From Socialist Appeal, Vol.2 No.12, December 1936, pp.10-12.
Transcribed and Marked up by Damon Maxwell for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
OUR PARTY was the only party that pointed out during the election that in the present period of the decline of capitalism there is no alternative for the working class other than socialism. It was primarily because of that factor that left wingers could and did participate in the campaign without being too greatly embarrassed by a platform which, to put it mildly was not all that a revolutionary Socialist platform should be.
It should not be necessary at this time to repeat that what revolutionary Socialists meant, when they said that the fundamental issue of the campaign was socialism versus capitalism, was not that the campaign was to decide that question but that the working class must be taught that the problems confronting them could not be solved in a fundamental manner except through the destruction of the capitalist system; that fighting to retain democracy as against fascism was like struggling to cure the symptoms and not the disease. The Communists of course did their best to distort the meaning of our campaign slogan by attempting to ridicule us for “trying to usher in socialism” in this campaign, thereby showing that the Communist conception of an election campaign is to get something that is practical and achievable.
But we must confess that at times the accusation levelled against our party by the Stalinists to the effect that we made a lifeless abstraction out of the slogan “socialism versus capitalism” struck home. An election campaign must serve as an educational campaign but an educational campaign that is based simply on contrasting the alleged benefits of socialism as against the miseries of capitalism has very little educational value. The campaign must take the fundamental issue as its guiding thread and utilize the current issues of the day for the purpose of mobilizing the masses for struggle and at the same time connecting those current issues with the fundamental issue. One can shout from now till doomsday that socialism; is necessary and that it is better than, capitalism but to educate the advanced workers one must explain the significance of great events that agitate the minds of vast numbers of people.
Enough has been written to convince every left wing Socialist that the party leadership failed miserably in the great task confronting it during the campaign. Its failure to take a correct position (it did not even take any position) on the great events that absorbed the interest of every class conscious worker has been repeatedly mentioned. I shall mention some minor matters which indicate that as far as the party leadership was concerned the central slogan of the campaign was more or less a meaningless accident.
Towards the end of the campaign the National Office of the party flooded the branches with a magazine full of pictures, which were intended to convince the American workers of the superiority of socialism over capitalism. It is not necessary to deal with the character of the pictures although it could be truthfully asserted that some of the dwelling places shown in the pictures would not induce many American workers to struggle for socialism.
Now there is absolutely nothing wrong – in fact quite the contrary – in showing pictures of future apartments under socialism. But a picture book which has as its purpose winning workers over to the socialist movement which does not contain a word about the class struggle and which indicates that all the workers have to do, in order to get these nice things shown in the pictures, is to vote the socialist ticket, is worthy of the worst type of reformism. The Old Guard might have hesitated before issuing such nonsense.
And where did we get the nice picture book? From the British Labor party. And so the most revolutionary party of the Labor and Socialist International must depend for its propaganda on the most decrepitly reformist party of the same International.
* * * *
“If we only had more money,” was the complaint of many a comrade who sought for an excuse why so little literature was given out by the party. Tremendous effort was exerted to collect money but mainly on the plan of a mail order house. Party members and sympathizers were exhorted to contribute but there was very little in the way of literature to show the contributors that their money was used for effective propaganda. A revolutionary party during the period of struggle under the capitalist system will always be short of funds but the lack of money is not an excuse for any failure to bring out good propaganda literature dealing with events of the day. Not only will comrades and sympathizers gladly give their last penny to publish such literature; sufficient money can be derived from its sale to defray the cost of printing. Collecting money is. largely a political task. If a party holds meetings on burning issues; if its speakers give a revolutionary interpretation of those issues, if, in other words, it convinces the advanced workers that it is a revolutionary party, the problem of raising money is more than half solved .
* * * *
The fact of the matter is that there was enough money to publish the CALL. And unfortunately that was money thrown away. An awful sensation comes over me when I think of what a wonderful opportunity was completely missed by the national campaign paper of the party. The CALL was alone in the field. It could have harnessed the tremendous enthusiasm of the Yipsels and the revolutionary comrades of the party. Had it dealt with the world-shaking events of the day in a competent manner, from a Marxist point of view; had it given the lead to the comrades on all the perplexing questions confronting them; had it answered the attacks of our enemies vigorously and effectively it would now be sitting on top of the world. Its supremacy as the organ of revolutionary socialism would be unquestioned.
Instead – but what is the use ? Who does not know the pictures, relevant and irrelevant; the dreary, didactic editorials (it must be admitted that they were all against capitalism)? Pictures, sermons on socialism – that is petty bourgeois Utopian socialism.
* * * *
The Wisconsin Socialist party was swimming in familiar waters during the campaign. Running on the Progressive ticket and burdened only with the “production for use” platform of the Farmer-Labor Progressive Federation about ten members of the party were elected to office and undoubtedly as far as some of them are concerned socialism has been achieved. I have been unable to find out whether there is such a thing as a Socialist .arty in Wisconsin. The party members went into the Farmer-Labor Progressive Federation as individuals and since the platform of the Federation contains the famous “production for use” clause the Wisconsin Socialists are more than satisfied and it is quite certain that they do not see any distinction between the Wisconsin Socialist party and the Federation. And in truth there is none.
Unfortunately the “left” wing of the Wisconsin party was composed of liberal Stalinists with Mrs. Berger as its god-mother and nothing could be expected of such a “left” wing. There must be many a real Socialist in Wisconsin and one of the tasks of the left wing will be to find them; and organize them to struggle for the principles of revolutionary socialism.
