From Socialist Appeal, Vol.1 No.2, March 1935, pp.8-11.
Transcribed and Marked up by Damon Maxwell for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
Comrades: The reports of Comrade Waltmire and Comrade Despres on the election campaigns in the 34th and 5th Wards bring out with great clearness two fundamentally contradictory conceptions as to the purpose and nature of a socialist election campaign. Almost from the very beginning an election campaign has been one of the points that divided the revolutionary from the reformist socialists, and it is safe to say that it will continue to be so until the working class is in political control of the nation.
Neither Comrade Waltmire nor Comrade Despres has made any attempt to conceal their attitude. With disarming frankness Waltmire tells us that if a Socialist party election campaign has two objects, one to win office and another to make socialists, he was interested primarily, if not only, in winning office and was not at all concerned in making socialists. He wants us to “believe that only after winning office will he concern himself with the problem of making socialists and that such a method of approach affords the greatest possibility of success. “In our ward we wanted votes; in the fifth ward they wanted members” are his exact words and he gave utterances to this sentiment with great complacency exceedingly confident of its correctness, and I dare say he is some what surprised that not all comrades agree with him.
Comrade Despres who conducted the election campaign in the fifth ward with Comrade Krueger running for Alderman, with justifiable pride, reported that twenty-three new members joined the branch as a result of the campaign and that the 614 votes obtained in the ward represented people who can be considered as having voted not only for the immediate demands contained in the platform, but for the idea of socialism. He emphasized the fact that they solicited votes not because Krueger is a good man, an honest man, a church member or a professor but because he is a socialist and a member of the Socialist party, advocating socialist principles.
Supporters of Comrade Waltmire and his election campaign point to the fact that in the 34th Ward close to 3500 votes were cast for Waltmire, while Krueger obtained only 600 votes. They admit that not one additional member was recruited into the party by Waltmire’s campaign but that is of very slight importance in comparison with the number of votes. This is the standing argument of all reformists, the argument that has been used over and over again by those who think that the socialist society can. be ushered in by getting people to vote for the right kind of candidates regardless of platform or program. Have recent events in Germany, in Austria taught them nothing at all? Have they not learned that merely to depend on number of votes is to lean on a broken reed and live in a house of cards? Apparently so!
Of course I can point to the fact that the 34th Ward is an old socialist stronghold containing a radical wording class population composed largely of Jewish, Norwegian and Swedish workers. The 5th Ward on the other hand is inhabited mainly by middle class elements with no socialist traditions. This could easily account for the difference in the number of votes. One could claim without any exaggeration that had the 5th Ward comrades waged the same kind of socialist campaign in the 34th Ward they would have obtained at least as many votes as Waltmire polled. But I shall not stress this point at all; I shall make the same assumption as Waltmire and his supporters, namely, that he obtained a larger vote because of the nature of his campaign and not “because the population of his ward has had a long socialist training.
Now it ought to be obvious to every Socialist that socialism will not come into existence unless the majority of the people are willing to struggle for socialism and that means that they have some idea of what it is. If the people who vote for a Socialist do not do so because he is a Socialist but because they do not know that he is a Socialist, of what earthly use can that be for achieving the socialist goal? Socialism must depend upon the consciousness of the wording masses and not upon their lack of knowledge. The idea that we should first be elected to office and then teach socialism to the masses is so utterly absurd that it should not even be discussed. It can be stated with the greatest of assurance that a candidate on the Socialist ticket who refrains from teaching socialism during the campaign, with the idea that he will do so after ho is elected will not only forget all about socialism while he is in office but will forget all about his promises to fight for the immediate demands of his platform.
From the point of view of achieving socialism 600 votes, obtained conducting a campaign where socialist ideas and the Socialist party are stressed, are worth ten times more than 3500 votes polled in a campaign where the necessity for the struggle for socialism was not stressed and where the Socialist party, its program and its tactics were shoved into the background.
A casual analysis of the campaign literature distributed by Waltmire and that distributed on behalf of Krueger sharply brings out the difference in the two campaigns. In the case of the former, Waltmire’s personal virtues were stressed, the “fighting parson” was glorified in the case of the latter, emphasis was laid on the nature of capitalist society and the necessity of the conquest of political power by the working class for the purpose of introducing socialism. The immediate demands in the literature of both candidates could undoubtedly be improved. One is gratified that cheaper milk and cleaner alleys found in Waltmire’s platform were omitted in the list of Krueger’s immediate demands.
Waltmire and those who see things eye to eye with him in this controversy take the position that if the Socialist party is to amount to anything it must go into a political campaign with the idea of piling up votes and not of teaching socialism. I insist that this is not at all the correct formulation of the question. The question is not: Shall we go into a campaign to win or to teach socialism, but it is: HOW SHALL WE WIN FOR SOCIALISM. ... True we must go into a campaign to win; but to win what and how?
Absurd is it to say that the Socialist party is a political party only to the extent that it succeeds in winning votes. The Socialist party is and must be a political Party throughout the year and not only during election campaigns. It is a political party when it organizes unemployed workers and when it participates in the economic struggles of the working class. An election campaign is simply one of its important political functions and should not at all be considered as something independent of all its other work. An election campaign may be of infinitely less importance than a militant strike. A campaign is of value to the extent that it teaches and mobilizes the masses for winning socialism.
No one denies that during an election campaign the workers pre more lively to listen to a discussion on economics and politics than during any other period! and we can do that “best if we run candidates for the purpose of winning for socialism and that can be effectively accomplished only by showing the workers and middle class the necessity to struggle for the immediate demands and for the ultimate abolition of the capitalist system.
Besides the number of votes cast for a Socialist candidate, another criterion for the success of a campaign is the number of members recruited into the party through the campaign. It is inconceivable that a real socialist campaign should not attract members to the party and to those of us who realize that socialism can not be introduced without an effective revolutionary Socialist party recruiting members into the party is not all of secondary importance. Obtaining votes for Socialism and members for the party go hand in hand.
Comrade Waltmire stressed the fact that in his platform he mentioned that he was “endorsed by the Socialist party.” A very curious formulation not at all justified because the election was theoretically “non-partisan.” That phrase conceals Waltmire’s membership in the party more than it reveals it. Proudly he asserted that the reactionary Daily News and the conservative Municipal Voters’ League also endorsed him. One could just as easily surmise that he was a member of the Municipal Voters’ League. For a Socialist candidate simply to state that he is endorsed by the Socialist party is a slap in the party’s face.
No comrades, the attitude expressed by one comrade that we must get results no matter how we get them, is a self-defeating one. That attitude led Upton Sinclair into the Democratic Party; that attitude will lead. many a member of the party into some kind of a Progressive party. No Socialist can afford to forget for one moment the fundamental Marxist principle that we can achieve socialism either through the conscious action of the working class aided by the middle class, or we do not get it at all.
Have we already forgotten? Is it so difficult for us to remember that only two years ago the Hitler cohorts smashed the Social Democratic party of Germany and the Communist party without any resistance? And together, they had millions and millions of votes; victory will come to the working class only if it is conscious and willing to struggle and sacrifice and if it is led by a determined revolutionary Socialist party. To deceive ourselves with numbers of votes is to prepare for ourselves the fate of our brothers in Germany the hell of fascist concentration camps and the chopping off of our heads.
Last updated: 02.13.2009