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James Burnham

His Excellency’s Loyal Opposition

(January 1937)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol.3 No.1, January 1937, pp.2-6.
Transcribed and Marked up by Damon Maxwell for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

BORIS SOUVARINE, in his monumental work on Stalin, preserves an unusual degree of objectivity. He is not, however, able to avoid a cry of pain and an apology to his reader when he finds it necessary to quote from the speeches or writings of Stalin’s protagonists. And, indeed, the influence of the style of the great chief of the world proletariat – that style compounded of “elementary dogmas, reworked platitudes, tiresome repetitions stated with that accent of absolute certainty which betrays utter ignorance” – is perhaps not the least among his sins. For the parrot-like imitation by which the little chiefs throughout the Comintern try to insure their term of office includes, alas, imitation of the indescribably tedious style of their master.

I hesitate, therefore, to recommend study of little chief Browder’s report to the Central Committee Plenum, delivered on December 4th, and reprinted in the DAILY WORKER of December 14th. Browder is so apt a parrot as to reproduce even that ponderous and pointless humor for which his leader earned the oft-repeated (and, when you come to think it over, rather sinister) epithet of “genial” – “I hope you will pardon me,” says Browder if I do not go into the details of the love affairs of King Edward.” Perhaps at that point the delegates breathed an inward sigh, and hitched forward in their seats, resolved to demonstrate that loyal Stalinists can stay awake even through 30,000 words of undeviating? sterility.

Nevertheless, this document is of great importance for the next months in the political development of the labor movement in this country. It begins a new phase in the application of Popular Frontism in the United States and as such we must, however painfully, analyze and evaluate certain of its features.

Under the Banner of Class Collaboration

Stalinism has always been under the necessity of playing a perpetual masquerade. It must always dress up its treachery in a Marxist costume. The reason for this is easy to understand: the prestige of Stalin and his bureaucracy among the masses both of the Soviet Union and in the rest of the world depends primarily upon the preservation of the illusion that. the bureaucracy is the true inheritor and defender of the October Revolution. Belief in this illusion will, in the minds of many sincere workers, cover a vast multitude of crimes. Belief in this illusion would scarcely hold up if Stalin were to declare: “We have altogether abandoned the international revolution ; we have given up the class struggle; we are liquidating the revolution inside of the Soviet Union; we are interested only in the maintenance of our own power and privilege; for this end we are prepared to sacrifice the workers in Germany, Austria, Spain or elsewhere, and to turn them over to the imperialist war in any country that will ally itself with us or promise neutrality.” This is the actual policy of Stalin; but, to be acceptable, it must be hidden in an elaborate context of the traditional and time-honored phrases of Marxism and Leninism. These phrases stimulate a favorable emotional, response in the hearer, producing a kind of mental anesthesia under which the treacherous needle can be inserted without any effective opposition from the patient. This method is not new. Rosmer’s magnificent study of the labor movement during the war, for example, shows in detail how working-class slogans were used by the reformists in 1914 to prepare the way, step by step, for the emergence of full-blown social-patriotism. The workers were led to slaughter as a sacred Marxist and proletarian duty.

The present policy of the Communist International, however, is so excessively opportunist and reactionary that it becomes increasingly difficult even to preserve the phrases; the mask itself becomes a handicap. And this is a first major point to observe in connection with Browder s report: in this entire, enormous document the class struggle – the foundation-stone of Marxism – is not once, not a single time referred to. “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” declares THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO. “ Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however this distinctive feature; it has simplified the class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat” From the depths of Browder’s abandoned past, the stirring words seem to re-echo: “The world is divided more openly and consciously than at any previous time into two camps ...” But do not deceive yourself into imagining that this division is a class division; such a notion is a slander of our enemies, and, as Browder puts it, “hides the most essential fact.” The division, of course, is between the “fascist nations” on the one hand and the “non-fascist peace-loving nations” on the other.

Along with the abandonment of the class struggle goes, naturally, the class analysis of the state. As Marxists we were once taught that the state in every class society was the executive committee of the dominant class. But that was in the old, pre-Popular Front era. Now it is only in fascist countries that such a dreadful condition holds: “In Germany, Italy, Japan and their satellites, reaction and fascism are ascendant and carry on civil war against the people through the government.” In democratic capitalist countries (especially in the United States, where reaction was in November so decisively defeated) all is well, except that the democratic chieftains have a certain tendency to give way to the pressure of reaction, which must be reproved from time to time by “the people.”

