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Stalinists in the C.I.O.

E.R. Frank

Stalinists in the C.I.O.

The Growing Break Between Them and John L. Lewis

(30 March 1940)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 13, 30 March 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Stalinists poisoned the whole labor movement, in the “People’s Front” period, with their fantastic, lying propaganda that the population of the country was divided between “progressives” and “reactionaries” and that it was the sole duty of the labor movement to support the “progressives” and oppose. the “reactionaries.” The Stalinist propaganda, however, did not change the reality.

The capitalists still run the United States. The bankers and industrialists still own the country’s economic resources and wealth, gobble up the hog’s share of its national income and constitute what Woodrow Wilson once called the “invisible government” – the real government – of the United States.

The Roosevelt administration is identical with all previous administrations in this fundamental quality: that it is the political agent of America’s ruling class – the capitalists who own and run the country. It is only on this cold practical class basis that it is possible to understand why Roosevelt tolerated the Stalinists during the “People’s Front” period and why he bitterly opposes them today. Roosevelt understood the Stalinist party. He knew that it was not a genuine socialist movement, but merely the venal tool of the rotten Stalinist bureaucracy.

Unofficially allied with England and France, the United States was lined up against Germany. That is why, the minute the Hitler-Stalin Pact was announced, Roosevelt and the capitalists launched a campaign to mobilize the full force of “public opinion” for a furious assault upon the Stalinist party. The end of the “People’s Front” thus saw the end of the popularity of the Stalinist party with official public opinion. From a “bandwagon” movement, the Stalinists were converted into pariahs and social outcasts.

That meant a change in relations between the Stalinists and Lewis. The official leadership of the CIO, like the leadership of the AFL, is tied to the capitalist class by a thousands different threads and connections. The whole top leadership of the CIO, to a man, believes in the eternal existence of the capitalist system in the same way as a small town banker in Iowa. These labor leaders have been correctly described as the “labor lieutenants of the capitalist class.”

Lewis-Stalinist Alliance from 1936–1939

At the time of the Stalin-Hitler pact, Lewis had bee in an alliance with the Stalinists for more than three years. He had thereby secured the aid of their well-oiled national machine in his early organizing activities. He thought he could use them and outsmart them.

Throughout this period, Lewis constantly received indignant protests of the union membership against the union-wrecking activities of the Stalinist crew. The West Coast sailors and firemen protested against the wrecking of the Maritime Federation of the Pacific. A petition signed by four powerful unions of Los Angeles, the ILGWU, the Auto Workers, the Rubber Workers and the SWOC, submitted a detailed account of the autocratic rule and union-wrecking activities of Bridges and his crew, and demanded the removal of Bridges as CIO West Coast director. Beginning with 1938, the factional maneuvers of the Stalinists in the Auto Workers Union became a national scandal, etc., etc. Lewis heard all of these protests, received all of these requests and petitions, but did not budge an inch.

In addition Lewis was well aware of the rotten union agreements that the Stalinists signed in the NMU, the Longshoreman’s Union, etc., etc. – agreements which were a disgrace to the labor movement. Lewis knew of the hounding and expulsion of union militants, in the West Coast office workers, in the east coast NMU, in the Gulf NMU, where Curran practically wrecked the local unions in order to rid himself of a rank and file opposition. Lewis was cognizant of these facts, but he forgave and forgot. He was so liberal, as to even condone outright scabbing, as occurred last year, when Bridges led a crew of workers through the picket lines of the Sailors Union of the Pacific. Why not? Judging by Lewis’s own labor record and methods, he probably considered all these practices as wholly legitimate and certainly permissible.

Lewis’ Break with the Stalinists Begins

But when the Stalin-Hitler pact was signed and the American Communist Party found itself under ferocious attack of all official “public opinion” – that neither Lewis nor Hillman nor Murray could ignore or tolerate. That called for action! Lewis decided then and there that the bloc with the Stalinists must be broken.

Of course, great democrats that they are, these labor leaders did not bother to inform anybody of their decision. The San Francisco CIO convention, meeting two months after the signing of the pact, proceeded about its business, without Lewis giving the delegates so much as a hint that a drastic revision in policy was forthcoming. The only inkling that something was brewing came at the end of the convention, when neither Bridges or Curran were elected as Vice-Presidents, positions they deserved, from the point of view of the prominence and importance of their unions.

In typical fashion, Lewis, without warning, exploded the bomb, at the Executive Board meeting immediately following the convention. In scathing terms, for the first time since the formation of the CIO, he denounced the Communist Party, and warned that he would not tolerate a double allegiance on the part of any CIO officials. He assured the board members that a great career awaited every one of them inside the labor movement, but only on condition that they have no outside allegiances. As a further warning, to indicate that this was no idle threat, Brophy, who had been a fellow traveller of the CP, was kicked out as Organization Director and replaced by an old Miner’s Union wheelhorse, Allan Haywood; and Harry Bridges, the most prominent Stalinist in the CIO, was removed as West Coast Director and instructed to confine his activities to California.

Why the Purge Proceeds Slowly

Since the Executive Board meeting, the purge of the Stalinists has proceeded very slowly and hesitatingly. Lewis has discovered that it is not easy to drive the Stalinists out of the CIO. The Stalinists have been working in the new CIO unions from the ground up and have intrenched themselves in numerous strategic positions of influence and power. In many of these unions, as in the National Maritime Union, the West Coast Longshoreman, the Agricultural Workers, the United Electrical & Radio Workers, the white collar unions, the Furriers, etc., they control the entire union apparatus from top to bottom – the key locals as well as the International offices.

It is obviously impossible for Lewis to just walk in and purge the Stalinists in these unions without, at the same time, wrecking the unions. Lewis cannot afford to adopt such an adventuristic policy at this time, in view of, the fight with the AFL as well as the employers’ anti-union offensive.

While Lewis has definitely broken with the Stalinists, the Stalinists are still trying to patch up their alliance with Lewis. They have not as yet changed their People’s Front policy of sycophancy and grovelling before Lewis. To this day, every local Stalinist official prefaces every speech by a tribute to Lewis – the great leader who can do no wrong. This belly-crawling policy aims to hide behind Lewis’ skirts, while pushing through in the unions the new Stalinist line.

The Stalinists are temporarily aided in these attempts, because of the episodic disagreement between Lewis and Hillman on the CIO attitude towards Roosevelt and the war crisis. The differences between Lewis and Hillman, however, are temporary and unimportant. They resolve themselves merely into a question of tactics.

But The Purge Will Go On

But the differences between Lewis and the Stalinists are profound and fundamental. Lewis is a labor lieutenant of the American capitalist class. His labor bureaucracy rests upon American capitalism. The Stalinist party is the American agency of the Kremlin bureaucracy. Between the two lies an unbridgeable gulf.

Lewis, and this is true of his whole machine, has so little class- consciousness that he is, right now, cooperating with the FBI, the detested anti-labor G-men, in order to gain a temporary factional advantage over the rival AFL unions. Lewis will hesitate infinitely less, as the war crisis sharpens and the army moves to jam the unions into the strait-jacket of the war machine, to cooperate with these same G-men to purge every Stalinist, big and small, out of the CIO.

(The fourth article of this series will appear next week.) [1]

Note by ETOL

1. This article was never published.

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