Ben Hall Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Ben Hall

Offers Poor Substitute for a Program

Reuther Finds Some New Principles

(10 January 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 2, 10 January 1949, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In his President’s report to the UAW membership, Walter Reuther announces that the UAW delegation at the recent CIO convention proposed the expulsion of Communists from the CIO. We turn to this question not because we want to defend the Stalinists in their efforts to retain influence in the labor movement but because we seek the most effective methods of eliminating their ideas and practices so harmful to every progressive movement.

The proposal of the UAW leaders is not only wrong in itself but harmful to the union movement in its argumentation. Furthermore, it reveals a state of mind among the leaders of the most advanced labor organization in the country, the United Automobile Workers Union, which, if continued, can lead not to a decrease in the influence of Stalinism but to an increase.

It is quite true, as Reuther has said, that the Communist Party acts as the colonial agent for the Soviet Union. But any sensible person must ask himself: “How is it possible for colonial agents of an anti-working class bureaucracy to gain supporters among the American workers?”

For it is not true at all that the majority of the members and sympathizers of the Communist Party are colonial agents. The basic cause for pro-Stalinist sentiment lies in the fact that millions of workers and poor people, in this country as in all others, are dissatisfied with the conditions of insecurity, threat of war and unemployment that are part of the present capitalist system. Where there is no alternative method of carrying on a fight against these conditions proposed by honest people, the Communist Party is able to turn this justified discontent into support for Russian policy. That is the basic cause but, of course, there are also additional factors; for example, in the course of the last war, the present labor leadership which is so concerned with its fight against the Stalinists, was helping them to fit on the mask of “liberalism.”

To deal a lasting blow at the Communist Party and not simply one which inconveniences them today only to push them forward tomorrow, two things are necessary: 1) an active program by the labor movement that is able to advance the interests .of all the common people, not only In words and promises but in actuality; and 2) the fullest possible democratic discussion in the ranks of the labor movement of all policies and programs so that the membership is able to judge on the basis of facts not fiction.

An example of the proper way to defeat Stalinism in the labor movement was the fight inside the UAW against the Thomas-Addes-CP administration and group in the period of 1945–7. But, since the fight of the anti-Stalinists was based upon a limited, not fully adequate, and often self-contradictory program, the defeat of the CP while severe was not final and crushing. The problem of Stalinism in the labor movement, including the UAW, remains; and in striving to eliminate it, we cannot rely upon memories of past victories.

Introducing Bureaucratic Convention

The proposal of the UAW leaders at the CIO convention marks a turn in the methods of the struggle against the CP. Instead of the fullest possible democratic debate, it proposes bureaucratic expulsions. Instead of a new fighting program for the union movement, it proposes a reliance upon the newly elected Truman administration. This criticism may appear somewhat extreme when we read in Reuther’s report:

“We welcome democratic debate within the councils of CIO. We grant anyone in those councils the right to express his point of view and the right to influence decisions in the determination of policy. But once those decisions have been democratically arrived at, the will of the majority must prevail and those in a position of leadership must adhere to the policy established. Officers of CIO affiliated International Unions who take advantage of all the privileges and protections of CIO affiliation must also assume the responsibilities that go with CIO affiliation. Those who have failed to assume these responsibilities in the past should make up their minds once and for all either to get all the way in the CIO or all the way out of the CIO.”

So that every International Union must carry out the line or get out of the CIO! We leave aside the question of how free and democratic are the sessions of the national CIO conventions whose delegates are not chosen directly by the membership but appointed by the Executive Boards of the respective unions and whose methods of representation give an over proportionate representation to small unions and affiliated bodies which are easily controlled by the Murray machine. We simply ask Reuther to tell us the terribly democratic manner in which the CIO convention repudiated all talk of a “new party” in opposition to a now almost forgotten resolution of the UAW International Board.

Although Reuther defends his proposed expulsions on the basis, of “trade union principles” he is actually not defending any long standing “principle,” but introducing a bureaucratic innovation into the CIO. The trade union “principle” of the American labor movement has been the traditional autonomy of the International Unions. This was long established in the American Federation of Labor and when the CIO split away it maintained the same principle. Reuther proposes to abandon the old principle and substitute a new one. There is nothing wrong with changing a principle provided, 1) it is done honestly, and 2) it is an improvement. Reuther’s proposal meets neither of these tests.

The autonomy of the International unions is at least a partial guarantee today that a certain minimum of democratic procedures will continue. In order for the top leadership of the CIO to put over a program and policy, it is compelled to rely upon convincing the International Unions of its validity. The abandonment of autonomy would facilitate the procedure of dictatorial command as a substitute for democratic discussion.

Poor Substitute for a Program

And by the way, when did Reuther discover this new principle? At this very second, the National CIO is on record against the payment of a cash veterans bonus. (It is liable to cause inflation! God knows, we want to keep away from that.) Under more militant leadership, the UAW has endorsed a proposal for a cash bonus. At the last AVC convention a representative of the UAW spoke publicly for the bonus and Bernstein a personal representative of Murray spoke against it. But that is not all. Murray’s representative told the delegates to the AVC convention that this disagreement between himself and the member of the UAW was an example of the prevailing democracy in the CIO. True. And Reuther’s new proposal is an example of a trend away from democracy.

In the GM strike of 1945–46, the UAW under Reuthers inspiration raised the slogans of “Wage Increases without Price Increases” and “Open the Company’s Books”. Phillip Murray frowned on these radical ideas and that was one reason why he supported the Addes-Thomas group against Reuther at the 1946 convention. Murray did not succeed in having his own stooges retain control of the UAW. One thing that hindered him was the fact that he was not armed with Reuther’s new principle of centralized control. In the steel workers strike of 1946, Murray did not adopt the principles of the GM strike. That is the one reason why he was able to get a settlement so quickly from the steel capitalists who knew that the steel union would not expose their attempts to get price increases. In the same year, Reuther criticized Murray’s leadership of the Steel Workers union because he did not “pick up the torch lit by the GM strikers.” Who violated union principles then?

This brings us to our last point. The Walter Reuther of those years was the man with a radical program which inspired the ranks of the UAW. He did not wait until his policies became “official” to bring them to the public because he wanted to win a strike and he wanted to become president of the UAW. With this program he rallied support, he exposed the Communist Party and shattered the Addes-Thomas-CP bloc. BUT TODAY THAT PROGRAM IS A MEMORY. Reuther has no program that can arouse the ranks today. He thinks only of remaining as a supporter of the Truman Democrats, trusting in their promises. But he knows as well as the next man how ill-founded are hopes in the administration of Truman. For this or that diplomatic reason he prefers to remain silent as do the more progressive elements in the UAW. And with no program of their own, with no confidence in the program which they endorse publicly, they fear the rise of Stalinist influence. Their way out of the dilemma is to propose the bureaucratic expulsion of the CP. That is not the way.

The new Reuther proposal therefore is not designed to assist in the struggle against Stalinism but to make easier a continuance of the old, worn out policies of supporting the Democratic Party. Not the expulsion of the CP but the formation of a Labor Party; that is the answer.

Ben Hall Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 30 December 2018