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Stalinists in the C.I.O.

E.R. Frank

Stalinists in the C.I.O.

After the Hitler-Stalin Pact

(16 March 1940)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 11, 16 March 1940, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The signing of the Stalin-Hitler pact and the subsequent march into Poland caught the American Communist party off guard and unprepared.

Right up to the moment of the signing of the pact, the Stalinists kept up an incessant and uproarious din in the trade unions with thousands of resolutions and an equal number of speeches for “Collective Security” – an alliance of the United States and the other “democracies” with the Soviet Union, to “quarantine the aggressors” – Germany, Italy and Japan – and for full, enthusiastic and unconditional support for Roosevelt and his “peace program” – the cynical name for the construction of the largest peace-time military machine in American history.

They kept up this propaganda through the better part of 1939, in the period when Roosevelt signed the Woodrum Bill, which dumped three quarters of a million WPA workers out into the streets, destroyed the “prevailing wage-scale” principle hitherto observed on the WPA, slashed the wages of the remaining WPA workers and introduced the infamous “eighteen month” clause.

They continued lining up the labor movement behind the Roosevelt machine, even when the conservative building trades unions were forced to answer the Roosevelt anti-union drive with a national strike on the WPA. They continued shouting for Roosevelt even when he openly announced his intention of smashing the WPA strike, and issued the arrogant dictum that “you cannot strike against the government”, followed by the arrest and indictment of 162 Minneapolis WPA strikers on charges of conspiracy.

The cynical bureaucrats who run the Communist party were not even abashed when Roosevelt, through the FBI, began handing out dozens of indictments against union officials as part of the Thurman-Arnold anti-trust drive, the worst-union busting campaign undertaken by any U.S. President in the last two decades.

They Loved Roosevelt Though He Smote Them

No! The Stalinists unconcernedly continued using their influence and strength to hog-tie the labor movement and to confuse and befuddle the minds of the union militants. The Stalinist- controlled Workers Alliance is sued a call to labor to back Roosevelt for a third term, the man who had just slashed relief and WPA appropriations. The Stalinist-controlled Maritime Federation of the Pacific (mostly landlubbers, the sailors had left) ran a “Draft Roosevelt in 1940” campaign throughout last summer for the very man who was responsible for saddling the East Coast maritime unions with the anti-union, “fink hall” U.S. Maritime Commission, etc., etc. (The West Coast seamen not under Stalinist control, kept union hiring halls)!

Why not? The Stalinist leadership was responsible only to the Stalin bureaucracy. The instructions were to line up the American labor movement behind Roosevelt who, it was believed, was friendly to the idea of concluding an alliance with the Soviet Union. What about the real needs and requirements of the American trade unionists? That was not the concern of the cynical bureaucrats who run the Communist Party.

You can understand how criminal was this policy of the Communist Party, when you realize that it is precisely this policy of putting faith in Roosevelt and all the other phony “friends of labor,” rather than relying on the independent strength and power of the labor movement, that has brought the CIO, as well as the rest of organized labor, to its present impasse. The futility and bankruptcy of this policy was nowhere better illustrated than in the ill-fated “Little Steel” strike, when the steel workers of Ohio, under the influence of these false teachings and policies, welcomed and cheered the very troops of the National Guard that several days later broke their picket lines and smashed their strike.

The Flip-Flop Came Overnight

With the signing of the pact, the Stalinist policy changed overnight. Never before in recent history, has a political party executed such a fantastic, rapid fire, flip-flop. Everything that was black became white. Everything that was white became black. England and France, the “peace- loving democracies” became transformed into “war-mongering aggressors.” “Peace-loving democratic” England was suddenly revealed by the Daily Worker to be “the age-old British imperialism, whose hands drip with blood.” Germany, the “bad, war-mongering, fascist” suddenly changed roles and became a “peace lover.” Roosevelt, who supposedly had been pursuing a “peace program” for the past four years, was discovered to be America’s worst “war monger” intent upon hurling the U.S. into the imperialist blood-bath. “Collective Security,” the “democracies against fascism,” “quarantine the aggressors,” “boycott Hitler Germany” – all disappeared with the snows of yesteryear.

