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Albert Goldman

Left Wing Will Not Allow Itself to Be
Gagged by the Party Bureaucracy!

Declaration by Albert Goldman for the Left Wing at the Chicago
Membership Meeting in a Reply to Maynard Krueger’s Threats

(August 1937)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 1 No. 3, 28 August 1937, pp. 6–7.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


It would be idle to deny that we are approaching a very serious crisis in the life of our party, a crisis from which the party might emerge a complete wreck. A short while ago the Old Guard, composed of the most intransigent reformist elements, left the party but that only strengthened the party. We are confronted at present with a different situation, a situation which can be characterized as the beginning of an expulsion drive of the left wing section of the party. While the exodus of the Old Guard left the party free to develop in a revolutionary direction, the expulsion of the revolutionary left can serve the interests only of the Stalinists and the Farmer-Laborites.

A dispassionate consideration of all the factors involved in the present party situation, a willingness to face reality and a fearless determination to compel the right wing of the party and its allies, the centrists of the Clarity wing, to rescind the decisions that threaten to bring bitterness and chaos into the life of the party, might induce the NEC to retreat from its untenable position and thus save the party from the convulsions that are almost inevitable if the NEC persists in its reactionary course.

What led the NEC to pass this gag resolution; what were the factors that caused the NEC to take a step which is unauthorized by the party constitution or the decisions of the last or any other convention, which is in violation of all traditions of party democracy? I shall not go back further than the Chicago convention in order to enumerate the factors leading to the well-nigh fatal resolution, on the nigh fatal resolution, on the [line of text missing]

Convention Did Not Settle Problems

It was clear to any intelligent observer familiar with the political currents existing in the party that the Chicago convention held in the latter part of March did not succeed in bringing harmony into the party. The gap dividing the revolutionary left from the various types of reformists was not bridged because it could not be bridged. Between the Wisconsin type of municipal socialists and the Stalinist type of reformism and the social-service brand of socialism – tall of them representing the right wing – on the one hand and the revolutionary Marxists on the other hand, there could be no ideological peace. While at the convention the struggle between the combined right wing and the revolutionists did not come to a head it was clear that the convention did not resolve that struggle. Both sides left the convention with the feeling that the fight was to continue.

To expel the so-called Trotskyists was the aim of the right wing. Since that objective was not attained it can be said that the right wing suffered a defeat. Nevertheless the right wing won a major success and the left received a stunning blow through the suppression of the organ of the Appeal group. It is true that the delegates representing the Appeal group “consented” to the suppression of the Appeal but that “consent” came only as a result of the fact that they were in a small minority and they did not want to create any bitterness which would stand in the way of the peaceful penetration of their ideas amongst the ranks of the party.

To us the suppression of the Appeal was a tremendous blow because we revolutionary Socialists depend on our ideas to win a majority of the party to our side. Every other group depends upon the political backwardness of the party ranks – that is also true of the centrist Clarity group – whereas the revolutionary Marxists can expect no victories without educating the party membership in their ideas. For us a paper to spread our ideas is indispensable but we were willing to be deprived of it in the hope that we could do our educational work by word of mouth.

And now the NEC wants to take our right of educating the party members by word of mouth away from us. And that without any decision of a convention.

New NEC Unable to Weather Storm

The centrists or Clarityites obtained a majority on the NEC. That fact left the impression that the party could go ahead on a fairly even keel, under the leadership of a group that had control of the party machinery. No one of course expected that the party ship would sail along without encountering any storms; they were inevitable both from the right and the left but since the centrists had a safe majority they could easily weather the storms. So at least it appeared on the surface.

A closer analysis of the centrist majority in control of the NEC could easily reveal the cracks and fissures in that majority. The more competent observers predicted that these who were nominally in control of the NEC would be unable, in any serious crisis, to hold the reins tight and furnish firm and confident leadership. The Clarityite majority was too heterogeneus, too weak and vacillating, lacking in experience and ability, and above all without any firm Marxian foundation, to chart an independent course. A constant shifting from left to right and from right to left, a straddling of fundamental issues was to be expected from a group whose main stock in trade was an ability or a supposed ability to maneuver and horse-trade.

