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Albert Goldman

Communists Play “Follow the Leader”

(August 1936)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol.2 No.7, August 1936, pp.6-8.
Transcribed and Marked up by Damon Maxwell for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A CONVENTION in the life of a revolutionary working class party that believes in and practices the principle of democratic centralism is an extremely important occasion. It affords an opportunity for the membership of the party, through elected delegates, to express their views on questions confronting the party members and the working class and permits the reaching of a final decision on such questions. A convention is a convenient and necessary institution, giving a revolutionary party a chance to look back upon its progress or lack of it, evaluate the policies followed, correct mistakes and gather its forces for the march onward with substantial or slight changes in direction and tempo.

No one in the least acquainted with the life of the Communist party in this country or anywhere else expects any discussion prior to a convention or during a convention or expects any new policy to come out of a convention. That is, no one who thinks independently and is not a blind devotee of the “beloved leader.” A convention is as necessary and useful for the Communist party as is the calling of Parliament by Hitler. A perfectly superfluous gesture to deceive the naive and credulous who think that to discuss whether a policy handed down has been executed correctly is identical with a discussion on the correctness of the policy itself.

Examine the publications of the Communist party and you will find no trace of any view contrary to the official viewpoint on any of the problems raised at the convention. All the policies were already decided upon before the convention by the “beloved leaders” great and small, and all there was left for the followers was to accept with great enthusiasm. And the members of the C. P. have come to take the system for granted. In the “Party Life” column of the DAILY WORKER of July 17, a worried comrade writes: “There is an attitude which we have to break down in our educational work. The comrades in the Units feel that all the questions of the Party are settled in the higher Party bodies. Therefore they don’t have to worry about it in the Unit; there’ll be a statement in the DAILY WORKER on it anyhow. So why discuss it.” We can assure the comrade that the attitude will not be broken down.

Convention Adds Nothing New

Every one of the ideas embodied in every one of the resolutions placed before the agreeable delegates were contained in the utterances or writings of Browder long before the convention took place. The august gathering was simply for the purpose of placing a formal stamp of approval upon those ideas. Was it very difficult to predict that the convention would declare that the Farmer-Labor party is the task of tasks confronting the American revolutionary movement? Nor did it take great prophetic powers to foresee that the convention would “establish the fact” that the Republican party-Liberty League-Hearst combination is the anti-Christ against whom alone the efforts of all good people should be concentrated and that we are at present faced with the alternative of democracy or fascism and not of fascism or socialism. Nor would it have been a marvel of prescience to indicate that the delegates – all seven hundred and fifty of them – would declare that it is necessary to rally all peace-loving people around the peace policy of the Soviet Union in order to abolish wars from this turbulent world.

That which was or should have been expected happened. Browder’s report followed the lines indicated in his speeches and writings in the last few months and the resolutions followed Browder’s report.

In the speeches of Browder, in the resolutions of the convention, in the articles explaining the meaning of the convention it is proclaimed over and over again that “our main immediate political task ... is to win the masses . . . for a Farmer-Labor Party.” And why should the masses spend the energy necessary to build a Farmer-Labor party? In the words of the Communist platform: “to fight for and establish a People’s Government, a government of, for and by the people.”

Quite a task! Abraham Lincoln thought it could be done but then Abraham Lincoln was not and never claimed to be a Marxist. The writings of Marx, Engels and Lenin and even of the disciples of Stalin were not referred to with reference to the possibility of creating a classless people’s government.

There are some comrades who incline to say that this is too much; there will be a revolt amongst the intelligent Communists. But these comrades underestimate the power of a bureaucratic apparatus that has succeeded in establishing its authority over the minds of people who in all other respects seem to be of normal intelligence. Until the line is changed we can expect all the Communists even those who might read Lenin’s State and Revolution, to preach the formation of a people’s government.

Falling in with the fundamental idea of a people’s government is the main slogan of the convention embodied in the Communist platform and that is: For a Free, Prosperous and Happy America! And of course the inference is that such an America can be brought into existence without any proletarian revolution – simply through the creation of a Farmer-Labor party.

A Combination That Terrifies

Until such time as the American people can take over the government for themselves they must concentrate on that really dreadful combination of the Republican party, the Liberty League and Hearst. “The chief political center of extreme capitalist reaction, which carries the threat of fascism today is the Republican Party–Liberty–League–Hearst combination.” Again: “The Communist Party declares that the struggle against reaction and incipient fascism demands the utmost unification and concentration of all forces of the working class and its allies against the Republican–Liberty League–Hearst combination.” (DAILY WORKER, June 16, 1936).

