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A.J. Muste

One Year of the Workers Party

(30 November 1935)

From New Militant, Vol. 1 No. 49, 30 November 1935, pp. 1 & 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A YEAR ago the Workers Party of the United States came into existence as a result of the fusion of two of the most significant currents in the American labor movement. One of these was the American Workers Party (outgrowth in turn of the Conference for Progressive Labor Action), the other the Communist League of America. The A.W.P. forces came mainly from militant elements in the unions and unemployed organizations who, through practical experience in the class struggle, had come to realize the need of a theoretical foundation and political expression, and who believed that this foundation must be revolutionary and internationalist. Organizationally they had taken the position that new revolutionary parties and a new International, as against the Second and Third, must be built. The C.L.A. and its sister groups of the International Communist League throughout the world came out of the Communist (Third) International. They fought within that International and after expulsion as a group seeking readmission, against the Stalinist line of “socialism in a single country,” etc. After the debacle of the C.P. in Germany and .similar developments, they concluded that the Third International could no longer serve as the vanguard of the working class, that a new, Fourth, International, must be built. Hence the fusion of the C.L.A. and A.W.P. in December 1934.

Those who have some knowledge of the interaction of groups within the labor movement know that “fusions” by no means always result in fusion. The first year of the history of the W.P.U.S. has, however, demonstrated the genuine success of this particular fusion. It is true that there have been unclear individuals who could not be assimilated, and on the other hand ultra-leftist, sectarian elements that proved unfitted for existence in a revolutionary party with its face turned to the masses which was more than a debating society. The main core of the A.W.P. on the one hand and the C.L.A. on the other are fused into one. Whatever differences of emphasis and tactics may emerge, and those always exist in every living organization, the struggle over these differences will not, be as between former A.W.P. members and former C.L.A. members. They will be fought out by revolutionists who all stand upon the Declaration of Principles of the W.P. and owe unswerving allegiance to the Fourth International.

Now this achievement of fusion is in itself a big thing. If there were nothing else to record at the end of the year, this year in the existence of the W.P. would none the less be justified. It would have marked an important step in the creation of the Fourth International.

The fact that the year has not been marked by anything approaching a mass influx of members into the W.P. in no way invalidates this estimate.

The period in which the W.P. lived out its first year is predominantly reactionary in character. The trend away from parliamentary democracy, the open resort to Fascism in many instances, the piling up of armaments, the actual outbreak of war between Italy and Ethiopia and the increasing tension in the foreign relations of all the important capitalist powers are all illustrations of the general trend.

The pressure upon the working class movement from capitalism making a desperate effort to save itself is in such a period tremendous. The world labor movement has suffered severe set-backs in recent years and important sections, such as the German and Austrian, have been almost obliterated. Reaction is thus also characteristic of the labor movement, as is most clearly seen in the stampede to the right of the Stalinist movement – capitulation to social-patriotism, People’s Front, support of bourgeois democracy, etc.

From a superficial viewpoint the general trend is obscured by certain developments in the Second International and its parties. The crisis of the democratic state, the developing break of the bourgeoisie with social reformism in favor of Fascism undermines the internal stability of the social democracy as it involves its ultimate destruction. A cleavage between leaders and followers and within the leadership itself develops. The classic reformism of the party gives way to centrism, etc.

This does not mean that it is our concept that the Second International is now becoming the “international of revolution.” As the Open Letter stated, “the social democracy everywhere continues to remain the agency of the bourgeoisie within the working class.” The reaction – the capitulation or preparation for capitulation to social-patriotism – marks the main body of the social democracy everywhere, though camouflaged by centrist maneuvering and equivocation. We note, on the one hand, the trend in the Scandinavian countries, British Labor Party, Canadian C.C.F. In the main, on the other hand, “the shift to the left” in such countries as France and U. S. expresses itself in rapproachement with the Stalinists (organic unity, People’s Front, labor party, conciliationism toward pseudo-progressives in the unions, etc.) precisely at the moment when Stalinism most openly takes on the role of social-patriotic betrayal. Bureaucratic centrism and social democratic centrism meet to consummate the betrayal, to make it more certain by creating in the mind of the masses the illusion of strength through “unity.”

It is in such a period of reaction as we have described that the old Internationals finally break down – i.e. in the sense of succumbing to opportunism and social-patriotism and irrevocably losing the capacity to serve as a progressive force. In “normal” times the process of degeneration is not obvious, it still appears that the working class under its leadership is “making progress.” This also means that the “new” International comes into being in the period of reaction, of defeat, and of demoralization for the working class. Thus the Third International of Lenin came into being during the War, and the Fourth International comes into being in the present epoch of war and impending war.

It follows that the cadres of the new International are at first, a small minority isolated in a sense from the masses, though they alone express the true interest and need of the masses, as presently becomes clear. These cadres survive in such a period because they are intransigent; because they possess clarity and sharpness in theory and ideology; because they make the clearest and sharpest break – not merely in words or even program but also organizationally from the dead and corrupt body of the old International, and because they steel themselves against every weakness in themselves and every attack and temptation from without. The example of Lenin needs merely to be cited.

To use Lenin’s own words uttered during the early days of the World War, in such a period the basic task is “to unite the Marxian elements, however small their number may be at the beginning, to revive in their name the words of real Socialism now forgotten, to call the workers of all countries to relinquish chauvinism and raise the old banner of Marxism.”

