From Socialist Appeal, Vol.1 No.1, February 1935, pp.15-18.
Transcribed and Marked up by Damon Maxwell for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
Like a flock of vultures hovering over what they hope is a carcass the official and unofficial communists (right, left, centrist, upper, lower, etc.) watch the Socialist Party with mouths watering in expectation of grabbing a chunk out of it. Here and there some well-meaning but not well grounded Socialist Party member falls into the claws of one of the anointed groups and this whets their appetite. To convince their own members that the labor of hovering is not in vain, and to convince some young and innocent Socialist party members to forsake a “dying party”, the leaders of the various communist groups must prove to themselves and their followers that the Socialist party is turning to the right.
A simple method is followed. First convince everyone that a left National Executive Committee is in control; then produce what is obviously a right resolution and one can prove to everybody’s satisfaction that there is a right turn.
The left wing socialists within the Socialist party are under no illusions. They know that the NEC is not under the control of the old guard but they are also aware of the fact that it is not under the control of the revolutionary Marxists. Only three members of the National Executive Committee can be counted in the left wing camp and under such circumstances a rational human being not under the influence of false hopes can and must expect actions and decisions on the part of the NEC which are distinctly of a right character. But Stalinists, Lovestoneites, and leaders of the new-born Workers’ Party are under the necessity of saying to radical workers in general and to left wingers in the Socialist party in particular: “See, we told you sol The left turn in the S. P. is a fake. It doesn’t exist. Come and join us, the only true representatives of the revolutionary gospel.”
A false and absurd approach. The strength of the leftward currents in the Socialist party is not at all adequately reflected in the NEC. These currents have just begun to show themselves. They will gather clarity and momentum with time and provided the revolutionary Marxists do not run away from them.
Let the vultures continue to hover and remain hungry!
* * * *
The two resolutions which the Stalinists, Lovestoneites and Workers party people (it would be an insult to Trotsky to call the latter “Trotskyites”) so gleefully seized upon to prove their contention that the Socialist party has moved to the right, are the ones passed at the last NEC meeting and which deal with the united front and with the Revolutionary Policy Committee, It would be folly to conceal the fact that the resolution on the RPC represents a dangerous stop to the right; we are the last to defend the majority of the NEC for adopting that resolution. But we are certain that the loft wingers in the Socialist party will not permit this resolution to go unchallenged. They will certainly paralyze any effort by the reactionary right wing to expel members of the RPC merely on the ground of membership in the RPC.
But we shall deal first with the united front resolution. In general the left wingers can concur with that resolution. The resolution is obviously a compromise in the effort to avoid an inner-party struggle on the united front issue. We must openly recognize it as such. Prom the point of view of abstract principle it is not correct to permit such an important tactic to be left to the individual states. But a Marxist does not judge a tactic from the point of view of abstract principle. It is necessary to consider all the factors involved. When one takes into consideration the inner-party situation a compromise on the united front policy with the communists was essential and correct. ESPECIALLY IN VIEW OF THE FACT THAT THE UNITED FRONT IN THIS COUNTRY DOES NOT MEAN UNITING THE WHOLE WORKING CLASS BUT UNITING AN INSIGNIFICANT SECTION OF IT WITH THE VAST MAJORITY OF THE WORKERS NOT THE LEAST INVOLVED IN THE UNITED FRONT. We must retain the principle of the united front; we must not close the door to it. The formula worked out by the NEC is as good as any to prevent an inner-party struggle on that issue and at the same time to retain the united front in principle and to permit local united front activities. Should the New York right wing insist upon fighting on that issue now it would be isolated.
If the resolution erred somewhat, it erred on the side of leniency to the “splinter groups”. When Lovestone appeared before the committee with a united front proposal he should have been given a lesson on the united front in a short reply which should run somewhat as follows:
“Dear Comrade Lovestone: The united front as you undoubtedly know, has moaning only if it can lead to action. Action, dear comrade, requires masses. You undoubtedly get the point. Comradely, .......”
It must be said in passing that it is wrong in principle to demand of the Communist party that it give up its “theory” of social fascism before entering into a united front with it. The NEC resolution makes such a demand. If circumstances occur which justify a united front with the communists we must come to some agreement with them on THE FORM OF ACTION without requiring that they give up any of their theories no matter how insane they may be. Just as we cannot permit them to dictate to us what we should think of them. The very necessity of the united front springs from the fact that we disagree on vital principles. Freedom of criticism should, not be abrogated even during the united front. Unfortunately, by criticism, the Stalinists mean lying and slander. This explains the origin of the idea that during the united front no criticism of the parties in the united front be permitted.