Our Forecasts Justified

The period immediately following the convention proved both of our major premises. One, that the ideological struggle between left and right was bound to continue and, two, that the centrist majority on the NEC would be helpless in any serious situation.

No resolution on Spain was passed at the convention; the arrangements were so bad that the most important problem before the convention was left unsettled. The NEC took it upon itself to formulate a resolution on Spain. It was a typically centrist resolution – “on the one hand and on the other hand”. It characterized the Caballero govern ment as a provisional revolutionary regime, uttered pious hopes about the necessity for going forward to socialism and in effect gave political support to the Popular Front regime.

The left wing was outraged at the resolution. It began a strenuous and systematic campaign throughout the party against it and the campaign met with great success. The success of that campaign infuriated the Stalinist section of the right wing led by Altman and scared the centrists.

Spanish Events Intrude

Events were unkind to the centrists. The ink on the Spanish resolution was hardly dry when the Barcelona workers were compelled to take up arms against the attempt of the Popular Front government to disarm them. The revolutionary left, although in political disagreement with both the anarchists and the P.O.U.M., supported them unconditionally against the counter-revolutionary attack of the Popular Front. The right wing defended the Popular Front; the centrists regretted the action of both the government and the workers of Barcelona.

We of the left wing had no hesitation whatsoever to give our support to the Barcelona workers. Long before the Call published articles on these events which showed that the aggressors were the parties of the Popular Front Government we characterized the events correctly. Not because we had any more information on the subject but because we had been following events in Spain from a revolutionary Marxist viewpoint.

Again the revolutionary socialists started a campaign and again we were successful. It goes without saying that a revolutionary Socialist could never keep quiet when revolutionary workers are being murdered by Stalinist and right wing Socialist butchers. We would be betraying the cause of revolutionary Socialism by our silence.

Around the question of the Spanish events the struggle became bitter, especially in New York. It is natural that in those sections of the party where Stalinist ideas are strongest the fight against the revolutionary left is most bitter. I do not claim that Altman belongs to the Stalinist organization. I do claim that in practice his political line is a Stalinist one. His friendliness to the C.P. is notorious as well as the fact that the C.P. never attacks him in its press. While in his political line he is Stalinist, in the inner party regime he has shown himself to be on the same plane as the Old Guard. The same maneuvers and the same tricks characterize his attacks as characterized those of the Old Guard. In his determination not to permit the left wing any opportunity to present its views and in his petty tactics to achieve the expulsion of the left wing he is not a whit inferior to the Old Guard.

Before the Chicago convention Altman undoubtedly favored the expulsion of the revolutionary wing of the party but he dared not raise the question openly. But after the left began its campaign on the Spanish resolution Altman and his followers no longer concealed their intentions. An insistent clamor came from them for the expulsion of the “Trotskyists”.

Norman Thomas’ Attitude

Nothing helped the Altmanites in their campaign for the expulsion of the left wingers as much as the attitude of Norman Thomas upon his return from Europe. Thomas’ attitude on the question of Spain was never very clear.

Just as his attitude on every crucial question is never very clear. His visit to Spain where he was the guest of leading figures of the Popular Front Government led him to come out more openly in favor of that government and to become far more critical of the revolutionists who were in opposition to the Loyalist government. His attitude to the workers of Barcelona who defended their right to bear arms showed clearly that in a crisis he would place himself in the ranks of those who are against the revolution.

No sooner did Thomas return from Europe than it became clear that his influence would be thrown in favor of Altman’s campaign for the expulsion of the left. I presume he felt there was no room in one party between half-hearted defenders of the Spanish assassins of the revolutionary workers and the bitter enemies of these assassins.