In the first nine-tenths of Browder’s report, socialism is not even mentioned, literally not mentioned. The last section gives it a pious nod or two. And for what purpose? In order to explain why we must abandon our program for socialism: “We can organize and rouse them (the majority) – provided we do not demand of them that they agree with our socialist program, but unite with them on the basis of their program which we make also our own, (my emphasis : J. B.).” The last phrase is the most revealing – Popular Frontism summarized in a single line.

The policies outlined in Browder’s report are not, it is true, a new departure. They have been present from the beginning in the ideas and practices of the People’s Front. What is new is the blatant and open way in which they are expressed. And this marks, in turn, a new phase in the development of the People’s Front, a phase observable throughout the world movement.

In this country, the Communist party, as evidenced by this report, proposes to function not even in the disguise of a party of revolutionary opposition to capitalism, but quite openly as a party of “loyal opposition” – that is, as a party whose opposition is conceived of as revolving wholly within the framework of the existing order. “The Communists,” declares the Manifesto, “disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communist revolution.” The Stalinists, also, Browder is anxious to make clear, do not wish to conceal their views. Let the ruling class be reassured: we promise and guarantee not to interfere with your domination – if only, if only you will in turn give us some crumbs of hope that you will be on the “right side” in the coming war.

The Communist Party and Roosevelt

As head of the loyal opposition, Browder reviews the election campaign. With full satisfaction he notes the complete success of the first and primary aim of the Communist strategy: “The first objective was the defeat of Landon: This was accomplished to a degree far surpassing all expectations . . . this aim we shared with the largest number of people . . . Without exaggerating our role in bringing about this result, we can safely say that the weight of each individual Communist in the struggle was far higher, many fold, than that of the members of any other political group in America.” He has a number of apologetic Words to offer for the Communist party’s independent presidential ticket. But it was forced on us! If only “a national Farmer-Labor party ...” had “decided to place Roosevelt at the head of the ticket nationally ...” “Would we have refrained from putting forward our own independent tickets and supported the Farmer-Labor party ticket even with Roosevelt at the head? I venture to say that under such circumstances we would almost surely have done so.”

And how do things look now, with reaction so roundly trounced? Of course, Roosevelt “cannot be relied upon”; but if we keep applying pressure, “he will turn left.” Meanwhile, we will try not to inconvenience him. We will even delay formation of a national Farmer-Labor party. There are many progressive tendencies inside as well as outside of the old parties. “There is a fear among many progressives of prematurely forming such a party and thereby narrowing it down... Our experience in Washington and California confirms the correctness of this judgment. There is not the slightest doubt that we were correct in establishing the united front of these movements which were not yet independent of the Democratic party...” “This broader unity (of the People’s Front) will have to, for a time, at least, include in most places forces outside and inside of the two old parties.” We shall, of course, have to develop a legislative program, around which – “to build up a progressive bloc in Congress.” We will do this in union with “progressive forces,” making “such compromises as will be necessary to get a working relationship with the other ( !) progressives who have different ideas from us.”

The WPA cuts are something of an irritation. They sink, however, into insignificance alongside the mighty progressive step of the re-elected Administration: “The speech made by Secretary of State Hull, at the Inter-American Peace Conference, is of great significance. It was a contribution to the mobilization of the anti-fascist forces of the world in the struggle against war, for the maintenance of peace, not only in the Americas, but everywhere ...” (The TIMES is less fulsome.) As a loyal opposition, naturally, “there are ... points in Secretary Hull’s program where we will have to register some differences of opinion ...” (but only in the politest manner). Remember, you carping critics, that “the main significance of this speech is that America is more and more emerging as the greatest power of the capitalist world on the side of peace, and against the fascist war makers ...” And, somehow, Browder seems to have overlooked the new bombers, battleships, tanks and observation planes, the construction of which was announced by the Administration simultaneously with Hull’s departure for Buenos Aires. Or is the omission not altogether accidental? Might its inclusion have suggested even to the uninitiated some other import to this grandiose South American junket, this spectacular step forward in the well laid war plans of TJ. S. imperialism? Like the documents of that other loyal opposition, the Republican party, Browder’s entire report contains not one single word on United States armament and military expenditures. Well and proudly can Browder claim: “No one can deny that we thoroughly established our party as an American party, that our slogan – Communism is 20th Century Americanism, – registered deeply with the American people.” (“The Communists,” says the Manifesto, “are further reproached with desiring to abolish countries and nationalities ...” (Ah, most unkind and slanderous reproach, laments this 20th Century American.) And the MANIFESTO continues: “The working men have no country. We cannot take from them what they have not got.”