While the revolutionists within the Socialist party can readily support the NEC resolution on the united front they must on the other hand severely condemn the resolution on the Revolutionary Policy Committee. That resolution considers the theory that “armed insurrection is a proper Socialist method of achieving socialist aims as a dangerous departure from socialist principles and tactics”. The NEC goes on to say that “such doctrines are not only in conflict with the position of the Socialist party but are subversive of its aims and purposes.”
Had the majority of the NEC remembered the declaration of principles adopted at Detroit it would have remembered a clause contained in that declaration to the effect that “if the capitalist system should collapse in a general chaos and confusion which cannot permit of orderly procedure, the Socialist party whether or not in such a case it is a majority will not shrink from the responsibility of organizing and maintaining a government under the worker’s rule.” If the above quotation means anything at all it moans that the Socialist minority must obtain power through an armed insurrection. How else could a minority achieve power? Without attempting too extensive an analysis of the quotation it at least gives rise to the inference that there may be some circumstances justifying an armed insurrection. It can therefore be said that those members of the NEC who voted for the declaration and also voted for the resolution placed themselves in an inconsistent position. They should publicly state that they have either changed their minds on the declaration or they overlooked that point and made a mistake in voting for the resolution.
The phrase “armed insurrection” occurs in an article in the “Revolutionary Socialist Review” which gives excerpts from an “Appeal to the members of the Socialist Party”. The “Appeal” published in April, 1934 contains no such phrase. Whether or not it was inserted in the “Excerpts” or whether the “Appeal” was changed to include the phrase we are not in a position to state. We shall assume that the change was made with the consent of the members of the Revolutionary Policy Committee although several members of that committee have asserted the contrary to be the truth.
What caused the authors of the “Excerpts” to insert the phrase, “armed insurrection”? Suspicious people have intimated that the phrase was inserted with the express purpose of getting members of the R.P.C. expelled and thus add to the membership of the Lovestoneites. No evidence has been presented to prove that contention and we must therefore dismiss it. Obviously the leaders of the R.P.C. wanted nothing loft to inference and imagination. They wanted to show in detail exactly what the Workers’ Councils would do to achieve power. A praiseworthy intention but neither correct nor necessary under all conditions. It is worth a whole lot to keep the party legal and to do that it is certainly worth while to refrain from using the term “armed insurrection”. We are of the opinion that the leadership of the R P C committed a grave error in changing the original “Appeal”.
But the loft wing Socialists outside of the R.P.C., in spite of their serious disagreement with the RPC, must insist upon the right of members of the Socialist party to advocate the idea that armed insurrection is a proper socialist method to achieve power. This does not in the least bind other members of the party and does not commit the party as such to advocating the necessity of armed insurrection.
It should not be necessary to remind those members of the N.E.C. who voted for the R.P.C. resolution that they laid down a fundamental policy with reference to a certain doctrine and to certain members of the party. The NEC is not authorized to do so. Only a convention of the party is in a position to formulate fundamental party principles. And only when a thorough discussion is conducted by party members on the principle upon which the convention is to take a position. The NEC is to carry out in action the fundamental policies laid down in the convention.
When after the formation of the Industrial Workers of the World the question of the right of those who advocated sabotage to be members of the party came up, it was settled not by the NEC but by a convention. And no other procedure can be tolerated by those cherishing democracy and freedom of discussion within the party.
Nor is it any justification for the resolution to say that it does not provide for the expulsion of members of the R.P.C. because of their membership in that group. When a resolution declares that a certain doctrine is subversive to the aims and purposes of the Socialist party there follows only one logical conclusion with reference to those who advocate that doctrine. It may be that Comrade Thomas for instance did not see the logical implication of that resolution but the right wing of the party does see it. The New York old guard immediately set into motion the machinery for expelling the R.P.C. members from the party. They will begin a witch-hunting campaign which will not be limited to members of the Revolutionary Policy Committee.
A serious campaign must be carried on against the resolution by every left-winger in the party and any attempt to expel anyone because of membership in the Revolutionary Policy Committee must be fought to the last ditch. The right to present a minority viewpoint and to discuss freely is at stake.
Last updated: 02.07.2009