Does that mean that the C.P. has come out for supporting Roosevelt? Not in so many words. The Communists insist that Roosevelt is not fighting that combination as he should and that is why, it is to be presumed, they are not calling upon the masses openly to support Roosevelt. Of course Browder, in his report at the convention, was bold enough to state that there is no principle connected with refusing to vote for a bourgeois candidate like Roosevelt. And to support his boldness he had the temerity to cite Lenin on the necessity of the proletariat to support the democratic bourgeoisie in a bourgeois democratic revolution. Perhaps he thinks we need a bourgeois democratic revolution in this country.

Lenin pointed out that after the death of a great revolutionist the real essence of his revolutionary theories is emasculated and vulgarised by opportunists. And Lenin is now suffering the same fate. And out of seven hundred and fifty delegates there was not one with spirit enough to cry “Shame” upon this disgusting effort to enlist Lenin in the work of betrayal.

It is true that the Communists formally are not endorsing Roosevelt, but in concentrating their attack on the Republican party as the bearer of fascism and in mildly chiding Roosevelt for his failure to come out more aggressively against the Liberty Leaguers they are practically advising the workers that to vote for Roosevelt is to vote for the lesser evil. The Stalinists have changed their policy since the German catastrophe but only to substitute the policy of the Social Democrats for the sectarian polices of the Third Period.

Recently they have called for a conference to stop Landon and have urged Lewis and Hillman to take the lead in such a conference. Since these labor leaders are heart and soul for the election of Roosevelt what would be the meaning of such a conference if not to whip it up for Roosevelt?

Bourgeois Democracy versus Fascism

The theoretical justification for concentrating the attack on the Liberty League – Hearst combination is the theory that the working class is at the present time faced with the alternative of bourgeois democracy or fascism. This theory of course is not the product of Browder’s hard thinking but it goes back to Dimitroff and back of him to the beloved Stalin. Enunciated with great profundity at the Seventh Congress it is used to justify the most opportunistic policies.

In this respect the Socialist party is one hundred percent correct. To defeat fascism one must attempt to mobilize the masses for the destruction of the very system of capitalist democracy which gives rise to fascism. This does not mean that we urge the workers to be indifferent to their democratic rights. On the contrary we must mobilize the workers for a struggle for every democratic right which they possess and do not possess under the capitalist system. But that is simply for the purpose of strengthening their forces for the destruction of the capitalist system. When we say that the real alternative is fascism or socialism it does not mean that unless we get socialism in this election fascism will result. This is the way the Communists attempt to pose the question.

It means that revolutionary Socialists recognize that the development bf capitalist society has reached a point where the capitalist democratic regime cannot function and if that regime is not destroyed by the forces of the proletariat it will be destroyed by the forces of fascist reaction. With that as a perspective we do not struggle to save the bourgeois DEMOCRATIC REGIME but we struggle for the DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS OF THE WORKERS. The Communists also claim that they are struggling for democracy in order ultimately to bring in socialism. Whatever the intention of the Communist leaders may be, the effect of their incorrect theory is to demoralize both the workers and the middle class and open the way for fascism.

Much has been said and written about the reformist attitude on war which the Communists have adopted within the last year. The slogan of collective security accepted by the Stalinist regime as a safeguard for the Soviet Union and subsequently adopted by all the Communist parties was augmented in the Communist platform by the immediate demand for the “complete prohibition of the sale or delivery of goods, or the granting of loans to nations engaged in a foreign war contrary to the provisions of the Kellogg Peace Pact.” The Marxist interpretation of the nature of imperialist war with its rejection of the idea of an aggressor nation is thrown over-board and in its stead we find ourselves scrutinizing a/ document drawn up by a former Republican Secretary of State to determine our attitude to a particular capitalist nation. Exactly who shall determine the question as to which particular nation was guilty of violating the Peace Pact is not stated. We presume the Communists will be guided by their investigators and lawyers.

The Socialist party has many amongst its members v/ho are sincere pacifists and consequently bring forth the most grotesque ideas as to the method of stopping war but we have yet to see such Socialists produce anything so idiotic as the above idea of the Communists.

Comparison with 1934 Convention

It is difficult to imagine that^ only a little over two years ago the same party held a convention in Cleveland at which convention ideas were expressed which are the exact opposite of the ideas presented at the last convention. The 8th convention of the C.P. held two years ago issued a Manifesto and the ideas found therein cannot possibly be harmonized with the concepts propounded at the 9th.

“There is no possible way out of the crisis in the interest of the masses except by breaking the control of the State power now in the hands of this small monopolist capitalist class. There is no way out except by establishing a new government of the workers in alliance with the poor farmers, the Negro people and the impoverished middle class.

There is no way out except by the creation of a revolutionary democracy of the toilers, which is at the same time a stern dictatorship against the capitalists and their agents.... There is no way out in short except by the abolition of the capitalist system and the establishment of a Socialist society.”

