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Ernest Erber

“Who Is Behind the Workers Party?”

(12 August 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 32, 12 August 1946, pp. 3 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“Who puts out this paper?” asks a new reader as he scans an issue of Labor Action.

Labor Action represents the point of view of the Workers Party,” answers his fellow worker who has given him the copy.

“Who’s behind the Workers Party?” asks the reader and in asking this question reveals much about how the average person thinks in such matters as a result of all the corruption and racketeering that has become a part of life under capitalism.

With so many people and movements out to take one in and the “never-give-a-sucker-a-break” philosophy that governs conduct under capitalism, the idea that people can join a movement because they sincerely believe what they say, strikes the average person as most unusual. That people should “get into something” without “getting something out of it” seems foolishly impractical to many.

The answer to the question, “Who’s behind the Workers Party?” is that there is no one behind the party. Everyone who has something to do with the policies of the party is inside the organization. Organizations with people behind them are controlled by the rich, big business. They stay in the background and supply the money and pull the strings. The Democratic and Republican Parties have people behind them. These are the bankers and industrialists who finance Republican and Democratic campaigns. They are not publicly linked with these parties. It would not do them much good to have bankers and manufacturers openly controlling them. The Communist Party has “people” behind it. These are the people who run the dictatorial government of Russia and pull the strings for the Communist Parties all over the world.

Worker Idealism

The Workers Party has no one behind it and desires no one. It firmly adheres to the idea that no movement will ever do the workers any good unless it is democratically controlled by the workers themselves and that they put up the money to finance it. A movement that will stay true to its working class program must be made up of people who will give- freely of their time and money because they fully understand and believe in what the movement stands for.

“But aren’t you expecting too much of people to build a movement on such a basis? You can’t expect workers to be idealists,” objects the new reader.

Yes, we DO expect workers to be idealists, at least in the sense in which we understand the term. As a matter of fact the workers give daily evidence of their idealism in their trade union struggles. True enough, when workers strike they expect to see an immediate improvement in their conditions as a result of increased wages. But isn’t it true that the increase of 18 cents which the General Motors strikers got after three months without pay checks could not make up the lost wages in many years, even if the price increase had not wiped it out? Then why did they continue to go on striking? They went on striking because they knew that there was more at stake between the workers and the corporation than a few cents an hour. Workers know that you either whip the corporation or it “whips you. And woe to the workers if the corporation does the whipping. The steel strikers of 1919 suffered for seventeen years because they were crushed in their strike. Workers go on striking even when the simple arithmetic is used to prove that it “does not pay” because they know that there are things that “pay” in terms that cannot be calculated in dollars and cents.

Take the many strikes that take place simply for the right of union recognition. During the organization period of the CIO in 1935-37 the majority of strikes made no demands for wage increases. Their sole demand was “recognize the union.” Millions of upper and middle class people could not understand why millions of workers should lose weeks of wages in striking for “a principle.” Yet anyone who has worked in a shop and knows the difference between taking whatever gaff the foreman wants to cut loose with in an open shop and being able to tell the foreman off where you have union security, will immediately understand why workers strike for the “principle” of union recognition.

Then, there are the sympathy strikes in which workers walk off the job with no demands for themselves but out of solidarity for other workers. Why should workers have made an unbreakable principle out of never crossing a picket line? It is because someone else’s bread and butter is at stake and they act out of solidarity with them.

Two Examples

No, fellow worker, you are wrong when you say that you can’t expect workers to be idealistic. Workers continually sacrifice immediate personal gains in behalf of the movement of the workers as a whole. What is required is that the workers thoroughly understand why they should make sacrifices. Wherever a union acts fully in accordance with such an idealistic view of the struggle of labor it is a fighting, progressive movement. Its idealism is born of an understanding of the long range aims of their struggle. Wherever a union places its own immediate craft interests or the interests of its own industry above that of the workers as a whole, it is a backward and reactionary movement.

An example of union idealism is the GM strike. The auto workers said, “Wage increases without price rises” because they were not interested in gaining more wages through higher prices which the workers as a whole would have to pay. An example of union backwardness and shortsightedness is the scabbing of the 18 railroad unions during the railroad strike. These 18 craft unions said that they had no dispute with the railroads. It only involved the two brotherhoods that walked out. If scabs operated the trains, they were perfectly willing to supply crews. Their lack of idealism was not due to some streak of meanness in their character. It was due to their backwardness in not understanding the real nature of the struggle between the rail workers and the companies and of labor and capital, in general.

When we use idealism in this sense, we are really discussing the degree to which workers have come to understand that their interests are tied up with those of the working class as a whole, that no worker or group of workers can in the long run improve their position at the expense of the working class as a whole. The long run effect of such efforts always plays into the hands of capital and to the detriment of all workers, including those who secured some short run advantage. Such an understanding of the interests of the class as a whole we Socialists call class consciousness.

Building the Future

The most class conscious workers are those who understand, not only the need of class unity in the immediate fight against capital, but also the long-range, historic goal of the working class in re-organizing society upon a Socialist basis. The most thoroughly conscious and far-sighted of these join the Workers Party.

“But how many are there who understand these things today? Isn’t it true that your Workers Party consists of only a handful of people? How can such a small party get anywhere?”

We are firmly convinced that even such a small party, with a program that coincides with historic development, can not only “get somewhere” but will re-make the world. However, we will leave the reasons for our firm belief to our discussion of next week.

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