have been such documents as those issued by the “Socialist Action Committee” in Indiana, centering as usual on the slogan of “Expel the Trotskyists.” This Committee turned out to be composed of Communist party members and sympathizers. Recently in Connecticut, a “Committee of Correspondence” – the name so appropriately taken over from the days of ’76 – has blossomed forth to save the party. Its first communication is pure Stalinism, open and undisguised. And its concrete proposal is, of course, “expel the sectarians.”

But a word or two is needed on the Massachusetts group headed by Alfred Baker Lewis, Bertram Wellman, and Albert Sprague Coolidge. The political position of this group was established in a signed statement appearing in the January issue of the Massachusetts “State Organizer.” The solution for the Socialist party is to be found in working “for a broad Farmer-Labor party.” “To do this we need surrender none of our socialist principles, none of our socialist activities; we need only to follow sound tactics and established propaganda means in carrying them on. If we can, let us affiliate as a party. If we cannot, let us work within the movement individually and maintain our organization now as we are, later as a Socialist League within the broader party which we shall help grow about us.” What does this mean? It means nothing more nor less than: liquidation of the party. An independent party organizes and leads the masses as an independent force, sustaining all the complex functions that are involved in being a political party. The Massachusetts group proposes to transform the party into a purely educational association which will be part of a “Farmer Labor party.” Gomberg, in New York, who holds this same position, drops all hypocrisy, and in party meetings openly and unambiguously declares for the liquidation of the party.

Shortly after this document appeared, Hal Siegal made a hurry-up trip from Altman headquarters to Massachusetts. Subsequent to his visit, a special issue of the “State Organizer” was put out, containing a much longer statement by the Lewis-Wellman-Coolidge group. The work of a finer hand was now in evidence. The formulas were altered. “Liquidation” was declared to be, in the Porter manner, unthinkable – though naturally the political position which involves liquidation necessarily, was retained. The main fire of the new statement was concentrated – against the “sectarians.” The anti-Socialist character of the group associated with the APPEAL was brought out in paragraph after paragraph. What is wrong with the party? The sectarians, the Trotskyists. How to solve the party problems ? There was no need to state it explicitly, for the “solution” follows from the whole logic of the statement: the solution of the Stalinists – the expulsion of the Left.

Observe the logic, for it is not without importance: The danger to the party comes from the sectarians; the perspective for the party is to liquidate it into a Farmer Labor movement; to realize this perspective, the party must expel the sectarians. And Porter and Lewis are consistent. To accomplish their aim – which is in cold fact, stripped of verbiage, the aim of the Stalinists: namely, the destruction of the party as an independent political force – they must expel the “sectarians,” precisely because these same “sectarians” refuse to accept this aim, of liquidation, and thus constitute an insurmountable obstacle to it.

The Altman Group

How significant, how very significant it is to find that in all the documents of the Stalinists, including the major opus, “Appeal to Socialists,” in the Porter pamphlet, in the statements of the Massachusetts liquidators, there is not one single word of criticism of the Altman group. Not one word. The sectarians, the Trotskyists, the semi-Trotskyists, the majority of the CALL Board, Zam and Tyler, the staff in the National Office, Norman Thomas, all are chided with one or another degree of severity (“more in sorrow than in anger,” as Porter remarks). But not one word of annoyance against Altman.

No one will be so naive as to imagine that this is accidental. The truth is: the Right Wing of the party, in its present stage of development, made up of a heterogeneous brew ranging from religious pacifist to Fabians to Populists to outright Stalinists, has taken form back of the Altman group. The Altman leadership constitutes the front line of the Right Wing.

That this should be so is required by circumstances. The party membership would not conceivably swallow open pacifism and liquidationism and Stalinism. Therefore the pacifists and liquidationists and Stalinists cannot be in the forefront of the Right Wing. The Right Wing must manufacture for itself a “left front”; and the Altman leadership is admirably suited to the purpose.

Are not the Altmanites “good left wingers”? Of course they are: just read their literature and hear them speak – they continually emphasize it. Are they not “against the People’s Front? Certainly they say so, time after time. Are they not “against the liquidation of the party”? No one repudiates “liquidationism” more indignantly. Are they not for a “left wing position on war”? Who could dream otherwise, in the face of their protestations?

Or so, at any rate, the Altman group appears to the bulk of its own active membership, as well as to a number of other party members who have not yet fully clarified to themselves the party situation.