There are, furthermore, particular reasons why the growth of the forces of the Fourth International on American soil does not proceed at the rate of thousands a month. Right on the heels of the founding of the W.P. came the first public announcement of the Stalinist 180 degree turn, viz. support of the labor party idea. This was followed by other breath-taking swings on the Stalinist flying trapeze. Now many of the points in the present C.P. program have a superficial plausibility and attractiveness for the workers and especially for intellectuals and liberals. To welcome all people who on any ground are “opposed” to war and Fascism, who want to see peace and a semblance of democracy maintained, into one all-embracing united front – how sensible that sounds, how attractive, how imposing the masses that seem to rally to meetings and parades around such a program! It takes time and effort to demonstrate, as the W.P. attempts to do and must do if it, is to be true to Marx and Lenin, true to the real facts, that this united front, is a mere show, that it is pacifist and will collapse when war really threatens, as all the imposing pacifist movements always have, that this fake united front means in reality dividing the workers from each other, because it opens the way to social-patriotic betrayal in war. A similar superficial attractiveness attaches to Stalinist proposals for an all-inclusive labor party, their abandonment of the dual unionism, social-fascism, united front from below, etc. of the “Third Period.” The task of showing the workers that the opportunist ditch in which the C.P. now wallows is as vile as the sectarian ditch of the earlier period is not an easy one.

But if in such a period and for such reasons as we have sketchily indicated, workers do not flock by themselves by thousands into the revolutionary party, there are compensations. Precisely the clearest elements, the most healthy and vigorous, the youth elements, penetrate beneath the surface. They see the capitulation to social-patriotism, the preparation for monstrous betrayal in the next war, the confusion and demoralization among the workers, which must result from the course of the bureaucracies of both the Second and the Third Internationals. These elements tend surely and irresistibly to move toward our program and our banner.

The past year has demonstrated that the program laid down for the W.P. in the Declaration of Principles is in every essential point unassailable. As the war issue has come to the front, the W.P. has been the one voice which has set forth a clear, a complete, a concrete Leninist position and has been able to explain events in the light of that position. Steadily this is making its impression on the genuine left currents in the Socialist Party, in Stalinist circles in some measure, and among the politically unattached who, in spite o and to some extent because of their confusion and demoralization, feel the need of some clear, albeit as yet small, voice amid the tempest.

The confidence built up among our own membership during this first year and among the most advanced workers in other groups, because on the burning, the real, issues of the revolutionary movement we speak with consistency and authority, is a great achievement.

Although this first year has necessarily been one devoted to organizing ourselves, laying foundations for the Party and its work – theoretical and organizational – the achievements in our external work have been far from negligible. In the very first weeks of its existence, the Party, through its own channels and through its support of the Non-Partisan Labor Defense, intervened decisively in the Sacramento trial, lifting that issue out of the obscurity into which the C.P. was seeking to throw it. By this and other activities our first year record in defense work was made highly creditable. The Party played a leading role in the Toledo Chevrolet and General Motors strike, which carried the struggle against the automobile barons on the one hand and the A.F. of L. bureaucrats on the other to the highest point yet achieved anywhere. In Minneapolis and the entire surrounding territory, leadership has been given in strike struggles, in organizing unions, in building the broadest and most vigorous left-progressive union movement in the country. Party members played a significant part in the conventions of automobile workers, teachers and rubber workers just preceding the Atlantic City A.F. of L. convention which opened the way for the head-on conflict between craft and industrial unionists which marked that convention and made it the most exciting and important in the entire history of the Federation. To a remarkable extent the Party has turned toward mass work and it stands out clearly as the one organization which has a trade union policy free, on the one hand, from “Third Period” sectarianism and adventurism, and on the other hand from Lovestoneite-Stalinist opportunism and conciliationism toward the trade union bureaucrats. In the unemployed field, in a difficult period of reorientation, the Party has continued to take a vital part, not least in pressing for unification on a sound basis of the two leading organizations with a mass base, the W.A.A, and the National Unemployed League.

While the Party has thus addressed itself to the concrete activities in the American labor scene, it has been internationalist in its outlook. Not in contrast to but as a part of its “American” work it has sought to do its share toward building the world-wide movement of the Fourth International. Each Plenum of the National Committee has seen definite progress: March, the establishment of special fraternal relations with the I.C.L. and the Dutch party, the R.S.A.P.; June, the signing of the Open Letter for the Fourth International and the setting up of a Contact Commission; October, placing the Party, after a vigorous discussion, four-square behind the French section of the Bolshevik-Leninists, calling for a conference for the actual establishment of the Fourth International at the earliest possible moment, laying the ground-work with the I.C.L. and the R.S.A.P. for a functioning Commission to deal with the work in colonial and semi-colonial countries, preparing programmatic documents, setting up a close system of correspondence with the Latin-American sections, etc.

Thus stands the record of the first year in the life of the W.P.U.S. – cementing of the fusion on the basis of a Marxist Declaration of Principles; emerging as the one party that combats all forms of social-patriotism and proclaims the uncompromising Leninist program for war: The real enemy is at home: smash your own bourgeoisie; significant contributions to defense, trade union and unemployed work; raising higher the banner of the Fourth International on American soil. This is our achievement. We are proud to “stand” on it for a moment as the first year ends – and to go forward to greater achievements in the second year.

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