A factor of great importance in the events that led to the NEC gag resolution is the attitude of Wisconsin. There the party is to the right of social democracy. It was only an accident that caused Wisconsin to remain in the party instead of leaving with the Old Guard. With its comparatively large number of dues-paying members Wisconsin could always demand a price for remaining in the party. The centrists were at all times willing to pay that price.

The Hypocrisy of Krueger

You have heard comrade Krueger in his speech here make a firm statement with reference to his attitude to Wisconsin, to Altman and to the revolutionary left. Krueger is impartial and intends to keep all groups under control. What hypocrisy there is in that statement! Krueger, at this meeting, can talk big to Wisconsin and Altman but his real attitude to them is one of pleading and belly-crawling. It is only towards the left that he is really capable of turning a hard and ruthless first. That is characteristic of all centrists: a threatening voice and a soft hand to the right, blows in the face for the left.

When Wisconsin showed dissatisfaction with the policy of the party on the C.I.O.-A.F. of L. struggle an agreement was reached that Wisconsin can interpret that policy to suit its own convenience. And undoubtedly Wisconsin’s threats to leave the party, unless the left was curbed, had a great deal to do with the adoption of the NEC gag resolution. To appease Wisconsin and to assure its remaining in the party the centrists were willing to muzzle the left. Between Wisconsin and the left wing the centrists choose Wisconsin.

The demoralization of the party under centrist leadership contributed a great deal to the decision of the centrists to muzzle the left wing. They who talk so much about activity and accuse the left of consisting of mere theorizers have not shown the least capacity to mobilize the party for any activity. It is really ridiculous to

hear Krueger accuse us of inactivity. As against Krueger himself the most inactive comrade of the left is tremendously active. But leave Krueger out. Take all those present at this meeting. I thought I knew the party comrades fairly well But it is surprising to see so many whom I do not recognize. The dead-wood of the Clarityites far outnumber the deadwood of the Appealites.

The stay-at-home Socialists are here ready to vote against the left.

Bankruptcy of National Office

What campaign did the National Office start since the convention? Did it attempt to mobilize the party membership on the great questions of the day on Spain, on the events in Russia, on the CIO strikes? The only activity that one is conscious of as emanating from the National Office is the drive to re-register the members. Now that in itself is not harmful but one can hardly escape the conclusion that the re-registration was decided upon because the party leadership did not know what else to do and hoped that by some miracle the re-registration would catapult the party into activity. I must also note the small shopkeeper method of raising funds by charging ten cents for every registration.

The centrist leadership was all too anxious to place the blame for its own inability to furnish leadership upon the shoulders of the left wingers whom the centrists accused of devoting too much time to inner-party discussion.

Let me recapitulate the factors which led the NEC, in desperation perhaps, to look for a solution in muzzling the left wing.

  1. The profound differences in principle between the right wing of the party, composed of the Altmanites, Wisconsin and the social worker type following Thomas, on the one hand, and the revolutionary left, on the other.
  2. The serious turn of events in Spain, the successful campaign of the left on the Spanish issue.
  3. The bitter hostility of Altman against the left especially on the Spanish issue. The return of Thomas from Spain and his alliance with Altman.
  4. The threat of Wisconsin to leave the party.
  5. The demoralization of the party ranks immediately following the convention, under the leadership of the centrists.

It is an indication of the type of leadership we have in the party that it sought a solution for the difficulties confronting it in a gag resolution. If an intelligent leadership finds a substantial proportion of the membership in opposition to its policies it attempts either to convince the membership through argument or to isolate the minority by consolidating the majority around correct policies. People who cannot cope with the arguments of a minority have recourse to administrative measures even before any discussion and especially when they see the minority gaining ground. The centrist leadership did not attempt to argue with the left wing minority (actually the left wing represents a majority of the active membership); spurred on by the right, the centrists found their solution in the gag resolution. The force that joined the centrists with the right wing was fear of the left.