But let us pause a while. Are we quite sure just what the Altman position is? Somehow, it has never been written down concretely. Somehow, the Altman group has never had time to commit itself in writing. The Altman group is branded with the outstanding mark of an unprincipled clique: the group was formed first, and its platform and program are to be formulated – afterwards. When? When, if at all, it becomes clear just what organizational combination will prove most advantageous, at which time the program can be adapted accordingly. In the statement sent out February 10, 1937, calling for the national organization of the group, we read: “A program embodying our basic theoretical stand as well as our position on the immediate issues facing the party is now under preparation and will be published shortly.”

“Against the Peoples Front”? No doubt. But somehow, under the Altman administration in Local New York, members are brought up on charges for criticizing Blum or Caballero; somehow Murray Baron, outstanding Altmanite, calls those who criticize the People’s Front in Spain “strike breakers”; somehow Local New York finds itself entangled with the North American Committee to aid Spanish Democracy; somehow Comrade Spector is brought up on charges by an Altmanite for defending publicly the position on the persecution of the POUM adopted by the National Action Committee and published in the CALL. “Against liquidation”? Of course. But somehow Murray Gross, a signer of the statement, advocates Socialists joining the American Labor party as individuals in spite of the decision of the A.L.P. that anyone joining it must renounce membership in any other party. Somehow Gomberg, an open liquidationist, votes with the Altman group. Somehow Lash, working in the heart of the Altman group, proposes a “reorganization” of the YPSL which would destroy all its independent political life. “For a left wing position on war”? Naturally. But Local New York, last June, found itself marching in a Peace Parade of the American League against War and Fascism, and even now has a representative on some kind of committee negotiating or “coordinating” with the League. And party members publicly advocating pacifism, collective security and the rest of it are somehow never found guilty of those “violations of discipline” to which the sectarians seem so addicted.

Still, a clear political position on the key problems confronting the movement is no doubt an abstract and minor matter – hair-splitting, as Porter and Lewis call it – when the party is in a state of crisis. Perhaps we do Altman an injustice. Perhaps his group has a position on “the crucial question.” And, in truth – if by the crucial question we mean the internal question – it has. Nor is it alone in its position: it shares its point of view with Lewis, with Porter, and with the Stalinists. Let us investigate briefly:

What is the main danger to the party? The Feb. 10th statement answers: “the unfortunate trend within the party toward sectarianism and isolation. The undersigned definitely feel that there has been a drift toward sectarianism within the party and this drift must be arrested by immediate action.” (Our emphasis.) “We cannot allow the outlook of the SOCIALIST APPEAL to set the tone of the party.” Who are the sectarians? Merely the former members of the Workers party? By no means: the Altman conclusions coincide with the conclusions of the “Appeal to Socialists”: “The Zam-Tyler group ... very much like the reactionary Old Guard, ... fear the idea of a Labor party for they fear contact with the masses. Such contacts would destroy their pretty illusion of the ‘revolutionary upsurge’ of the workers. Rather than face reality, they hide their heads in the sand and continue to speak in theoretical pronouncements but doing nothing to apply these in their daily life ...” The “entire outlook” of the Zam-Tyler group “tends toward DeLeonism and monolithism ...” “The Zam-Tyler slate” in the city elections “was supported by the ultra-sectarian caucus of the members of the former Workers party.”

Who are the friends of Altman in the party? “Another aspect of this same division is in our attitude toward other elements within the party, particularly Wisconsin. We consider these sections of the party loyal Socialists, and although we differ with them on many questions, are willing to make sacrifices to secure harmony within the party.”

What “sacrifices” are you prepared to make? Porter laid down the terms of the sacrifice clearly enough: the sacrifice of revolutionary principle; and, first and foremost, the sacrifice of – the Left Wing. Let us go further in the Altman statement: “The acid test today is the question of cooperation with the power caucus within the party formed by members of the former Workers party. We consider this group to base itself upon reactionary sectarianism and feel its ideology and general perspective to be injurious to the best welfare of the party. This group has made scant headway since its formation ... primarily because it has stamped itself within the party as a Communist opposition rather than as a Socialist group ... We have no intention of helping the party to become an anti-Communist, anti-Soviet league... Therefore, we have declared that a condition of unity (with the Zam-Tyler group) must be a refusal to make political deals with this power caucus ...” A basic plank in the proposed 5-point program for “left wing unity” is: “2. United group without the Trotskyites.” (Our emphasis.)

