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Albert Goldman

The Left Face of the Socialist Party

(May 1934)

From The Militant, Vol. VII No. 21, 26 May 1934, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Hitler’s victory in Germany was a blow which should have brought the official communists back to consciousness and sobered them up. The bureaucratic apparatus had lost the power to think straight and had consequently taken that power away from most of the members. If the “theories” of social-fascism united front from below, and dual revolutionary unionism had been a result merely from a state of temporary derangement the Nazis should have succeeded in bringing the Stalinists back to their senses.

But it became apparent after the German catastrophe that the insane tactics of the bureaucracy of the Communist International were not due at all to anything temporary but were part of the bureaucratic organism and, since Hitler’s terrific blow did not destroy that apparatus these theories and tactics remained in all their purity.

What is more, the fascist juggernaut deepened the confusion and senselessness of the official communists. The German working-class was not defeated; the tactics of the Communist Party were, are and ever will be correct; the victory of fascism indicated not the weakness but the strength of the workers. Such was and continues today to be the burden of the Stalinist song celebrating Hitler’s ascent to power. Every word of protest, even of doubt, was denied the light of day and persistence on the part of any member determined to keep quiet no longer meant inevitable expulsion.

Impetus to Revolutionary Elements

The socialist bureaucracy has not the coercive power of the apparatus of the Comintern. It has no Soviet Union giving it the tremendous prestige and power that the workers’ state lends to the communist bureaucracy. It controls no purse strings. As a consequence the members of the various socialist parties are freer to think as they please and the German situation caused a great many of them to do some hard thinking and set them into motion towards the left. The struggle of the socialists in Austria, though utilized by the socialist leaders for showing how brave they were and what a militant organization the Socialist party of Austria was, gave a further impetus to the revolutionary elements within the socialist parties. The result has been that all over the world socialists have entered into discussion of socialist theories and tactics and a definite drift to the left is apparent. As against the fatalistic, religious acceptance of the dogma of infallibility by the communist priesthood and Its followers the ferment in the socialist ranks is like a fresh breeze and has great revolutionary significance.

It must be said clearly that insofar as members of the socialist parties have shown that they can think independently of the leadership they are more important for the building of a new revolutionary party than the docile, unthinking followers of the Stalinist bureaucracy.

No Attraction in Comintern

That the Comintern has practically no attraction for the leftward-moving socialists speaks volumes for the present character of that organization. The fact that the left socialists, instead of going over to the Communist International, are attempting to reform the Socialist International shows conclusively that revolutionary currents In the labor movement do not and cannot flow in the direction of Moscow. The failure of the Third International to attract the socialist workers is both cause and effect of the German catastrophe.

The Socialist party of America like its brother parties the world over finds itself in the throes of a serious discussion. Left-wing groups are challenging its fundamental principles of bourgeois democracy and gradualness; some of the left-wingers are making a determined bid to obtain control of the organization. It is necessary for those of us who are interested in the formation of a new revolutionary party and a new international to study the tendencies of the various groupings, to differentiate between them and to enter into very close relationship with those left-wing elements most likely to come all the way over to our position and thus play an important role in the coming political readjustments in the labor movement.

Heterogeneous Elements

Nothing is more necessary than to understand clearly that the left wing in the Socialist party ss composed of heterogeneous elements united only in their opposition to the old reactionary guard now in control. There is a world of difference between the “left winger” Norman Thomas, a really sincere individual who has faint academic doubts about bourgeois democracy and the fighting rank and file coal miners of southern Illinois who are in reality communists who were driven away from communism by the Communist party and are reported by reliable persons to hate everything connected with the Communist party.

Thomas has a powerful influence in the Socialist party, especially over the petty-bourgeois liberal elements in it. Essentially a Christian pacifist, having less than a superficial acquaintance with revolutionary Marxism, his being counted a left-winger merely indicates the depths to which the old guard has fallen. He is a sincere reformer overflowing with a desire to help the downtrodden. His honesty leads him in some questions – as in the united front and in the struggle against the racketeering leadership of the American Federation of Labor – to take a position to the left of the official leadership of the Socialist party. All his writing, however, show conclusively that he could be correctly characterized as a “left-winger” only if he were in the Democratic party. As far as the revolutionary movement is concerned his very sincerity and ability constitute dangers because of the influence they give him over the rank and file socialists.

The Middle-West Group

The group that is making a real bid for the leadership of the Socialist party is the one now in control of Illinois and led by Maynard C. Krueger, professor of economics at the University of Chicago, and Clarence Senior, national secretary of the Socialist party. Biemiller of Milwaukee is part of this group, known as a left-wing group and wanting everyone to recognize that it is left.

But it is difficult indeed to discover the platform upon which it lays claim to being left. It has taken great care to conceal its principles from everybody, even from itself. What is its program? Not a soul knows! At the state convention of the Socialist party not a single theoretical question was discussed. To all intents and purposes the delegates were not concerned with any of the problems agitating the minds of the membership.

The theory of Krueger and Senior seems to be that to struggle for the basis of theory, on the basis of a theoretical program with definite principles and tactics is inadvisable. They lead one to infer that what they want is first to obtain control of the organization and then to show their left color.

