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David Coolidge

David Lasser Hitches Star-Spangled
Unemployed Organization to War Chariot

NOTICE: Having Left the Bed and Board of Stalinism,
Lasser’s Political Bills and Debts Will Be Paid by Roosevelt

(9 September 1940)

From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 22, 9 September 1940, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

David Lasser has been to Chicago and come away with another “national” unemployed organization tucked away in his hip pocket. He calls his new mass movement the “American Security Federation.” Of course, Lasser is the national president.

Not only did Lasser give birth to a brand new unemployed organization but he got the blessing of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The President wrote Lasser that his intention “to form a 100% American movement of WPA workers and other underprivileged is legitimate and laudable. It can assist the nation in securing the viewpoint of the unemployed and help to render a patriotic service to “our nation as well.” This from Roosevelt who evidently doesn’t have any knowledge of unemployed opinion after seven years in the White House. Also, from the same Roosevelt who said that the workers could not strike against the government and whose Justice Department sent striking WPA workers to jail in Minneapolis.

No Militancy

Lasser has had considerable experience manipulating unemployed organizations and hopping from one to the other. He led the Workers Unemployed Union in New York City. He held a “national” convention in Washington in 1935 and puffed the WUU into the Workers Alliance of America. At this time the Unemployed Councils and the National Unemployed League were already functioning as national organizations. The NUL was publishing a weekly paper, Mass Action, and leading real fights of the unemployed for the raising of relief standards.

As a leader of the unemployed. Lasser has never exhibited any tendency toward militancy. It was his policy to solve the hunger problems of the unemployed by getting the “endorsement” of the AFL and “liberal” congressmen. Mass demonstrations – even if he had any masses – and militant action at relief bureaus were not part of Lasser’s program for the unemployed. Post card campaigns to Congress: yes; conferences with congressmen and national relief officials, all right; but pounding away in mass attack at relief bureaus, in the manner of the National Unemployed League; this was activity that Mr. Lasser would never sanction if he could possibly escape it.

Shopped Around

Before negotiations for merger of the Workers Alliance, National Unemployed League and the Unemployed Councils got under way. Lasser dickered separately with the NUL and the NUC. At this time Lasser was a member of the Socialist Party. Lasser was ready to make a deal either with the NUC or the NUL depending on which direction would give him the greater prestige. This is important in the light of Lasser’s recent statement that he left the Workers Alliance because he discovered that it was communist controlled only after he had been its president for nearly four years.

Negotiations for the merger of the NUL and the WAA to the exclusion of the Stalinist Unemployed Councils broke down for a time. Lasser demanded that his WAA gel 11 of the 15 members of the national committee of the merged organization: president, secretary and the first three vice-presidents. The NUL was to have an assistant secretary, four national committee members and the fourth vice-president. The NUL had about five times the membership of the WAA. When the NUL representatives remonstrated with Lasser at such a monstrous proposal, he replied that he wanted to be sure that the WAA had the majority on the board. Lasser further stated that he wanted to have this decisive majority because the NUL was lead by Workers Party members who acted under discipline and functioned as a fraction. He said that as a member of the Socialist Party this was not required of him.

Makes a Deal

Lasser’s terms were rejected by the national committee of the NUL and Lasser turned again to the Stalinist Unemployed Councils lead by Herbert Benjamin. A deal was made for merger which, for various reasons, the NUL later decided to enter. The Councils agreed to minority membership on the national committee. Lasser was to be president and Benjamin and the Stalinist fraction twisted Benjamin’s title from Assistant secretary to Organization Secretary. The Stalinists giving a taste of the discipline that he said he feared so much from the old Workers Party, and which made it necessary to keep them a tiny minority on the national committee.

Lasser was now hand in glove with the Stalinists. This was 1936. There was one national unemployed organization. Lasser was the president and Benjamin, a shrewd and experienced Stalinist functionary was the Organization Secretary. Under Benjamin’s guidance, the Stalinists were able, the following year, to take over control of the organization. There is no record to show that Lasser ever made any protest.

Birds of a Feather

Why did Lasser submit to the control of the WAA by the Stalinists while he remained its nominal head, probably at wages of about $25 a week? Lasser knew, better than anyone else, that the Stalinists were in control. He knew that they could have kicked him out at any time they chose during the past three years.

One reason was that Lasser’s politics was out of the same piece of cloth as the CP political line. The Stalinists were entering their ’fourth period,” the era of the Peoples Front. Democratic Front antics. Lasser has been a class collaboration advocate ever since he has been in the labor movement. There was no reason why he should keep away from the Stalinists: both were reactionary opportunists with a basically identical political program. Furthermore, the Unemployed Councils, following the line of the CP, were entering their period of substituting postal card writing for militant mass action. This would certainly please Lasser, What Lasser objected to was not so much the discipline of the Workers Party members in the unemployed movement as their insistence on a militant class struggle policy.

A Stalinist Buddy

The Stalinists made Lasser a little tin horn big shot. Benjamin was really the leader and the power in the Workers Alliance. Lasser knew all of this and was satisfied. The Stalinists sent him to Russia in 1937 to represent the WAA at the 20th anniversary of the October Revolution. On this same trip he went to Spain during the Civil War. Lasser voted with the Stalinists in the WAA on all major political questions. He stuck with them through the Moscow Trials and the Stalin purges. He accepted and defended their line completely. He went before the Senate committee investigating WPA and testified that he was no believer in overthrowing capitalism. He told the senators that as president of the WAA he was “trying to make capitalism work.”

And yet this adventurer among the poverty stricken unemployed, when he finally quit the WAA, has the brass to announce in 1940 he quit because he discovered that the organization was controlled by communists.

Unhealthy to Stick

Lasser knows that this is a lie. He quit after the Stalin-Hitler Pact. He quit after the Stalinists changed their line again and began talking against Roosevelt. He quit when the Stalinists began mouthing about “imperialist war,” when they buried Jefferson again and a few of them put the flag back in the closet. That the Stalinists did not mean it, did not reassure Mr. Lasser. David Lasser left the WAA and the Stalinists when it was becoming unhealthy to be associated with them. There was “fifth column” talk, “subversive activities,” etc. Lasser felt that the Stalinists were no longer patriots and New Dealers. He was with them as long as they were licking Roosevelt’s boots. Politically Lasser is a reactionary and an opportunist. Added, to this he is a physical and moral coward. He was afraid that the CP might become a militant revolutionary party again (vain delusion). That would be no place for Lasser.

This is the man who has placed himself at the head of another group of unemployed workers, and received Roosevelt’s benediction. He can “render a patriotic service to our nation ...” How? By herding any unemployed workers foolish enough to follow him behind the Roosevelt war drive and into the Wall Street Army!

Lasser is in glorious company. That’s what the Klan, big business, the FBI, the police and the vigilantes will be doing. In so far as he has any influence at all he will be a first rate recruiting sergeant There is no unemployed organization today that is anything more than an empty shell and a caricature of the NUL and the NUC in its days of militant class struggle activity. Neither the Workers Security Federation, the WAA or Lasser’s new outfit amount to a pinch of snuff. The WAA is tied to the Stalin-Hitler Pact and to one of the imperialist camps engaged in the war. The Workers Security Federation is tied to the pro-British Socialist Party and therefore, eventually, to a “national defense” pro-war position. Lasser’s new American Security Federation was born fastened to Roosevelt’s war chariot.

It is time for the unemployed and WPA workers to begin thinking seriously about reforming their ranks on a national scale. This is demanded now, just as at the beginning of the depression. For now we are in the Second World Imperialist War.

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