But does the Altman leadership draw the final conclusion of the “Appeal to Socialists” –namely, on the basis of its analysis of the party situation, expulsion of the “Trotskyites”? At first glance, apparently not. Point 4 of the “unity program” reads: “A general statement be sponsored by joint committee stressing need for unity in party. We affirm our belief in the free expression within the Socialist party of every point of view within the limits of Socialist thought.” (Our emphasis.) Altman makes no bones about exclusion of the Trotskyists being a necessary condition for a united group. But what does that mean with reference to the party as a whole? This Point 4 gives the answer. Does the position of the “ultra-sectarians” come within the confines of “socialist thought.” The statement proves that, in Altman’s eyes, it does not. The ultra-sectarians are “anti-Soviet” and function as a “Communist opposition rather than as a Socialist group.” Murray Baron, in his speech to the first open meeting of the Clarity group, made it quite plain: the Trotskyists now in our party, he declared, are “outside agitators” – this is the exact phrase. The only possible conclusion is, therefore: expel them.

This, then, is the political anatomy of the Altman group laid bare. Because of the wholly bureaucratic manner in which the leadership of the group functions, because of its lack of an openly declared program, because of its demagogic hypocrisy, it is true that the bulk of the membership of the group does not understand the true meaning of its policy, and would repudiate it if it were understood. Let the membership call its leaders to account, and drag them into the light. Eyes should be opened at least a few steps before the edge of the cliff.

The Clarity Group

The APPEAL has already defined the general character of the political position of the Clarity group (i.e., the Zam-Tyler group). We do not propose here to review in detail its history and record. In the present concrete situation in the party, the Clarity group is the major section of the Center. It is on record against expulsions or splits, as well as against liquidation; while at the same time it refuses unity of the Left Wing as proposed by the Appeal Association. Its policy is dictated by its ambiguous and equivocal position, trying to play both ends against each other. It is compelled to reject the thesis of the Right Wing that “the main danger is from the sectarian left” and likewise to reject the thesis of the Left that the main danger is from the splitters and liquidators of the Right. It tries to uphold the formula that “the danger is both from the Right and from the Left,” that the struggle must be carried on along two fronts. Its spokesman declare publicly that they are prepared to make temporary blocs either with the Right or with the Left: that .is, either with those who are trying to split the party in the interests of Popular Frontism or with those who are determined that the party shall continue forward along the revolutionary road. One of their spokesman (Trager) expresses his wish for a general bloc with the Appeal Association – in a speech to the Appeal Institute; another (Zam) rejects the idea of a general bloc in favor of the “either-or” formula; while in New York a number of the Clarity leaders are in almost constant negotiation with the Altman leadership (having even gone so far as to fight for a joint Convention Delegate slate with Altman, until at the last moment the attempt was abandoned).

Such are the vicissitudes of a centrist policy. Curious and lamentable results follow. A large part of the membership of the Clarity group is comprised of genuine and militant left-wingers. who are in essential agreement with every important aspect of the Appeal platform and program. But they are discovering that to maintain their ambiguous position they must constantly grant programmatic concessions. The People’s Front position of the group, for example, omits any reference whatever to Spain – that is to say, any reference to the People’s Front where it is decisive. But in the YPSL in New York, the members of the Clarity group support the same resolutions on the People’s Front and Spain which were adopted by the Appeal Institute! That is: the Clarity group has two quite different positions on the People’s Front and Spain – one for the YPSLs and one for the party. They are compelled to pose as a “unity group” fighting against threats of split from the Right and threats of split from the Left: though they can advance no shred of evidence to demonstrate that the Left in any way, either explicitly or implicitly, stands for split or expulsion. They are forced to say that there is a Right danger of liquidationism and a Left danger of sectarianism. But when pinned down to define where the “danger of sectarianism” is to be found, they can give no answer: Zam was asked this question at the Appeal Institute in Chicago; he could hardly have declared that the Institute represented a “sectarian” danger, with its members before him – three-fourths of them prominent activists in the trade union and unemployed movements; and finally he said that sectarians could be discovered – in Colorado and Camden, N. J.

