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Ernest Erber

From Left Socialism to Bolshevism

(October 1938)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 46, 22 October 1938, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The revolutionary party must be attracting to itself all the best in the movements around it. Lenin pointed out to the foreign communists at the time of the founding of the Communist International that Bolshevism did not only develop by disagreements and splits but that “Bolshevism had proved a unit, it had drawn to itself all that was best among the currents of socialist thought close to it.”

The Bolshevik core that emerged from the corrupted body of the Communist Party of the U.S. to found the Left Opposition had its share of conflicts in the last ten years. Its break with “fellow-travellers” of the moment like Ludwig Lore and Louis Budenz and with die-hard sectarians like Oehler and Field are described elsewhere. But like a Bolshevik tendency that knows how to swim against the current without bowing its head, the “Trotskyite” movement drew “to itself all that was best in the current of socialist thought close to it.”

Merger with A.W.P.

The merger with the American Workers Party not only strengthened the movement by adding experienced cadres of militants who had proven their mettle in the struggle, but also gave the movement some valuable lessons in the realm of working with and assimilating elements who were approaching a revolutionary position through the experiences of life in another tendency. These lessons proved invaluable during the next great strategic turn undertaken by the movement.

This turn, the entry into the Socialist Party, was necessitated by the whole course of development that followed the bankruptcy of the Communist International under Stalin and the task of merging the principles of the small Bolshevik vanguard with the leftward moving Socialist militants around them.

That the appearance of a left wing in Social Democracy in the post-war era could only come as a result of the bankruptcy of the Communist parties was nowhere better illustrating than in the U.S. Beginning with 1919 and continuing until 1923, the Socialist Party passed through a series, of splits that drew from it virtually every single member who stood to the left of Morris Hillquit; including 95 percent of the youth movement. The S.P. struggled along as a slightly-living corpse from 1924 until 1929. It consisted of grossly opportunist municipal machines in Milwaukee and Reading, national language groups held together on a cultural and social, rather than a political basis, and the Jewish Daily Forward with a treasury and considerable influence in the New York labor movement.

Move Left with Depression

The crisis that began in 1929 and the mass unemployment that spread over the country during the succeeding months, turned the attention of thousands, particularly young workers and students without a future under capitalism, toward the political movements on the left. The hysteria of “third period” Communism, with its almost daily adventuristic demonstrations, its disruptive role in the mass organizations, its theory of social-fascism and “united front from below,” repulsed thousands of sincere young rebels and forced them to look elsewhere for a means of expressing their revolt against the chaos and misery about them. Beginning with 1930 these young people began flowing into the Socialist Party and the Young People’s Socialist League in increasing numbers.

The “Old Guard” of Social Democracy first welcomed these new recruits, naively believing them to be material for a rebirth of a reformist Socialist Party. They soon discovered, however, that these people had not rejected revolutionary views when they passed up the C.P. but had merely turned to the S.P. as a momentarily more convenient vehicle for the free expression of these views.

Conflict Takes Form

By 1932 the conflict had taken somewhat definite forms, dividing the party into two more or less amorphous groups that went under the name of “Old Guard” and “Militants.” The “Militants” began, as their name indicates, as primarily opponents of the do-nothing-ism of the Old Guard rather than as political opponents. The conflict, however, soon found its proper channel. This development was given a great impetus when history, for the benefit of the new Socialist generation, once again exposed Social Democracy during the German events in all its revolting corruption, aggravated by senility. The Austrian revolt of 1934 accelerated the discussion on Marxist principles, particularly the discussion on the “road to power.”

By the end of 1935 the “Militants” had gone a long way in political development. Only a fool could fail to see that their cohabitation under one roof with the “Old Guard” was no longer possible. Marxists were forced to ask themselves where this potentially revolutionary force in the S.P would go. With the Seventh Congress of the C.I. in the summer of 1935 and the shedding of the “third period” idiocies, there was a possibility that the Stalinists would intervene in the revolutionary development of the S.P and draw off the bulk of the left wing.

Entry of Workers Party

The leadership of the Workers Party, sensitive to the changing currents about them, reacted to this new situation by proposing the entry of the “Trotskyites” into the Socialist Party. This bold step was taken in the spring of 1936 and, not accidentally, coincided with the departure of the “Old Guard” at the national convention in May.

Even before the final split with the “Old Guard,” political differentiations were taking place in the “Militant” group. A right wing under Altman played the role of obscuring the political nature of the struggle and re-echoing the political line of the Stalinists, even to opposing the entry of the Workers Party. The grouping opposed to Altman was composed of Party groups in New York and Chicago and the majority of the Y.P.S.L. The publication of the Socialist Appeal in Chicago under the editorship of Albert Goldman resulted in a clarification among the left wing “Militants” and the beginning of a separation between those genuinely concerned with the building of a revolutionary party and the centrists who followed the leadership of Herbert Zam and Gus Tyler.

Revolutionists Unite

As a result of the preparatory work of the Socialist Appeal, a revolutionary nucleus was developed that readily merged with the Bolshevik current from the former Workers Party. These “native” Socialists proved the link by means of which increasing numbers of left wing Socialists were drawn to the Fourth Internationalist current until the alarmed bureaucracy took steps to expel the revolutionists from the party. The dead hulk of the S.P. today is visual evidence of the ability of the Bolshevik current to draw the revolutionary elements to itself.

Common principles and common experiences have long ago obliterated all differences between former S.P.ers, and the original “Trotskyite” core. Like the Bolshevik Party, we have cemented the revolutionary elements from diverse currents into one unit, prepared for ideological struggle against our enemies on a greater scale – the struggle for the leadership of the American working class.

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