False to the very core! No principled left-winger would dare permit himself such an opportunistic course. Unless a group is composec of simple careerists, the first necessity is to formulate a program and the second, to make it public and try to win over members upon the basis of the program. A real left-wing group must attract to itself the more advanced elements in the party and must educate the backward elements.

A Typical Centrist Group

How can that be done without a clear-cut program? Where is the group going? What does it want to do? Krueger and his followers must asnwer these questions. Else the accusation that all they are interested in is the getting of power will have more than a semblance of justification.

Simply pointing to the fact that Krueger and Senior supported the minority resolutions at the International Socialist Conference held in August 1933 is not at all sufficient. Vaguely intimating that one is in favor of revolutionary principles and tactics is still less satisfactory. The whole attitude of the Illinois group is typically centrist. It stresses action and tends to ignore theory. And above all it is impatient with the demand for exactness in theory and for a struggle on the basis of theoretical formulations.

The Illinois group will probably point to articles by Biemiller and Kantorovitch in the American Socialist Quarterly dealing with the problem of socialism and democracy as proof of their interest in theory. Aside from the fact that what is necessary is a well-rounded program of a group and not isolated articles by individuals, the articles themselves leave much to be desired. One must admit that both Biemiller and Kantorovitch take a step forward – but a very hesitating one.

Reformist Theories

When Kantorovitch asserts that “the way to political power in democratic countries will, in all probability, be the way of an electoral victory, if fascism will not intervene and make an end to democracy” (American Socialist Quarterly, Autumn 1933) he is very close to pure reformism. The reformists also threaten to gain power in fascist countries by revolutionary means. It is one’s attitude toward the use of revolutionary means to gain po-itical power in bourgeois-democratic countries and not in fascist countries that distinguishes a reformist from a revolutionist.

And to say, as Kantorovitch does in the same article, that “the problem is not so much how to get power as how to hold it, how to use it” is almost putting the cart before the horse. One must presume that power must be gotten first before it can be used and to emphasize the latter in contradistinction to the former might leave the working class in a position of never struggling to obtain power. Both problems are of tremendous importance and must be tackled diligently and solved without hems and haws.

Biemiller repeats almost the same idea in his article in the American Socialist Quarterly (Spring 1934) when he says “under such conditions ... it is probable that socialists can be voted into control in those countries where bourgeois democracy exists”. The use of force is limited only to the end of retaining control. We repeat: It is a step forward but is is by no means a revolutionary Marxist position.

Revolutionary Policy Committee

The only group that assumed the obligation of putting its ideas publicly before the membership of the Socialist party and gaining adherents for those ideas is the Revolutionary Policy Committee. Its appeal to the Socialist Party membership is a serious though not quite adequate document. To the extent that everyone knows its principles, it is miles ahead of the Illinois left-wingers.

An effective critique of the program of the Revolutionary Policy Committee was made by Comrade Cannon in the Militant of May 5th and 12th, 1934. It may be pointed out that on the problem of the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist class the minority resolution proposed by Ronald Deval (New Leader, National Convention Agenda, April 21, 1934) is more specific than the section dealing with the same problem in the Appeal of the Revolutionary Policy Committee. In its position on the Labor party, trade-union policy and the Soviet Union the influence of Lovestone is visible. But it is hardly likely that leftward moving socialists capable of independent thinking should get oft on a track leading nowhere.

Struggle for Leadership

At the national convention of the Socialist party to be held in June in Detroit there will undoubtedly be a struggle against the present reactionary leadership. That struggle will in all probability not be led by the left-centrist elements represented by the Revolutionary Policy Committee but by the right-centrist elements represented by the Illinois leadership, helped by Norman Thomas and his followers. The general tendency of the working class elements and the youth is to the left. Consequently it is not at all unlikely that the Illinois group with its left-front will ride into power. The greater likelihood, however, is a compromise involving the present leadership, the Thomas following and the Illinois group.

The agenda for the convention gives promise of a highly interesting ideological struggle provided the sponsors of the revolutionary resolutions are represented. The agenda clearly mirrors the existence of the irreconcilable groupings in the Socialist party. How can a group announcing the fact that “the Socialist party seeks to attain its end by orderly methods” and a group insisting that “we must be prepared for violence if necessary” remain in the same party? How can a group clinging to bourgeois democracy remain in the same party with a group openly advocating the dictatorship of the proletariat? The answer is that the two groups cannot remain in the same party and in the same international if those who see the necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat mean what they say and are ready to draw the inevitable conclusions.

Gist of the Question

And therein lies the whole gist of the matter. The revolutionary socialists must think things through to the very end. Even if they do not openly state it, they must ask themselves some very pertinent questions: What if the party does not accept our principles? (And we can assure them that it won’t!) How long shall we remain and keep on trying to transform the party?

Many of the left-wingers point to the degeneration of the Independent Labor Party in England as a warning not to leave the parent organization. But that degeneration is not due to the fact that the I.L.P. left the Labor Party, but that after leaving, it did not resolutely take the road of building a new party and a new international.

No matter what happens at the convention the real socialist left-wingers who are inarticulate, the miners of southern Illinois, the revolutionary youth who are in the Socialist party by virtue of the stupidities of the Communist party will, and not in the very distant future, find their rightful place under the banner of International communism.

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