Communist Party and the A. F. of L.–C.I.O.

A reformist political line cannot be isolated into any supra-mundane sphere of “pure politics.” It must show its effects on every arena of the class struggle. We thus find during the past two years a progressive development of the People’s Front strategy as applied to Communist party activities in the trade unions and unemployed organizations. Browder’s report guarantees that during the next months this development will be carried unprecedented steps further. The basis of the People’s Front is class collaboration; and we know from past experience of reformism! what this means on the trade union field.

Are the reactionary trade union bureaucrats agents of the class enemy within the working class? Do their policies act as the major brake to militant class consciousness within the unions? This is what Marxism has always taught, but no one could possibly learn this lesson from however careful a reading of Browder’s report. Nowhere is there any explanation of or even reference to the role of the trade union bureaucracy. Nowhere is there even any sharp criticism of specific policies of the bureaucrats. A passing phrase about Ryan’s role in the Maritime Strike (one of the most vicious pieces of treachery in the entire history of the American labor movement – and it is allotted a passing phrase), the conventional witticism about Hutcheson voting the Carpenters’ International from his vest pocket; and that is virtually all.

Nor is this, also, an accident. The policy of class collaboration forces the Stalinists to abandon more and more the fighting struggle for economic demands, and through that struggle the raising of the level of class consciousness, for the practice of trying to curry favor with the bureaucrats, of settling disputes through deals behind the scenes, of relying on governmental arbitration boards and mediators. The Communist work in the unions must be subordinated to the great aim of achieving in this country a mass, classless People’s Front; to secure the adherence of a union to a Negro Congress or an American League Conference or a Farmer-Labor Progressive what-not or a Social Security Assembly is far more important than to get it to prepare and win a militant strike.

The results are already widely present within the labor movement, though not yet so widely recognized. In the WPA sit-downs, the Stalinists and the supervisors together explain why the workers must be peaceful and go home. In the Federation of Teachers the general fight against the Boards of Education is deprecated, dual organizations are met with conciliation, and the open struggle against the A. F. of L. Executive Council and for the C.I.O. principles is shunted aside. In the Cafeteria Workers there is disclosed an ironbound alliance between the Stalinists and the older racketeers. The furriers, the wild men of the Third Period, turn “respectable,” and devote their energies against the progressives and revolutionists in the union. Ben Gold, who roared for five years like an untameable lion, speaks now like the mildest lamb. In the United Textile Workers, the Stalinists at the Convention come to the rescue of the reactionary officials. On the Pacific Coast, among the Maritime Unions, the Stalinists first try to put over the I.S.U. proposals on the Sailors, then attempt to head off the strike, then insist that it be delayed until after the elections (so as not to injure Roosevelt), and are forestalled only by the militant stand of the Sailors’ Union.

This trend will continue and increase. The Communist party now functions in the unions as a reactionary force, and the progressive movement in the unions will have to be built not along with but against it.

These conclusions are impressively illustrated in Browder’s report by the treatment of the A.F. of L.–C.I.O. struggle. The progressive movement within the trade unions at the present time, as socialists have made clear, must proceed in accordance with the basic slogans: for industrial unionism; for organization of the basic mass industries; for a class struggle policy; for trade union democracy. Every one of these slogans, taken individually or together, dictates repudiation of the policies and course of the A.F. of L. bureaucracy, and determined, though of course critical, support of the C.I.O., not because the C.I.O. as at present constituted and with its present leadership is the sufficient answer to the needs of the workers (indeed, through its fundamental class collaborationism and its violation of intra-union democracy, it acts even now and will in the future act to an increasing extent counter to the needs of the workers), but because in the light of the real and actual conditions of the present, the direction of the C.I.O. is the direction of advance for the labor movement in this country, just as the direction of the A.F. of L. officialdom is the direction of decay and disintegration. As against the A.F. of L. bureaucracy, therefore, we must, whole-heartedly and unambiguously, support the C.I.O., and only such an attitude at present is compatible with progressive trade-unionism.