Since the signing of the pact, the Stalinists have been screaming that labor must join ranks to “Keep America out of the Imperialist war” and have begun introducing resolutions by the yard denouncing Roosevelt’s war budget, denouncing his war program, denouncing his union-busting campaigns and calling for the building of a third party for Jobs, Peace and Civil Liberties.

Union Militants Must Study C.P. Politics

It is impossible for the ordinary trade unionist to make head or tail of the dizzy turns, twists and changes in the Communist party line on the basis of trade union experience alone. And yet, a knowledge of the methods and the moving forces of the Stalinist party is an indispensable part of the education of the genuine union militant. A lack of this elementary knowledge has led many union militants astray, driving them back into the arms of reactionary leaders or making them easy victims of Stalinist demagogy.

It must be understood that the Stalinist party is run bureaucratically by a top officialdom, responsible only to its masters in Moscow. The rank and file members of the party had no more to say about the recent change in the party line than any outsider. The new line was handed down from the top, by decree. The basic aim and policy of the Stalinist party consists of this: that at every stage of the game, the influence and strength of the labor movement should be so maneuvered, directed and channelized to bolster up and support the foreign policy – not of the people of the Soviet Union – but of the corrupt, reactionary Stalin bureaucracy, that runs the government of the Soviet Union. This was true for the period before the signing of the Stalin-Hitler pact. It remains true today.

Why Stalinists Now Oppose Roosevelt

Instead of Stalin making an alliance with the “democracies,” as was envisaged in the period of the People’s Front, Stalin confounded his parties all over the world, by making an alliance with Hitler, against England, France and the United States. If the United States enters the present war, as it is preparing to do, it will unquestionably put its power on the side of the Allied imperialists against the Hitler-Stalin alliance. On behalf of Stalin’s alliance with Hitler, therefore, the U.S. must remain neutral at all costs. This is the explanation and the only explanation for the Stalinist change of policy.

The present foreign policy of Stalin demands of the American party that it line up the labor movement against Roosevelt and his war program. Shortly after the signing of the pact, the Stalinists went to work on a new campaign to put the “line” across. Mike Quin, an editor of the West Coast Stalinist paper, People’s World wrote a pamphlet called The Yanks are not Coming, which rolled off the printing press just in time to greet the delegates of the San Francisco CIO convention. The pamphlet, which gives the new line of the Stalinists in popular “trade union” style, was published under the auspices of the Stalinist-controlled San Francisco district of the Maritime Federation of the Pacific and has since been circulated in systematic fashion by the Stalinists throughout the CIO and in numerous unions of the AFL.

Using the pamphlet as an opening wedge, the Stalinists have pushed through in many local unions endorsements as the preliminary step to the actual setting up of “peace committees” or “The Yanks are not Coming Committees.” All of these committees which have been springing up in many local unions all over the country, have this in common: they are all inspired and organized by the Stalinists and all propagate the present line of the Stalinist party.

The Stalinists plan to eventually call a Congress or national conference of all of these phony “peace” groups in order to form a new national peace organization to agitate and work for the new line of the Stalinist party in this post Stalin-Hitler pact period.

New Line No Better Than the Old

In a sense, the new Stalinist line is the complete opposite of the previous “People’s Front” program. But it has this similarity, or more correctly, identity: the new “anti-war” line, like the preceding one, is steered, planned and directed by the same gang of unscrupulous union wreckers that manipulated and pursued the old “People’s Front” pro-Roosevelt, pro-war line. Unconcerned and uninterested in the actual needs and desires of the labor movement, they remain today as before intent only on exploiting the trade unions for the selfish interests of the Stalinist party, which is the American agency for the corrupt and savage bureaucrats who rule the Soviet Union. Their “anti-war” line is no better for the workers than their pro-war line of yesterday.

(The third article of this series will appear next week.)

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