George Clarke Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

George Clarke

Stalinist Hold Slipping in CIO Unions

Brophy Joins Witch Hunt; South Bend Demands Ouster

(23 December 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 94, 23 December 1939, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Stalinists have been walking a tightrope in the unions since the Hitler-Stalin pact. We said that in the Socialist Appeal two months ago on the occasion of Lewis’ announcement of the CIO purge. In the last two weeks several prominent Stalinist performers have fallen off the tightrope and into the net of the official bureaucracy.

First is the case of John Brophy. A few days ago Brophy turned up at a convention of the CIO United Retail and Wholesale Employees in Detroit and denounced the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in the same breath. Speaking as a representative of John L. Lewis, he said:

“We condemn the brutality of a Nazi Germany on the march and we condemn a Soviet Union turned imperialistic.”

Brophy’s Record

Brophy was one of the leading Stalinists caucus engineers in the top circles of the C.I.O. The job of replacing good progressive organizers with incompetent and bureaucratic Stalinist agents was one of his special assignments. The defense of Communist party dictatorships in the CIO unions against the revolt of the rank and file was another little duty he performed. It was Brophy who engineered the appointment of Harry Bridges as west coast CIO regional director which resulted in driving out the progressive Sailors Union, splitting the labor movement there wide open and plunging it into the most violent internecine struggle.

Brophy’s defection is a major blow for the Stalinists. For the progressive rank and file, however it can only mean the weakening of the Kremlin bureaucracy and the strengthening of the Roosevelt-Lewis bureaucracy. Brophy, as his jingo statement indicates, will be no less faithful in the service of Lewis than he was in the service of the Stalinists.

South Bend Sours on C.P.

The second defection is that of the South Bend CIO Industrial Union Council. A resolution was presented by the Studebaker Local 5, United Automobile Workers of America, and unanimously carried by the Council on Dec. 6. denouncing Stalin’s invasion of Finland, urging that the Communist Party be removed from the ballot in state, county and Federal elections and prohibiting any “known member of the communistic party from holding office in any St. Joseph county CIO local or any CIO affiliate which may exist in said county.”

The chickens are coming home to roost – with a vengeance. South Bend was a stronghold of the Stalinists almost since the inception of the CIO. The Studebaker local was considered their private property. Now in the mass revulsion and disgust with Stalinism, the movement is catapulted in a reactionary direction. Beginning with justified indignation against Stalin’s criminal methods in Finland, the resolution concludes, however, with a denunciation of the Soviet Union in the same words as the reactionary capitalist press: “the ideological brothers of the maniac Hitler and his crew of gangsters who now rule Germany ... a policy of unlimited aggression and imperialistic methods.” And finally the resolution reaches the reactionary conclusion of the Dies Committee: outlaw the Communist party.

Stalinism waged a war against militants find progressives in the trade unions. Its methods and policies fed the most reactionary barrage. But we warn the progressives not to hop from the Stalinist frying pan into the reactionary fire.

A third blow for the Stalinists was the defection of the top leaders of the Communist Party fraction of Local 22 of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union in New York. Expelled from the Communist Party were: Ben Gerjoy, Sol Lipniak, Hyman Grossman, Meyer Kravetz – all business agents; Morris Rosenberg, executive board member and Abe Pell and Isidore Gross – adjustors.

The official C.P. statement on the expulsion accuses the expelled of “wavering in the face of the war danger.” The statement of the expelled counters with an accusation that the Stalinists demanded they put their party interests over the interests of the union. Neither statement tells the story.

End of the “United Front”

The statement of the expelled says nothing about the Stalin-Hitler pact, nor about Stalin’s invasion of Finland, nor about their stand on the pro-ally resolution of the American Labor Party. But their opposition to the Stalinists is a direct result of these events. Up until the Stalin-Hitler pact and the new turn of the Communist party the expelled business agents, following the Stalinist line, were in a united front administration with the Lovestoneite manager of the local, Charles S. Zimmerman. They were preparing a united front slate again with Zimmerman prior to the Stalin-Hitler pact. Under the conditions of the “new line” they were instructed to break with Zimmerman and go into opposition. They balked. Hence the expulsion.

Zimmerman says in a statement that the “new line” of the Stalinists “is most injurious.” True. But was the old line, the rotten popular front that made the unions an adjunct of the War Deal Roosevelt administration any less injurious? Or is the mere fact of unity with the Zimmerman administration sufficient to “make them (the business agents) more welcome to the dressmakers”?

Which Way Now?

By breaking with the Stalinists, the business agents took a step in the right direction. But that was an easy step at a time when Stalinism is as popular as a crateful of skunks. The question is: where do they stand today? Obviously, their denial of the infamous Stalinist charge is true. The C.P. charged they had “deserted to the camp of the Lovestoneites, Trotskyites, and Social Democrats, the pro-war, Redbaiting stooges of the bosses and the Dies Committee against the best interests of the working class.” Only an Egyptian contortionist could possibly get into all those camps at the same time – and even he would have his difficulties.

Having denounced the Stalinists, the expelled business agents owe the class conscious workers an answer on their position towards the social patriots of the I.L.G.W. administration. Have you broken with the Stalinist war camp to join the camp of the Allies and Roosevelt? Or have you joined the Third Camp of struggle against imperialist war?

The progressive workers will judge all those who break from Stalinism by their answer to these questions.

George Clarke Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 27 June 2016