We can accept this portion of the Manifesto without qualification.

The eighth convention was held after Hitler came to power; after the brave struggle of the Austrian workers against Dolfuss; even after the general strike against the fascists of France. But the theory of social-fascism was still accepted. At that time a non-Communist was either a fascist, or a semi-fascist or a variety of social-fascist. That convention “established the fact” that the New Deal was a “program of fascization” that the “fascization of the trade unions” had reached a dangerous stage and that “in this trickery of the masses Roosevelt has the utmost support of the A.F. of L. bureaucrats, Socialists and liberals.” The Socialist party was at that time the “third party of capitalism” and a possible Farmer-Labor party would be a “new left social-fascist party.”

Revolutionary Phrases Retained

Ideas, however, are very easily discarded in the life of the Communist movement. Without the slightest explanation and certainly without the least preparation in the form of discussion, the old stand-bys were dropped; the Socialist party became a brother party of the working class; the Farmer-Labor party the only hope of the working class; Roosevelt a mild liberal who was not calling- upon the Communists in his struggle against the American fascists organized in the Liberty League.

It would be folly to expect that the old revolutionary phrases would disappear entirely from the resolutions and speeches. The tremendous appeal which the Communist movement has for the revolutionary workers lies in the fact that these workers sincerely think that the Communist International is still the revolutionary International of Lenin and that it is devoted to the effort of overthrowing the system which every advanced worker hates. For the Communists to discard altogether the revolutionary phraseology and cling to a consistent system of reformist ideas would mean the complete loss of their influence.

Not only can they not afford to get rid of the revolutionary word but they must actually assume the pose of critics of the Socialists as reformists. This fundamental necessity of playing a dual role in order to keep the good will of both .the liberal bourgeoisie and the revolutionary workers explains the tactics of the Communists in France and in Spain. They have to talk “left” once in a while; they must appear as the supporters of the workers’ struggles ever so often. But in reality their activities have nothing at all to do with the interests of the proletarian revolution. And it is hardly likely that they will ever come out in the open as avowed revisionists of Marx and Lenin. They would thereby lose all their influence with the revolutionary section of the working class.

And so in the resolutions of the last convention and even in the platform there are tucked away suggestions about the necessity of establishing Socialism through the Soviet power. “Such policies,” states the resolution, “will create favorable conditions for the overthrow of capitalist rule altogether, the establishment of Soviet Power and the building of Socialism.” A necessary insertion which has no relationship to the actual policies pursued.

Zig-Zag Policy

How long will this change last? There are Socialists who doubt the “sincerity” of the Communists. Alas they are terribly in earnest. Their opportunism is not a cloak which is to be put on and taken off to please the liberals and some Socialists. It is basic to their whole conception built around the theory of building socialism in the Soviet Union – and only in the Soviet Union. Their previous sectarian ultra leftism is but a different form of their basic reformism. What attitude the Communists will take to the bourgeoisie of their own country will depend entirely upon the relationship of the Soviet Union to that particular country. The foreign policy of the Stalin regime will determine the particular garment which the Communists will don to cover their opportunist nakedness.

It is not at all excluded that in the future there will be a swing back to the most insane sectarianism. The alliances between the different imperialists are not yet stabilized and it is possible that the different imperialist rivals might succeed in making a temporary bargain, with the Soviet Union left out. In which case to “protect and defend the Soviet Union” it might be necessary to designate every one who thinks it essential for the workers to develop their consciousness before calling on them for revolution – to designate such a person as a left or right social fascist.

The exigencies of Soviet diplomacy will determine the tactics of the Communist parties. And not the need for a revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist system to solve the problems of the whole working class including the workers of the Soviet Union.

Communists Weep for Socialists

This was the first convention where the Communists showed so much solicitude for the welfare of the Socialist party. No wild attacks, no name-calling; only a note of regret that the Socialist party does not see eye to eye with the C. P. on the questions of war, of the united front, of struggling for bourgeois democracy against fascism, for our failure to leave Roosevelt alone and concentrate our attacks on the infamous combination of the Liberty-League and Hearst. Weeping and wailing were on the order of the day. “The Socialists were isolating themselves from the masses by their sectarian tactics.” And of course the Stalinists could not refrain from pointing with alarm at the entry of the “pernicious” Trotskyists into the S. P. For are the latter not the protagonists of the class struggle; are they not opposed to the People’s Front and to the idea of supporting good capitalist nations against bad capitalist nations in any war?

And above all are they not opposed to the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Soviet Union. That is an unforgivable crime. The C. P. must henceforth dedicate its efforts to save the Socialist party. And on the other hand the revolutionary Marxists in the Socialist party must attempt to save the revolutionary workers from the corroding influence of Stalinism.

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