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Albert Gates

Detroit Active Workers Conference
of Workers Party

(10 September 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 37, 10 September1945, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Attended by 125 delegates, alternates and visitors, the second Active Workers Conference of the Workers Party, held in Detroit, the industrial heart of the United States, on August 18 and 19, was a signal success. The great majority of the members present were industrial workers, active in the leading mass unions of the country. They represented twenty-one branches from seventeen cities and eleven states. Fraternal delegates added to this list.

The Active Workers Conference, organized by the National Committeeand held between conventions, called together the party functionaries and activists to review the work of the organization, examine how the party is functioning, take an inventory on the tasks executed and to recommend proposals for the extension of party work based upon reports of members of the National Committee.

In the case of the present conference, the activists of the party gathered to review the period since the convention of February 1944. They received a series of reports and recommendations from national officers, discussed them at great length, acted on these recommendations and made proposals of their own to the National Committee. All of the actions of the conference were in the nature of shaping up the work of the party in the next period prior to the forthcoming convention of the organization.

Tasks and Perspectives

Highlighting the conference reports was the presentation by Max Shachtman, national secretary of the Workers Party, of The Next Tasks and Perspectives of the Party. This report dealt with the necessity of developing a party cadre, a firm party core as “the indispensable spinal column, heart and mind of a revolutionary movement.”

Comrade Shachtman reported on the solid progress made by the party during the war years when it stood out fearlessly as the outstanding antiwar organization in the country, a party which told the truth when war broke out and which carried out an implacable defense of the working class in the United States, as well as the workers and oppressed of all countries.

Citing the various stages of development through which the Workers Party has gone, Shachtman stated that:

“The principal task of the organization is AGITATION, that putting forward of single ideas or slogans to the largest possible section of the working class. They are aimed atraising the class consciousness of the proletariat and thereby making it more receptive to the idea of joining or supporting the revolutionary organization as its leader, first in the dally struggle and last in the final struggle for socialism.”

Shachtman discussed the present position of the Workers Party in a situation where it operates among a politically unorganized working class. That the necessity of developing a mass revolutionary party of masses is the prerequisite for the emancipation of all the people is not even debatable, he stated. At what stage of development do we stand?

“Should we ‘convert ourselves’ into a mass party?” asked Shachtman. “Yes, we shall do so. But not by arbitrary decision. Not by any mechanical devices. Not by putting on a label which calls us that. Not by self-deception which deceives nobody else because it cannot (and should not!). We will never recruit a worker on that basis, or, if we do, we will never keep him in the party. We INTEND to become and act like a mass party. That is our firm aim. But that requires work; that is a struggle, and a long and complex one; that is an aim realized at the end of a road of fusion and splits and regroupments into a big movement in which we expect the elements of our present party will constitute the decisive political force (provided we continue to prove worthy of such a position). Nothing can substitute for this work, this struggle and the endurance and patience and self-confidence it presupposes.”

The report by Shachtman made a profound impression upon the delegates. It elicited a long and fruitful discussion in which the leading activists participated with their own ideas and proposals aimed at strengthening and building the party on the basis of its political program which in the next period is to concentrate on the agitation for the party’s reconversion program find the need for an independent Labor Party.

The organization report by Albert Gates followed the main report. It concerned itself primarily with the state of the party branches, the execution of the program of action adopted at the November 1944 plenum of the National Committee and the main tasks of the party in the next period. Among the various activities reviewed in this report, was the party’s campaign for a Labor Party, the recruitment drive, the Labor Action subscription campaign, the intensification and extension of mass work and the varying successes enjoyed by the organization in this past period.

One of the main tasks of the party, Gates reported, is the need to strengthen branches which are the basic units of the organization. The general activity and life of the party depend largely on the health condition of the branches. Therefore attention must be constantly given to the healthy functioning of these units by selecting the strongest organizers and executive committees who have the main responsibility for carrying out decisions of the party.

The report dwelt at some length on the problem of integrating new members into the organization, citing a series of problems which are created by party growth. The party made enormous progress during these war years, he stated, despite the fact that it has lost scores of comrades, among them leaders of the party, who became members of the armed forces. With all these handicaps and without any need to exaggerate, it can be said that the organization as a whole did a splendid job in maintaining the party, extending its activities and increasing its membership.

