Charles Curtiss Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page


Highlights at Gillespie

Observations at the Convention of the Illinois Miners

(October 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 43, 22 October 1932, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

GILLESPIE. – The National Miners Union had presented a credential for a fraternal delegation for Nelson, Meyerscough, Minerich and Borich. The Right wing showed itself, amid much demagogy, much flaunting of the red herring, one delegate from Auburn, proclaiming loudly his Americanism, threatened to withdraw if the N.M.U. were permitted to remain in the hall, The Right wing was victorious and the N.M.U. was not seated while the West Virginia Miners Union was. The N.M.U. was not even allowed the floor when the motion was made and carried to proceed to the next order of business. The fight of the Left wing was unavailing against the double factor of the red phobiac reactionaries and the disrepute of Communism because of the record of the Stalinists. The second factor prepared the miners to be easy prey for the reactionary demagogues.

The resolutions and constitutional committees were then elected by one representative of each from each sub-district. There was a Left Oppositionist on each of these committees, comrade Noel Bernard on the former and comrade Gerry Allard on the latter. The key constitutional committee had a good proportion of progressives, although it is significant to note that two members or supporters of the I.W.W., by the very force of their logic or illogic – often found themselves closer to the reaction than to the progressives centered around Allard. The resolutions committee seemed much more reactionary than the constitutional committee.

The sessions that heard the report of the scale committee and all ensuing sessions were closed to all non-delegates.

A survey of the situation had convinced the Left Oppositionists of the urgent necessity for united Left wing action. We proposed to Minerich a joint meeting of both groups to talk over possibilities of united work. Minerich stated that he would have to consult with his comrades and he would give us their answer later that evening.

We went to keep our appointment with Minerich. We found Meyerscough and Minerich waiting for us and we went into a side street and began our talk. This meeting, I think, is of great interest and importance. It is the first time, I believe, that the representatives of the party and the Left Opposition met, even informally, to discuss the possibility of common work for the common aim. After a long discussion in which we placed forward our ideas and they theirs, they left us stating that they would have to take counsel from a comrade still higher. Jack Stachel, who was in town, is the one they meant. The following is the program we proposed for joint labor:

  1. Win the strike. Against the wage-cut to the bitter end. For a referendum in case the convention decided to retreat (this possibility had been hinted by Pearcey in his opening speech).
  2. Strike Franklin County. Make the strike effective.
  3. A union based on the class struggle.
  4. A democratic union, with rank and file control and right of minority opinion.
  5. National unity of all miners’ groups that had risen against Lewis, including the N.M.U.
  6. The N.M.U. to be seated as fraternal delegates with voice and the N.M.U. to be given a chance to speak.
  7. Reinstatement of all expelled for their views from U.M.W.A. into the P.M.A.
  8. For a united Left wing slate in the coming elections.
  9. No horse-trading with reactionary elements and cliques – a straight-forward fight.
  10. Cooperation with all relief and defense organizations.
  11. A fight, if the point is raised, for Foster and Ford, and the C.P. in the elections.

This, I believe, was a key moment of the convention. Our proposal for a joint meeting of all Left wingers about this program would mean an aggressive fight that if not immediately victorious, would at least jolt the Right wing. In this positive platform would be found a rallying unifying center for the scattered Left wingers who stood hopeless before the Right machine. Their later refusal places upon Stalinism a terrible onus.

Tues. Oct. 4, 1932

The next noon we met Borich and Minerich. They were evasive about the joint meeting. In order not to give them any excuse whatsoever we told them we were having a meeting at 6 that evening and we suggested that they turn this into a joint meeting. A hazy “We’ll see”, was their reply.

The Belleville-St. Clair Operators Association employing about 1,000 men had proposed to the P.M.A. negotiations to settle the strike. The day set was Wednesday the 5th, so the convention spent that day in arriving at agreement on what to instruct their representative at the conference with the operators. By a vote of 157 to 27 the convention recommended to its committee to secure the best terms above $5 – in other words to compromise. The 27 represented that group of Left wingers who stood for a fight to the finish.

As the delegates came to the relief headquarters for their supper the N.M.U. distributed a mimeographed copy of the speech Borich would have made had the floor been allowed him. I have sent you a copy of it. You will agree with me that it is a document much superior to anything issued on the miners in the last four years by Stalinism. The “third period” had died an unlamented death. The method of argument by epithet was abandoned here.

A much better appraisal of the united front replaces the old formula of “united front from below” versus “united front from above.” The N.M.U. offers the united front to the organization as a whole. Our pride – for in great part this is the result of the consistent Leninist hammering of the Left Opposition – is only followed by the fear of the Right “zag” that will replace the ultra-Left “zig”. We can see a foreshadowing of this when the statement of the N.M.U. does not mention a word about political action in this presidential year. The miners are not, either as a group or Individually, asked to vote Communist, in this statement.

While the statements were being distributed we asked if our invitation was going to be accepted. Our answer was a surly, “No.” This “No” meant the granting of right of way to the reactionary steam roller!

We now come to another factor in the situation, the Socialist party. Four years ago, Socialists were conspicuous solely by their absence. Today the Socialist party has replaced the Communist party as dominant working class group throughout southern Illinois. Miners, young miners, are jamming socialist meetings, are wearing “vote for Thomas and Maurer” buttons on their lapels. The C.P. has become a bitter memory. The fact that the Socialists can stage a comeback after 20 years of betrayal speaks eloquently for the results of Stalinist policy.

Five hundred miners filled the hall that night to hear Roy Burt expound the benefits of voting Socialist. This typical reformist address was followed by a clownish, shallow demagogue, by trade – a Socialist organizer – by name, John Taylor. Upon the completion of Taylor’s speech the floor was thrown open for questions.

The Left Oppositionists present felt it incumbent upon themselves to ally themselves definitely with the party, but none of its moronic errors, to place itself sharply in opposition to the reformist Socialists and to give the Stalinists a needed lesson in how to carry on such activity. So comrade Clarke asked whether it was true that the S.P. by a vote of 6–5 had decided not to intervene in the battle between Lewis and the P.M.A. to remain “neutral”, which meant essentially helping Lewis.

Taylor, answering, stated that the S.P. did not interfere in the internal quarrels of the miners. He boorishly jested about the danger of mixing into the quarrels of a man and wife.

Later Clarke arose and read from the Class Struggle, the organ of a group of extreme left wingers in the Socialist Party, edited by Sol Larks of Chicago, where the stand of the National Executive Committee of that organization in refusing to support the Progressives is sharply condemned. Upon the demand of Taylor, Clarke handed him the paper. After the adjournment of the meeting when Taylor was asked for the return of the journal he bellowed like an infuriated bull and snarlingly refused, stating that the editor of the “filthy rag” would be expelled from the S.P.

Our attack upon the S.P. was slashing and telling, while the arch-stupidity of the Centrists was exactly to the liking of those on the platform, and antagonized, not as Zip Kachinski, a Communist youth organizer, tried lamely to tell us, the Socialist party members but all the workers present. Comrade Minerich told Kachinski not to “kid himself” and much more realistically recognized that opposed to us were the practically unanimous miners. Yet the Left Opposition questions were not shouted down, but listened to quietly and with interest and attention and even with some sympathy as we brought the lessons of socialist betrayal close to them. Yet, we must recognize that the Left Opposition often suffers because of Stalinism.

We discussed in comradely fashion with the miners after the meeting and showed the difference between Communism and Socialism – a privilege not granted the Stalinists.

Charles Curtiss Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 4 December 2014