Browder, however, formulates the entire Communist party policy for the next period around the slogan of “unity.” “We shall,” he says, “redouble our efforts in the fight for trade union unity, for the unity of the American Federation of Labor.” “We think that it would be harmful if any unions were divided, one section going to the C.I.O., the other to the A.F. of L. ... under no conditions do we carry that fight on in such a way as to make a split in that union . . . For example, in the probable organization of some sections of heavy machinery, we will have the problem of whether these new unions shall go into the Machinists or into some of the other unions, whether it be the Amalgamated Association, or what not. Generally, we have been clear on this last question. We refused to use our forces to carry sections of newly organized workers away from the jurisdictional claims of the Machinists Union over into some of the industrial unions, where there was a fear that this would intensify rivalries and sharpen the split.”

Now, no one will argue against the desirability of trade union unity, nor will anyone “advocate” splits. Nevertheless, it is always the concrete content of unity, not unity as an abstract slogan, that is important. And, under the present circumstances in the labor movement, the fight for unity itself can be understood only as a fight under the slogans of progressive unionism stated above, and – translated into organizational terms – for the C.I.O. movement as against the Executive Council. Such a fight alone makes possible the reintegration of the A.F. of L. on a basis that would mean an advance and not a defeat; and such a fight is equally necessary to prevent the C.LO. officials themselves from betraying the movement which at present they lead. Reintegration, of course, may not be possible without capitulation; and if this is the case, then we must be prepared to face the full consequences – prepared to face the necessity for the building of a new Federation; and the conduct of our campaign will have laid the basis for such an eventuality.

The campaign of the Communist party, on the contrary, conceived as outlined in Browder’s report, will disorient the progressive struggle. It will block the sharp and fruitful fight against the policies of the Executive Council; and at the same time will contribute to reactionary tendencies on the part of the C.I.O. officials. We may expect, to an increasing extent, to discover its results in one union after another – as, indeed, they have already been discovered in a number of specific instances: for example, in the Maritime Federation of the Pacific, and at the Convention of the Federation of Teachers (where Stalinist influence smothered clear-cut support of the C.I.O.). With crucial days approaching for the trade unions in this country, this prospect, unless checked by the genuinely progressive forces in the labor movement, presents possibilities of incalculable damage.

The Communist Party, War and Spain

During the past three months the Comintern’s war policy has taken a major step: it has passed from veiled, hidden, and hypocritical social-patriotism into open social-patriotism. Here, as elsewhere, it has become more and more difficult to utilize even the Marxist language, with the Marxist content left so utterly behind. In the case of the war policy, this is to be observed especially in France, where it is symbolized strikingly by Thorez’ call for a “French Front” to replace the Popular Front, and by the Salengro incident. It should be remembered that the “crime” of which Salengro was accused was – that he had not been an ardent social patriot: a crime, moreover, of which (according to the defense of Socialists, Communists, and Salengro himself) he was entirely innocent. The present Communist posters in France directed against Hitler and the Nazis are exactly on a par, even artistically, with the French posters during the war; and, as Daladier reports with pleasure, all parties of the Popular Front are now whole-heartedly behind the French “defense program.”

The war crisis is not so acute in this country, and we find less attention paid to it by Browder. Nevertheless, it is to be remarked that Browder no longer pays even lip service to the Marxist conception of war as inherent in capitalism and flowing necessarily from capitalist class contradictions. The only cause of war mentioned by Browder is “Fascist aggression.” His deep satisfaction with the Buenos Aires meeting is because, “in spite of all its short-comings, the Inter-American Peace Conference does constitute a move against the fascist aggression” – that is, does seem to him to mark a step in the alignment of American imperialism on “the right side” in the coming war. It is now taken for granted that we will support an imperialist war "for democracy against fascism.

