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Albert Glotzer

Stalinists Make Right About Face
in Chicago Unemployed United Front

(November 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No.48, 26 November 1932, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The recent united front conference held in Chicago to fight the 50 percent reduction in unemployed relief instituted by the city authorities, was a striking vindication of the policy of the International Left Opposition and its American section on the united front. What lends this fact such importance is that for the first time in many years in Chicago, a genuine united front of working class organizations was constituted in the struggle on a specific issue affecting all workers. The organizing committee that initiated the conference was composed, strange as it may seem, of the Unemployed Councils dominated by the Communist party, the Chicago Committee on Unemployment, controlled by the Socialist party, and the Workers League, representative of the split-off section of the Proletarian party.

That the whole incident is regarded with utmost seriousness by our party is illustrated by the fact that the columns of the Daily Worker contained lengthy reports of the conference, the demonstration, and topped this off by publishing a page article by Bill Gebert on the Lessons of Victory of Chicago Unemployed. The Socialist party similarly engaged in such an inner discussion. To understand this heated discussion, we will endeavor to examine the conference, the demonstration and the post conference period.

Birth of the Movement

Without a doubt the birth of the conference was due entirely to the pressure of the rank and file elements in all three unemployment organizations. We shall not here take part in the discussion as to who were the prime initiators of the conference. The party claims this distinction – the Workers League contests this claim. We let the readers judge upon the examination of the material presented. The unemployed in Chicago have undergone severe suffering during these years of crisis. They have faced police clubs on numerous occasions. At other times they watched their comrades fall by bullets. Starvation and misery was and remains their lot. Those small numbers of workers receiving a measly sum for relief suddenly found this relief cut in half. It was this latest act which caused a fermentation in the ranks of the unemployed and was responsible for the pressure put upon the leadership of all three unemployed organizations to act. That is the only explanation as to how a united front was organized through the initiative of three organizations, two of which were the Communists and Socialists.

The need for such united front action has existed for a long time. It was not brought about because of the opposition of the Communist party and the Socialist party. The Socialist party refused to participate in united front actions because they did not want to join in struggle with the Communist party, because they fear real struggles of the masses, because their role in the workers movement is in reality to check the militancy of the working class. The party, whose duty it was in the very beginning and at all times to initiate such united front action, was bound hand and foot by its stupid, sectarian policy of the “united front from below”. This policy, based on the false conception of social Fascism, which ascribed to all other organizations and their membership a “counter-revolutionary” role, resulted in conferences organized by the party which brought to it only party organizations and party members, but no broad masses of non-party workers. It was this policy that isolated the Party from the masses at the time when the party should stand at the helm of working class movement. Then how is it possible for the party which maintained up to the Chicago conference and continues to maintain even now, officially and nationally, the policy of the “united front from below”, to enter into a genuine movement of this character, to negotiate with the “leaders of these organizations”. How did it come about that the Socialist party which has always stood in the way of genuine united actions of the working masses, likewise took part in the preparation and organization of the Chicago united front movement? The explanation is to be sought in the worker-members of these organizations who put pressure upon the leaderships and demanded an end to the trifling with their problems.

Workers Respond to Call

The call for the conference signed by the three organizations met with a huge response everywhere. The masses reacted as never before, and the conference bore testimony of this fact. 750 delegates representing 350 organizations made up the conference. Included in the conference were over 40 church organizations composed entirely of unemployed workers, the Farmer-Labor Party, the A.F. of L., fraternal organizations, the TUUL. Upon the invitation of the Workers League, the Chicago branch of the Communist League sent two delegates who were seated, quite obviously only because of the presence of such a wide variety of organizations and workers who resented any effort on the part of the party to unseat us.

The Conference had hardly convened when difficulties arose. This was to be expected. A gathering composed of so many conflicting organizations and political movements could not but go through deep antagonism and struggle. What was clear from the outset was the development of a Left wing group under the leadership of the Communist party and a Right wing group headed by the Socialists. The Left wing was in the great majority. But from the very beginning the party made the error of desiring to “capture” the conference, although it was quite clear that by virtue of numbers alone the Left wing dominated the conference. The election of a chairman brought the conferencen into its first crisis. Having previously agreed upon Karl Lochner, representing the Unemployed Councils, as secretary, the organizing committee referred the election of the chairman to the floor of the conference. The non-party elments proposed the election of a temporary chairman until such a time as the credential committee reported on the number of delegates. The party insisted upon a permanent chairman from the outset, and for whom everybody present at the conference, whether delegate or not, supporting the party, cast a ballot during the first vote. The farce was too obvious and upon protests from various delegates a revote cut the number of “delegates” in half. Even then the Left wing vote was in a majority.

The conference organized itself. Discussion opened. With a party member in the chair, the efforts of our comrade Edwards to take the floor were thwarted almost until the adjournment. The party was prepared to prevent our comrade from speaking and presenting our point of view to the conference.

In the main the position of the Left wing was correct at the conference. It was correct for them to warn the workers against betrayals, against vacillation and to urge a militant struggle. But when John Williamson, while speaking continued to declare that this united front conference, which included not only workers, but their organizations and their leaders, was a “united front from below” it marked a shame-faced attempt of the party to maintain its previous stupid position on the united front in the midst of a right-about change toward the correct position. In the presence of this great number of delegates, Williamson declared that “we do not unite with leaders, we unite only with the workers” while seated around one table were Lochner and Weber (the District Organizer of the Party), Karl Borders, representing the Socialist party, and Dixon from the Workers League.

The Demonstration

The organization of the demonstration brought out the sharpest differences in the conference. The party was absolutely in the right when they insisted upon drawing the political lessons of this protest. And they were right when they insisted upon carrying banners for Foster and Ford. Had the party agreed to march without carrying banners in support of their presidential candidates, or in presenting political slogans, that would have marked a capitulation to the Right wing and the reactionaries. The issue as to the degree that the party wished to give the demonstration a political character, has no real bearing on the discussion. But that it was absolutely correct for the party to insist upon this point is indisputable. And here we must declare that the Workers League in lending their support to the Socialist party, which opposed any political conclusions to be drawn from the whole situation, capitulated before the Right wing and themselves became party to the splitting tactics of Borders and the Socialist party. In turn the party introduced once again its petty Stalinist methods by proposing in the executive committee, that the conference return the money donation made by the Left Opposition because the “Trotskyists are a counter-revolutionary organization”.

In spite of a drenching rain, the day of the demonstration brought out between 35,000 and 50,000 workers. The demonstration was militant in character and displayed the immense possibilities inherent in the situation. [1] Quite naturally, the party dominated the march because of its militancy, if by nothing else The workers present recognized that only the Communists could give leadership to them in their struggles. Without doubt the party gained considerably in prestige during the demonstration.

But what is of greater importance is to draw the lessons of the united front. First of all it must be established that the party made a right-about face on the question of the united front, notwithstanding the fact that it was brought about primarily because of the pressure of the unemployed workers, and in spite of its conflict with the official party position which heretofore opposed such movements.

(To be continued)


1. The Opposition marched with its own banners containing the slogans: Immediate Relief for all Unemployed; Six Hour Day and Five Day Week with No Reduction in Pay: For Social Insurance, The Extension of Long Term Credits to and the Recognition of the Soviet Union.

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