The Heart of the Gag-Law

The heart of the NEC resolution is contained in the following sentences: “All campaigns in the party against party decisions, policies or institutions must be halted immediately”. “While the present reorganization is going on, members are requested to suspend organized attempts to apply pressure for changes of policy and for the initiation of new policy.” “No campaigns against the decisions are allowable and those decisions are to take immediate effect”.

Now the decisions say nothing about the left wing. From a strictly legal viewpoint they apply to Wisconsin, to Altman as well as to the left wing. And Comrade Krueger went to great lengths to emphasize that point. But in effect the only ones against whom the decision will operate will be the left wingers First because they are the only ones interested in carrying out a campaign among the members on questions of policy and second because the right wing will use the decisions as a pretext to expel the left wing.

Comrade Krueger told you how insistent Wisconsin was in its attempt to induce the NEC to change or modify the convention resolutions on war and trade unionism. What does that mean in actuality ? Did Wisconsin carry on a campaign among the general membership of the party with the purpose of convincing the membership that the convention resolution was wrong and that a new one was necessary ? Needless to say that is not the method of Wisconsin. What the Socialists from Milwaukee did was to whisper in Krueger’s ear that a change is necessary in these resolutions or else ... and the “or-else” meant a threat. And I am quite sure that Krueger told the Wisconsintes not to worry, that everything would go along smoothly.

The revolutionary left operates in quite a different manner. If it is dissatisfied with any resolution or decision it immediately appeals to the membership; it carries on an agitation amongst the ranks in order to convince a majority of the correctness of its viewpoint. It is because the left wing carries on an agitation in the open, educating and convincing the membership, that the party leadership was so anxious to muzzle it.

Krueger Creates Straw Men

Here I want to mention something that is of great importance in showing that the NEC is trying to becloud the issue. Krueger spoke about the campaign of Wisconsin to change convention resolutions and decisions. And he thundered that neither Wisconsin nor Cannon, Shachtman and Goldman would be permitted to carry on an agitation for changing convention resolutions and decisions. It is so easy to create a straw man and then proceed to demolish him.

Let me ask comrade Krueger: what convention resolutions or decisions have we been camipaigning against? Let him name one. Not that we particularly like all of the resolutions and decisons passed at the convention and not that we think it is criminal to carry on an agitation against them. But the fact is that we have not said or done anything about any of the convention decisions or resolutions. On the contrary, we claim, and I think with some justification, that the NEC has violated the convention resolution on the People’s Front. Certainly the NEC has flagrantly violated the convention decision on the publication of an inner party organ.

Did not the convention decide that an inner party organ be published where all groups would find space for its articles? More than three months passed and not a trace of such an organ.

Why ? Because money is lacking, will be the answer of those responsible. But that answer shows how little the leadership is able to evoke sufficient enthusiasm amongst the membership so that money can be raised to publish necessary papers. But I suspect that it is not so much the lack of money as it is an indifference to a real discussion on vital problem and a fear that in any discussion the left wing will be most persuasive.

If there has been any violation of convention decisions it has been by the NEC and not by the left wing.

The Left Wing Has Been Disciplined

I want to emphasize the fact that is is not a crime to be opposed to a convention resolution and to carry on a theoretical discussion against such a resolution. In a revolutionary party where democratic procedure necessarily prevails there will always be discussion on all convention resolutions; what will be demanded of the minority is that it does not act contrary to any convention decision. I defy anyone to point out one instance where the left wing has acted contrary to any convention resolution.

What is in question is not a campaign against convention resolutions but against NEC resolutions on fundamental problems. Is the NEC resolution on Spain a convention decision? Is the NEC gag resolution a convention decision? Not by any stretch of the imagination!

By what authority has the NEC decided that its resolutions and decisions are to be immune from criticism by the membership ? Such a doctrine would mean that an NEC could violate all the fundamental principles of socialism with impunity. Such a doctrine would transform the party into a Stalinist monolithic party and that of course would mean the death of the party as a revolutionary force in the labor movement.