Browder correctly points out that the war problem is now concentrated in “the question of Spain.” And on Spain, “our slogan is everything to defend Spanish democracy.” This slogan deserves a pause. Spanish democracy – i.e., the bourgeois-democratic government in Spain – is threatened in two ways: from one direction, by Franco, who wishes to substitute for it a bourgeois-fascist government, the better to maintain capitalist property relations and bourgeois power; from the other, by the revolutionary workers of Spain, whose problems can be solved only by the overthrow of all forms of bourgeois government, and the establishment of a workers’ state. The Communist party is impartial: it announces that it will defend the bourgeois-democratic state – and give “everything” in its defense – both against the Fascist counter-revolution, and against the proletarian revolution. And that it means what it says is being rapidly and thoroughly demonstrated in Spain itself, where the Stalinists have launched an incredible campaign against all those revolutionists and near-revolutionists in Spain who define the issue as “socialism against capitalism” and in any way call for a workers’ government. The Comintern’s social-patriotism is – it could not be otherwise – bound up with an anti-revolutionary policy in a revolutionary crisis.

The Communist Party and the Socialist Party

In my earlier remarks on Browder’s style, I should have listed one exception. There is one subject, many times referred to during the course of the report, where something of the old fire is felt, one subject in dealing with which Browder’s words seem to spring to vitality and life. This subject is – the Socialist party. And this, too, is not accidental. For the sentences and paragraphs about the Socialist party are the heart and soul of the report. It is they that give the dominant line of the Communist Party for the next months; the task therein formulated is the chief task.

Browder is severely critical and deeply grieved at the course of the S.P. Let us see what it is that bothers him. The S.P., he says, “came out in principle against the People’s Front in America and advocated its liquidation in France and Spain ... it denounced Labor’s Non-Partisan League... It came 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 ...” Consequently, “we must offer to all sincere Socialists our sympathetic help in solving their difficult problems.”

It is clear enough. Browder is in despair because the S.P. has refused to succumb to his own opportunist and reformist course. He is deeply indignant because the S.P. has cast from its back the dragging weight of the reactionary and stultifying Old Guard (how much easier his problem would be if the Old Guard were still with us!). He is shocked because in the elections the S.P. insisted on making an independent working-class campaign. He froths at the mouth because the S.P. will not go over to support of the imperialist war, but puts forward the policies of the militant struggle against war. In a word, and in general, he grinds his teeth over the fact that the S.P. steadily advances toward the revolutionary road, and refuses to dissolve itself into the unholy social-patriotic brew which he has cooked up under the label of the People’s Front.

Let no one be so naive as to imagine that I exaggerate. The one great barricade in Browder’s happy class-collaborationist path is the Socialist party. On every other topic his sentences are larded with a smug and heavy complacency. On the S.P. alone does irritation break through. And his attitude is fully justified: to smash the S.P. as a revolutionary or potentially revolutionary force is the one absolutely essential precondition to the success of Browder’s strategy. If he cannot accomplish this, then all his well-laid plans must ignominiously fail.

Browder does not content himself with mere abstract analysis. By no means. He explains the strategy that should be employed in smashing the S.P. Trotsky-baiting, naturally, in the best Hearstian manner, has a prominent place. Every left-wing statement and act must be tarred and feathered as “Trotskyist” (i.e., the deed of a counter-revolutionary assassin), every effort to resist the Stalinist ideology or to move positively in a revolutionary direction. There are at least half a dozen jabs at Norman Thomas’ Trotskyism. And it was, of all things, Trotskyism which forced the S.P. to conduct an independent campaign. Even Scott Nearing, with his recent comments on “the C.P. taking the reformist” road of people’s front and the S.P. becoming the “revolutionary party” is “influenced by the Trotskyite tendency of thought.”

What, then, are we to do about this devastating plague of “Trotskyism” (read: left-wing socialism, revolutionary Marxism)? Browder gives the answer, so far as the next few months are concerned, in an astoundingly brazen manner: “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 next March, as you know. We must consult with the best elements in the Socialist party about their problems in the most helpful way (! – my emphasis: J. B.)... . 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 clear break with the counter-revolutionary Trotskyites.”

There it is, in just so many words. The major efforts of the Communist party for the next three months are to be devoted to – the attempt to split the Socialist party, to tear it apart, to destroy it as any kind of effective force, and then to gather together its bedraggled remnants tied hand and foot into the straight-jacket of People’s Frontism and social-patriotism.

A carefully laid plan, a plan to take your breath away. But we can take comfort from Bobbie Burns’ reminder that “the best laid plans of mice and men” (and who will deny that Browder has in him something of the mouse as well as of the man?) “gang aft aglae.” Our party, above all the developing left wing, will have an adequate answer to this shameless lackey of a traitor-master.

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