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Ben Hall

Workers Party Pre-Convention Discussion ...

Propaganda versus Phrasemongering

(6 May 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 18, 6 May 1946, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The articles that appear below are DISCUSSION ARTICLES published as part of the pre-convention discussion in the Workers Party. Because our space is limited, it will be impossible to devote more than two columns per issue to this material. Contributions will therefore have to be brief, not exceeding 750 words. Pre-convention discussion articles are also appearing in The New International and in the Workers Party Bulletin. Copies of the latter may be gotten by sending fifteen cents to the Workers Party, 114 West 14th Street, New York 11, N.Y. Readers will understand that these articles represent neither the views of the party nor of Labor Action, but are written with a view toward establishing policy at the coming convention of the WP.


Labor Action and the Workers Party during the war showed how to translate the ideas of revolutionary socialism into terms of the real class struggle. A superlative example of our method was the insistent and continuous propaganda and agitation for simple slogans like: “Rescind the No-Strike Pledge” and “For a Progressive Caucus in the UAW.”

Thousands of active unionists were against the no-strike pledge. The highly placed bureaucrats of the CIO and AFL, however, believing that American capitalism is the best and only possible social system and rallying to its defense in the crucial struggle for domination of the world, gave up the fight against the capitalist class in the name of “national unity” and struck out instead against those very militants who insisted upon class struggle action to defend the conditions of American labor.

Opposition to the pledge was our point of agreement with these militants and by using this agreement as our springboard we were able to clarify the irreconcilable nature of the class struggle in modern society, the need for the working class to carry on its struggle despite the war. We were able more easily to expose the imperialist nature of the war and the pro-capitalist character of the present labor leadership.

Coupled with our propaganda on the pledge was the call for the formation of a rank and file group in the UAW to combat the top leadership and to replace it with a new militant leadership. We were the first to popularize this slogan and it was in part through our efforts in this connection that a rank and file group was actually organized and a tiny handful of socialists was able to play a decisive role at the UAW convention in 1944. The UAW militants began to see the need for rank and file organization against the old leaders.

As the war continued and the labor officialdom exhausted the possibilities of winning concessions within the rules decreed by the WLB and the national administration, a deeper and deeper rift developed between the ranks and leadership ...

Labor Action appealed for “a conference of shop stewards and committeemen.” If the union leaders have no program, we said, then let the direct representatives of the rank and file take over.

The end of the war released the union leaders from their dilemma and gave them elbow room for maneuvering. With their slogan of a 30 per cent wage increase, they shifted back into the good graces of the ranks. But the fact remains that Labor Action and the Workers Party by agitation on the no-strike pledge and for the progressive caucus brought revolutionary ideas to the workers which will under proper conditions again surge forth into class action.

Transitional Program

Comrade Johnson refuses to recognize this. In his typically confusing and contradictory fashion, he writes: “Agitation for the revocation of a no-strike pledge or for withdrawal of labor members from a government labor board are necessary and useful at all times, particularly in wartime. But concentration on this as a means of developing into a party the propaganda group which has turned to the masses IS IN DIRECT CONTRADICTION WITH THE WHOLE AIM AND METHOD OF THE TRANSITIONAL PROGRAM.

“It is on the basis of propaganda for revolutionary action that the propaganda group builds itself into the mass revolutionary party.”

By rejecting the emphasis of the party during the war, Johnson reveals that all his talk about “revolutionary action” and “self-mobilization of the masses” is mere phrasemongering.

In 1943 Johnson wrote: “What is decisive in all political agitation is the stage of consciousness of the masses and the particular organizational form and direction in which their minds are concretely moving.” That is exactly what we considered when we spoke of “Rank and file caucus” instead of “revolutionary self-mobilization.”

One glaring omission is evident in Johnson’s resolution on the American question. Johnson is highly critical of our party and insists that we have abandoned a revolutionary perspective on all important questions. But this false contention is refuted by our program and activities during the war, when we alone in this country upheld consistently the banner of the “Third Camp” against both imperialist war camps.

That is why Johnson is unable and unwilling to deal with our record during the war. For example, he groups four pages of his resolution on America under the heading The American Proletariat During the War but one reads with amazement not ONE word about the working class during the war or our party’s connection with it. Instead we learn that Johnson predicted a great crisis AFTER the war. Strange oversight? Not when you realize that a balance sheet of the party’s role during the war would annihilate Johnson’s thesis.

War Profits Issue

Johnson errs not only in omission. His resolution on America is a rambling and discursive distortion and falsification of our activities during the war. I cite one illustration not because it is most important but because it is typical, tricky legerdemain. He says:

“Unable to appeal to the revolutionary instincts of the workers, it (Labor Action) dissipates its revolutionary energy in attempts to stimulate the combativity of the workers by wearisome repetition of the large profits and the criminal conduct and deceptions of the bourgeoisie.”

But the party exposed war profits not as a means of “stimulating” but as one means of exposing the imperialist character of the war. Was that right or wrong?

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