The NEC will be compelled to deal with many new and important problems and if the principle were to be recognized that it can decide on all problems regardless of the opinions of the membership then the party simply becomes an instrument to execute the decisions of the NEC. A revolutionary Socialist, any kind of Socialist with an independent mind, cannot accept such a perverted view of the nature of the authority of the NEC in a socialist party.

The Question of Mass Work

According to the resolution itself it is motivated by a desire on the part of the NEC to have the party turn its face to the masses and to carry out the decisions of the convention. Let us analyze these concepts.

No one can possibly object to the necessity of doing mass work. The party leadership connects that necessity with and makes that work dependent upon a cessation of inner party discussion, or better, of any campaign against NEC decisions. At the present moment there are three fundamental problems around which the party should conduct a campaign both amongst its members and its sympathizers as well as amongst the workers in general. They are: the Spanish struggle, the slaughter of the revolutionary forces in Russia and the great battles of the

C.I.O. in this country. Upon all of these problems there are serious differences of opinion and it stands to reason that no mass work can be done without first convincing the membership of the correctness of the NEC policies on these fundamental questions. What shall we tell the masses; around what ideas shall we mobilize them? Around the ideas of the NEC, according to the party leadership. What role should the party play in such a mobilization ? That of mere followers. Such a concept can never set the party into activity and in fact the decisions of the NEC will prove that far from mobilizing the members for active work it will paralyze the party and no work will result.

It is because the NEC does not want the revolutionary viewpoint upon the important problems confronting us to prevail that the gag resolution was promulgated. The NEC, to cover up its inability to furnish any leadership, simply enters an order that mass work be done without attempting to win the party members over to its conception of mass work, assuming that it has any kind of conception on that subject.

In Activity We Yield to No-one

Once more I want to label the statement made by our opponents that the revolutionary left wants to make of the party a mere debating society as a complete falsehood. Need I mention the fact that there are party members active in Indiana Harbor in the steel strike? And all of them are members of the Appeal tendency. Take the Appeal group as a whole and take any other group in the party and it will be readily ascertained that amongst the Appeal group there is a much larger proportion of activists. Not that I am satisfied. I recognize our weaknesses but I say that our group is much stronger from the point of view of participation in the class struggle than any other group. The difference is that we insist on having our activity based on revolutionary theory.

Nor is the contention that we must now carry out the convention decisions any more correct than the cry that we must do mass work and not discuss. One does not and cannot carry out a convention resolution by repeating the words of the resolution. A resolution can be carried out only by applying its principles to the events of the day. A resolution indicates a general policy and direction and it is up to the leadership to apply that resolution correctly. And should something occur which is not covered by any resolution, should the NEC refrain from taking opposition on it? Of course not. It must take the best position it knows how and then be ready to defend it before the membership. At the time of the convention no one knew that events in Barcelona would take such a sharp turn. The NEC was nevertheless obligated to formulate a correct attitude on those events and the membership is justified in criticizing the incorrect attitude of the NEC.

But would we not be constantly arguing and thus prevent the doing of any work? Even granting that there would be considerable discussion and even granting that such discussion would interfere with activity, still there is no way to escape it. But it is absurd to contend that discussion interferes with activity to such an extent that it should be abolished. What activity on Spain would there be if there were no discussion? Activities can result, in the long run, from correct policies and not from a prohibition of discussion.

The method chosen by the NEC to develop activity shows its inability to grasp the necessity of convincing the membership. Ideologically, I repeat, if the NEC finds a substantial number opposed to its policies it must either revise them or be prepared to show the majority that its policies are correct and thus isolate the minority if it persists in its opposition too long. There is no other way for a party to function. A party develops in struggle – participation in the struggle of the workers, struggle against opponent parties, struggle within its own ranks. He who fears the struggle must step out of the revolutionary movement.