Program of Action

In closing his report, Ga5es presented to the conference thefollowing program of action:

  1. The main political campaigns of the party will center around (a) the reconversion program, which is to be inseparably linked with the Labor Party campaign and (b) the defense of Europe and the European Revolution from Allied imperialism, in line with the political analysis and position of the party.
  2. The party will issue a series of pamphlets and booklets, among which shall be: (a) Program of the Workers Party, (b) Reconversion Program, and (c) The Labor Party.
  3. A concentration will be made on colonization of party activists in leading party centers and the party will aim to have a full-time party organizer in every party center within six months to one year.
  4. A provisional youth conference will be held following the AWC, the aim of which shall be to set up a national youth organization at the earliest opportunity.
  5. A subscription campaign for Labor Action will begin October 1, to last for three months. A recruitment drive will follow at the conclusion of the subscription campaign.
  6. An attempt will be made to build Labor Action clubs for the purpose of broadening the base of support to the paper and establishing additional sources of financing.
  7. A national educational department will be established which shall organize the training and education of the party.

The organization report was followed by a long discussion in which almost every delegate participated. As part of the organization question but presented in a separate report was the state of the finances given by the financial director of the party, Mary Bell. This report paid tribute to the splendid response of the party to the financial needs of the organization. Every party member, almost without exception, gave a good account of himself, Miss Bell remarked. It was evident in the way the organization was able to issue a mass Labor Action, a monthly magazine, maintain a national staff and issue literature. All of this was made possible by the fine efforts of the party membership. It was now necessary, she pointed out, to broaden the base of financial support to the party by calling upon the assistance of patty sympathizers and supporters of Labor Action.

Gates Reports for LA

The report by the editor of Labor Action, Albert Gates, on Labor Action as a Recruiting Agent testified to the effectiveness of the paper, which now has a stable circulation of between twenty and twenty-five thousand. The report indicated the many ways in which the paper could be used for party recruiting purposes. Labor Action has a wide following, he stated. Many workers call themselves “Labor Actionists.” There is no reason to lament this fact; On the contrary, it is an excellent situation, for it affords the party an opportunity to do some real recruiting among hundreds and even thousands of union militants who accept and follow the program of Labor Action.

The report dealt with the meaning of Labor Action clubs, built up of readers and sympathizers of the paper. These clubs could become an invaluable source of support to the paper and an arena for recruitment to the party. Following the report and discussion on this point, comrade Gates gave a report on the circulation and promotion of Labor Action and The New International, with stress laid on the necessity of increasing the circulation of the theoretical magazine.

Two major reports then rounded out the conference. The first of these was The Tasks of the Party in the Trade Unions, given by its national labor secretary, David Coolidge. This report revolved around the developments in the American labor movement, citing the great militancy of the rank and file unionists who fought desperately against a common obstacle represented by the government, big business and the labor officialdom.

Coolidge on Unions

Coolidge’s report showed that the Workers Party is a party of workers in the real sense of the word. The overwhelming majority of its members, he pointed out, were in industry and in the trade union movement. They didn't just pay union dues and sit in at union meetings. They took the lead in the fight for unionism and in defense of the working class. The militant policies pursued by our members won them great sympathy and support and the party has established a base for itself in the labor movement.

He summarized the experiences of the party in this most important field of party work, especially as it developed in the main CIO unions. Coolidge’s report was followed by a number of regional reports by field workers. The latter included the rubber unions, railroad, shipyard, electrical, steel and auto. The discussions underscored the progress of the Workers Party in its union work, its political work in the unions and the recruitment of worker-members. A new program of action adopted by the conference can only hasten the progress of the party in its main activity among themasses.

The final report made to the conference dealt with educational work and was given by Comrade Ernest Lund, author of Plenty for All. Lund, who is now the educational director of the Workers Party and managing editor of The New International, reported on the general problems of education in a socialist party, especiallythose which relate to the education of new members. He outlined aseries of proposals for the organization of schools, classes,outlines and pamphlets which would all result in raising the theoretical and political level of the party and its membership. Most important among these proposals is one which calls for the issuance of a series of twenty-five educational pamphlets to be put out at the rate of one a month.

Party’s War Dead

Before closing the conference, the delegates, alternates and visitors rose to give silent tribute to five party members who fell in the imperialist war which they hated so much, and to others who were wounded in the same bloody carnage.

In general, the Active Workers Conference was a tremendous success. It revealed a healthy, maturing, disciplined and enthusiastic party membership, earnest in its convictions in the political program of the party and eager to execute that program.

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