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The Militant, 3 January 1949

SWP Plenum Opens Offensive on Anti-Marxists

National Body Outlines Program to Defend Union Democracy, Labor Independence

(27 December 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. 13 No. 1, 3 January 1948, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


NEW YORK, Dec. 27 – The 20th Anniversary Plenum of the Socialist Workers Party, which concluded here tonight, mapped out an ideological and political counter-offensive against all the enemies of Marxism in the labor movement.

Taking advantage of the crimes of Stalinism, the top union officials and their Social-Democratic allies are waging a war of distortion and defamation against the Marxist program for the socialist liberation of mankind. At the same time they are attacking democracy in the unions and fastening their dictatorial grip on the workers, aiding and abetting the schemes of the capitalist government to deprive the unions of their independence.

The campaign of the SWP to strengthen and advance the Marxist program in the labor movement will begin with, the following measures decided on by the plenum:

  1. An organized and well-integrated campaign in the ideological, theoretical and political spheres against the enemies of Marxism in the labor movement, whose sinister influence has been growing in recent years.
  2. A struggle to defend democracy in the unions, for the independence of the unions from the government, and for independent labor political action.
  3. An intensified campaign against the current witch-hunt, with the objective of defeating the government’s attempts to outlaw or half-outlaw the SWP and other working class organizations through the “subversive” blacklist.
  4. An extension of the effective propaganda and agitation methods developed in the presidential election campaign.
  5. A strengthened SWP staff, increasing the striking power of the Trotskyist press, improving the direction and coordination of the party’s work in the trade unions and other mass organizations.

James P. Cannon, the founder of American Trotskyism, was reelected National Secretary, and M. Stein was again chosen as Organization Secretary. A Trade Union Department was established, with Bert Cochran, veteran CIO leader, as chairman.

Farrell Dobbs, presidential candidate in 1948 and for many years editor of The Militant, was elected National Chairman of the SWP. Dobbs, who was the Party's: banner bearer in the election campaign, will now continue, ir the capacity of party chairman the activity he began during the presidential campaign. He will testify before congressional committees and utilize all possible mediums of expression to publicize the program of the party.

Cannon’s Report

The report that aroused the greatest discussion of the two day sessions was the one by Cannon on New Problems of the American Labor Movement. The growth and consolidation of a conservative labor bureaucracy he said, and its alliance with Social Democrats and renegader in support of American imperialism, obliges the Marxists to reexamine the situation in the labor movement and define their methods of struggle more precisely.

The early days of the movement, Cannon recalled, were of necessity almost exclusively devoted to theoretical exposition and polemic, designed to combat the degeneration of Stalinism, to work out the party’s program and to assemble the cadres of the organization. In recent years the SWP devoted itself increasingly to practical work of organization and general anti-capitalist, agitation. The 1948 presidential campaign was the highest point of the party’s activity in this field.

In the next period, however, Cannon warned, the party must more properly balance its agitation and propaganda, with special emphasis on polemical struggle against opponent tendencies and organizations in the more politically conscious sections of the labor movement.

The party cannot grow and prosper by simple anti-capitalist agitation and good works alone, Cannon continued. It must defeat every attempt to smuggle bourgeois ideology into the labor movement under the guise of a workers’ program. Otherwise, the agitation will be wasted and the workers’ vanguard will be demoralized and disrupted by the offensive of the anti-Marxists.

The general line of Cannon’s report was adopted unanimously after a fruitful discussion of the perspectives which it opened up.

It will be printed in a coming issue of the magazine, Fourth International and the discussion will be continued.

The Party’s Tasks

Complementing this report was the resolution on The Election Results and the Tasks of the SWP, the report on which was made by M. Stein, Organization Secretary.

The resolution traces the background of developments in the class struggle since the end of the war. Against this background Stein described the political trends among the workers during the election campaign, and the influences which persuaded them to back the Democrats. He laid great stress on the consciousness of their political power felt by the workers as the result of their impact on the election results.

In addition, he analyzed the new position of the trade union bureaucracy in its coalition with the Democrats, showing how this had changed from their role in the pre-war New Deal coalition. And then he carefully delineated the elements of conflict that are at work in the present coalition between them and the Democratic Party.

Stein pointed out that the world contradictions of capitalism set specific limits to the reformism of the new administration and pave the way for its discreditment. The inability of the administration to fulfill the promises it made the masses will surely lead to new political explosions, Stein predicted.

Even before Truman’s inauguration, the demand for a Congress of Labor is winning new support in the labor movement, proving that the workers did not give Truman a blank check and that the prospects are good for successful combat against class-collaborationist politics. Stein called for special attention to the Negro movement, the Wallace voters and the awakening student movement as fertile sources for recruitment to the SWP.

The discussion of this report dealt mainly with the new problems and trends in the unions and other mass movements. The report and resolution were both adopted. Extracts from the report are printed on Page 2 of this issue, and the resolution will be printed in the next issue of Fourth International.

Singled out for special concentration was the struggle against the government’s persecution of the SWP. A report by William F. Warde dealt with the case of James Kutcher and the response which his fight against the blacklist has already won in broad sections of the labor and liberal movements. It was decided to give increased backing to the Kutcher defense movement, and through this case to step up the party’s fight in defense of its political liberties.

Election Report

A high point of the plenum was the report by George Clarke, SWP National Campaign Manager, on the lessons to be drawn from the party’s highly successful entrance onto the national political scene in the 1948 elections.

The campaign, he showed, was a magnificent achievement for a party as small as the SWP, bringing benefits in many ways – in increased morale; in the acquisition of new techniques and methods of propaganda; in publicity that reached the biggest audience the party has ever had and helped to establish it in the minds of millions as the extreme left wing of American politics; in experience and training of the party members in the many fields that are indispensable for the growth of the revolutionary party.

Clarke’s report placed equal emphasis on the shortcomings, difficulties and errors in the campaign. This included short-comings over which the party as yet unfortunately had little or no control, such as its financial handicaps. It also included mistakes which the party must recognize and correct, such as inadequate planning and preparation, the setting of unrealistic goals and faulty propaganda orientation.

Clarke urged that the whole party should study these problems and lessons in preparations for future campaigns, and that it learn to use and extend the propaganda and agitational methods which it has employed on a large scale for the first time in this campaign. Both the report and recommendations were accepted, and steps were taken to implement them.

The National Committee also received a financial report and took steps to insure the collection of sufficient funds to carry out the decisions made at the plenum.

It also voted to continue until the next plenum the discussion by the party of the draft resolution on Negro work introduced at the last SWP convention in July 1948.

The first day of the plenum was followed by a spirited celebration of the party’s 20th anniversary, held under the auspices of the New York Local. When the plenum itself ended tonight, many of the old-timers present were of the opinion that it had been one of the most fruitful sessions of the National Committee in the history of the movement.

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