The sections of the resolution dealing with the support of the Call, the regulation of meeting’s and of the sale of literature are not in themselves bad but indicate the same tendency to settle problems by command. Take the question of the Call. It seems to me that if I were in the leadership of the party and the party organ would not be supported I would either change the nature of the organ or educate the party membership to the correctness of the organ’s policy. But that is asking a little too much from the present leadership. I know only that obedience is due it and it must obtain such obedience by decree. No one questions the right of the NEC to ask that meetings be organized for the purpose of explaining the policy to the members. But it has gone further and practically ordered that no meetings be held except when it calls for them. If any one is acquainted with the Stalinist “enlightenment” campaigns he can see that the NEC has copied another leaf from the book of Stalinist monolithism.

Towards an Index Prohibitorum

The decision on regulating the sale of literature is obviously intended to prevent the revolutionary wing of the party from selling Trotsky’s books and pamphlets. What pettiness! Soon we shall have an Index Prohibitorum.

What will be the effect of this foolhardy, undemocratic resolution? Should it actually be carried into practice the end of the party as a living force can be be predicted with certainty. The communist movement can afford to be monolithic; its reformism and its intolerance of opposition weakens it somewhat but the effect is not visible. One of the inducements for workers to join the S.P. must be its democratic procedure; to it must be attracted all the independent revolutionary spirits. It is the freedom of discussion within the party that makes a revolutionizing of the party possible. Destroy that and you have simply a vest-pocket edition of the Communist Party. As such there is no place for it because it can have no historic function.

I do not think that the resolution of the NEC can be realized in practice. It is contrary to the constitution, the resolution and the traditions of the party. Here and there expulsions will result, especially in New York where Altman will use the resolution as a pretext to get rid of left

wingers. I do not think that a revolutionary Socialist can accent such a resolution. Is it conceivable that a revolutionary Socialist can keep quiet on the important struggles of the working class and on decisions of the NEC which violate all concepts of democratic procedure? I am not advocating a wholesale defiance of the NEC; I am just predicting that the NEC will have to expel every revolutionary Socialist from the party. In other words the NEC will have to destroy the party in order to compel a strict observance of its decisions.

Strictly construed this meeting is a violation of the decisions; strictly construed any attempt to initiate a referendum will be a violation of the decisions. Of necessity we shall institute a referendum and carry on a campaign in favor of rejecting the NEC decisions. Will that be construed a violation? I shall wait for the NEC to reply. If it will, then it means that the NEC is determined to split the party; it can mean nothing else.

Appeal’s Proposals For the Crisis

What do we of the Appeal group suggest and demand in order to avoid the catastrophe that is being threatened by the NEC resolution? We demand the restoration of party democracy which means the immediate rescinding of the NEC resolution. We demand the execution of the convention decision providing for an inner party organ where we can present our viewpoint. The delegates representing the Appeal viewpoint were induced to agree to the suspension of the Appeal on the promise that an internal party organ would be published. The failure of the NEC to provide for such an organ justifies us in resuming publication of the Appeal. We demand further that no expulsions of left wingers be tolerated. If the NEC fails to take drastic action to stop Altman from suspending or expelling left wingers, it will be conclusive proof that the NEC is intending to split the paity. No arguments of a technical nature will help the situation. At least the NEC must come out with a blast against those who are expelling comrades and refuse to recognize the expulsions because in reality the expulsions are for the purpose of destroying the left wing movement.

These demands are the minimum for the restoration of peace in the party, for the creation of an atmosphere where the left wing feels itself free to work for the revolutionizing of the party. If they are not granted then the onus for the chaotic conditions bound to ensue will rest upon the NEC.

Are these demands so unreasonable? Is it unreasonable to ask for democracy and freedom of discussion? Is it unreasonable that the NEC be asked to live up to the decision of the convention providing for an inner party organ? Is it unreasonable to ask for a stop to expulsions? To ask these questions is to answer them. All comrades of whatever viewpoint should endorse these reasonable demands. To build the party into a revolutionary instrument it is necessary to have freedom to propagate the ideas of revolutionary Marxism. And these ideas and the right to present them, the comrades of the Appeal group will never surrender.

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