* * * *
IN THIS country our party states that not bourgeois democracy but socialism should be the objective of the workers’ struggles. Quite correct. It follows that in Spain where the struggle has reached an infinitely higher level than in this country, where the workers are no longer participating in an election campaign with ballots but are deciding questions on the field of civil war, the idea that the workers must struggle for socialism is a thousand times more applicable than here. The Stalinists persist in fighting for bourgeois democracy even in Spain but I presume that the leadership of our party would not accept the Stalinist contention, at least in theory.
Let us see how some of our party comrades who consider themselves left wingers fail to draw necessary conclusions from the theory that our objective must be socialism and not bourgeois democracy. Even before the National Executive Committee resolved to support the North American Committee for the Defense of Spanish Democracy, the question of supporting a meeting held under the auspices of that committee in Chicago came up before the Chicago Executive Committee of the party. Since it is necessary to clear up a great deal of confusion on this point in the minds of loyal left wing Socialists it is necessary to treat this question in some detail.
The Chicago Executive Committee made a peculiar decision on the question. It would not participate officially in the meeting because the committee under whose auspices the meeting was held accepted a political line contrary to the one accepted by revolutionary Socialists. At the same time it permitted individual party members to participate in the Committee and instructed all party members to distribute leaflets for the meeting. So that the party in Chicago was both in and out of the Committee and the meeting.
The confusion arose from the failure to make the simple distinction between a united front on a programmatic basis which we cannot accept unless the program is our program, and a united front for a specific objective.
In the struggle against the Spanish fascists revolutionary Marxists will fight side by side with every other group bourgeois or proletarian; they will offer aid to every group struggling against the fascists. If for reasons of his own a Basque Catholic priest is willing to take a rifle and shoot a Fascist Catholic priest there is no reason in the world why a revolutionary Socialist should refuse to buy the rifle. We aid and fight together with every person involved in the struggle against fascism.
But that is as far as it goes. Our political program is peculiarly our own and we make no compromises with any other group. It is true we are struggling against fascism but with a different purpose; we are struggling to establish a Socialist Spain while other groups are fighting to retain the bourgeois democratic republic. There can be unity of action between these groups but no unity of program.
There is no reason in the world why a joint committee should not be created for the purpose of collecting funds to send arms, clothing and other necessities to the Spanish fighters against fascism. And in that committee could be represented Communists, Socialists, anarchists and even liberals. But the joint committee should have as its purpose the collection of funds and nothing else.
As soon as the committee proclaims it to be its duty to collect funds to defend Spanish bourgeois democracy it enters into the political arena; it thereby formulates a program and one which is absolutely unacceptable to revolutionary Socialists. Under these circumstances revolutionary Socialists (except as a matter of discipline when higher bodies of the party decide) cannot lend their names to and cannot participate in the calling of such a meeting. Called under the auspices of a committee to defend Spanish democracy a meeting has a political character and it is not permissible for revolutionary Socialists to further the cause of such a meeting.
I do not mean that if a Socialist is invited to speak at such a meeting he should refuse to accept. A Socialist should always take advantage of any invitation to speak before a crowd of workers. But he must make his position crystal clear before the audience of workers. There is then no longer a question of a united front but simply one of accepting a chance to educate those who either do not agree with us or else do not know our position.
United front meetings on Spain have only a symbolic significance, representing the unity of the workers in the common struggle against fascism. Of far greater importance are the political meetings on Spain where the workers should be educated in the political significance of that struggle and be informed of the attitude of the various parties in the Spanish civil war. Such meetings can be held only under the auspices of the Socialist party.
And they should be held with much greater frequency than heretofore.
THE DECISION of the National Executive Committee to hold regional conferences for the purpose of discussing the problems of the convention would be of great benefit to the party provided it is carried out properly. To these regional conferences should be invited all active comrades; leading comrades representing different tendencies in the party should be invited to discuss the situation in the party and the tasks confronting the convention, Adequate notice should be given and preparations made for these conferences so that comrades from more distant parts could attend.
I fear however that with the exception of a few states the kind of conferences that will be held will not be very valuable in the sense that the active comrades “will be able to listen to an intelligent discussion of party matters from all viewpoints. I fear that what the party leadership has in mind with reference to these regional conferences are the kind of campaigns which in the Communist party are called “enlightenment campaigns.” And by that euphemistic term is meant an attempt to convince the membership that the leadership is correct.
AS WE GO to press the newspapers carry the announcement that the Foreign Office of the Mexican government will grant comrade Trotsky permission to enter Mexico if he applies for entry. The Mexican petty bourgeois government is anxious to show its liberalism by granting asylum to the one revolutionist whom the capitalist class of every country fears more than any other person.
Will Stalin succeed in changing the decision of the Mexican government? That he will try his utmost to do so is certain. The Mexican Stalinists have already begun a vicious campaign and there is no telling what can happen before Trotsky is actually on Mexican soil. Fortunately for Trotsky Stalin cannot exert economic pressure on Mexico as he did on the Norwegian “Labor” government. And the Communists are not such a strong force as to wield a powerful influence on the Mexican government, although they support Cardenas.
The vital interests of the revolutionary movement demand that Trotsky be given political asylum and that he be permitted to instruct the revolutionary workers the world over by his interpretation of the events of the day. The committee which has been recently organized for the defense of Trotsky is not left without work to do. It must continue its existence to guard his rights and to defend him; against the vile calumnies of Stalin and his henchmen.
Last updated: 12.10.2008