What is the effect of the Clarity position in the party crisis? In spite of the fact that it is against a split, in spite of the fact that the bulk of its followers are genuine left-wingers or anxious to become so, the failure of the Clarity group to unite firmly with the revolutionary Left Wing necessarily weakens the struggle against the splitters and liquidators, necessarily aids Altman. How could it be otherwise? By having a group separate from the Appeal group, Zam-Tyler tend to confirm the contention of Altman and the Stalinists that the “Trotskyites” are hopeless sectarians, with whom no one can get along. By continuing conciliatory moves toward Altman and negotiations with him, Zam-Tyler make it easier for him to marshall his forces, and harder for the left to fight back politically. By watering down their program, Zam-Tyler weaken the resistance to the ideas of the Right Wing and of Stalinism. By calling for a simultaneous struggle against both Left and Right, Zam-Tyler disperse left-wing energies which should now be wholly concentrating on the job of saving the party for revolutionary socialism by defeating the campaign of the Right. And in the long run their policy condemns their own group to utter disintegration. If the Right succeeds in its plans to expel the left, what then would be the fate of the Clarity group? If it remained in the Party it could do so only as the helpless captive of the Right, bound hand and foot. If the Right Wing fails – as the Left is determined it shall fail – the Clarity group will only find that the vacillating policy of its leadership has let its own right flank slip over into the camp of Altman, while its left-wingers join in the united struggle of the Left.

The Perspective of the Appeal

The point of view of the APPEAL has always been clear and unambiguous. We stand for the completion of the development of the Socialist party into the revolutionary Socialist party of the American working class, the party of militant class struggle and vigorous mass action, basing itself upon the full program of Marxism. As the most efficient and rapid instrument for achieving this goal, we have proposed and continue to propose unity of all left wing forces in the party on the foundation of the Marxist answer to the key questions now confronting the party: the People’s Front, Spain, the trade union-question and mass work, disciplined party activity, inner-party democracy, the internal crisis in the party. We have sought, and continue to seek, that unity through a fusing of the Clarity group, the supporters of the APPEAL, and hitherto unconnected left wingers. Up to the present the Clarity group has rejected such unity. The pressing needs of the party, however, as well as the rapid deepening of the international crisis and the approach of the new war, do not permit us meanwhile to sit passively by. The Appeal Institute held in Chicago marked an immense step forward in the forging of a united revolutionary left wing, rallying together around the Appeal program and perspective a substantial percentage of the most militant and active party members, and forecasting complete and firm left wing unity for the near future.

Right now the problem of the Convention faces us, and faces us with the threat of expulsions and splits issuing from the Right Wing. To defeat this threat, we propose the only course of action that is most effective in defeating splitters and liquidators: we propose an uncompromising political struggle against them. Splitters cannot be bought off by kind words and conciliation; such an approach only makes them more bold and ruthless. They must be defeated politically before the eyes of the party membership. The Left Wing does not propose to conquer them by expulsions and splits. Far from it. The Left Wing has no need to solve political problems by bureaucratic and organizational measures. It is sufficiently confident of its ideas and policies to rest its case upon the democratic decision of the membership.

A united Left Wing is the best and surest means for defeating the splitters and liquidators. If this is impossible in these next weeks, we propose and insist on full and loyal collaboration among all of those forces who are against a split and for a revolutionary party. No collaboration, no bloc, on any issues, with the splitters. Such collaboration, however temporary and minor, can only aid the Right Wing, can only injure the interests of the Left and of the future of the party. Specifically: the members of the Clarity group must prevent their group from entering into a bloc with the Altman group on any question whatever; collaboration with Altman is collaboration with Lewis and with Porter, and thus in the last analysis concession to the campaign of the Stalinists.

This is not the occasion for a detailed statement of Convention proposals. From a firm political line and a clear perspective these follow as practical and concrete applications. How fully the Convention will be in a position to solve the fundamental issue is not yet, by the nature of the case, clear. This much, however, the Convention can accomplish, and through this can guarantee the advance of the party: an orientation of the party toward mass work, above all work in the trade unions; provisions for compulsory disciplined leagues in the mass organizations; full participation of all groups in the party in the responsible direction of party work, in accordance with their relative strength,, and comparative abilities and talents; solid guarantees of inner-party democracy.

There is not much time. To all those active party members who are resolved in their hearts that our party shall become the revolutionary leader of the working class, that it shall smash through the barriers of class collaboration, and defeat the plans of Stalinism for the harnessing of the workers to the war machine of imperialism, we say:

Forward with us!

For a revolutionary party of mass struggle, rooted in the unions!

Against the splitters and liquidators; against class collaboration and Popular Frontism!

For a united, disciplined, democratic party!

For the workers’ revolution! For international socialism!

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Last updated on 13 January 2009