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Hugo Oehler

‘Third Period’ Bluff

Bessemer City Strikes Again

(September 1930)

From The Militant, Vol. III No. 29, 1 September 1930, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

On May 18, over 800 workers of the American Mills, No. 1 and 2 of Bessemer City, N.C., went out on strike against a 20 to 30 percent wage cut and the ruinous pace at which they are driven by the mill bosses. In flaring headlines, the Daily Worker immediately announced this defensive struggle as being “under the leadership of the National Textile Workers Union”. The next issue of the Worker however, meekly and obscurely informed us that “there is a danger of a repetition of the form of betrayal made famous in the Flint automobile strike, with misleaders seeking to betray the strike by waging an attack on the T.U.U.L. organization which has outlined a policy of struggle and spreading the strike.” On the third day, the Daily Worker declared even more humbly and more obscurely, that “it is not true, as previously stated that the N.T.W.U. is leading the strike.”

Leadership of strikes and other struggles is not won overnight, nor do betrayals take place with such startling and mechanical suddenness. Betrayals come “like lightning” only as culminating points of actions and tactics over a period of time, prepared in advance in a manner obvious to the militant elements (at least they should be obvious), and this is precisely what the Worker tries to cover up. To make it clear would be to expose the results of the official Party’s policy.

A Year Ago and Now

One year ago, we led the strike in Bessemer City at the same time that we led the Gastonia strike, and although the strike committee had misleaders and stool pigeons on it, our forces with correct tactics, were able to isolate them and gain the leadership of the strike. The Bessemer City strike, it is true, had largely been foreshadowed by the Gastonia strike but it was our tactics that carried us forward, and the July 28 Bessemer City conference, with a couple of hundred delegates and over 1,500 workers present demonstrated our progress. We had a union hall in Bessemer, held regular meetings, had two mill locals and two other groups in the first stages of mill locals. Bessemer City supported us through the overwhelming majority of the textile workers and the police were friendly just to the degree that they were former textile workers themselves and felt our strength and the solidity of the workers. (Bessemer City, by the way, was the home town of the martyred Ella May.)

From a condition of hegemony and undisputed leadership and with the possibilities greater and favorable objective factors, only one year passes for us to reach a point where our leadership is not only rejected, but organizers sent into the town are beaten up and almost lynched by hostile elements, who, consciously or not, play the game of the bosses and the Black Hundreds. Last year, when the Black Hundreds rode Gaston County we were able to hold our own in Bessemer City (which is six miles from Gastonia); today the tables are turned.

Not all of the bombastic phrase-mongering, and the self-praise so disgraceful in a revolutionist, not all the cheap journalistic talk about “Our Party being the only revolutionary leader of the mass struggles or the American workers”, can successfully conceal the lamentable failure of the Party bureaucrats and their policies. The Bessemer City strike, like the Flint, Michigan and Pittston strikes before it reveal the fact that the Party leadership, substituting phrases and ever-changing theses for solid, everyday preparatory work, is usually caught entirely unawares by struggles in precisely those localities and industries where it should have been decisively in the forefront and leadership.

Instead of this difficult work of persistent (and sometimes slow) foundation laying, the Party leaders follow the policy of making the membership drunk with intoxicating phrases about the “masses following our leadership by the million”, about “the crisis in American capitalism is finally breaking it down”, and similar blubber.

Result of Phrase Mongering

The result is that when a struggle does break out, the Party and the Left wing are frequently on the outside, estranged from the workers. This was true in the anthracite movement; and to cover up its own bankruptcy, the leadership followed its usual course of monstrous bluff to the effect: that the “N.M.U. was leading thousands of miners in a strike against unemployment”. The same thing held true in Flint. No preparations of a substantial, solid nature. The strike broke out. The customary concealment of impotence by loud shouting and bluff to the effect that the “Auto Workers Industrial Union is leading the Flint strikers” – until the ease with which the bosses’ agent, Comstock, sold out the workers put an end to the pitiful fairy tales of the Daily Worker. And now the Bessemer City strike in the heart of the Party’s former strength in the South, without the slightest Communist or Left wing influence on it. Here the attempt to bluff about “N.T.W.U. leadership” collapsed in two days, and the shamefaced denial had to be recorded quietly in the Party press.

The Party is entirely correct in pointing out that a leadership which rejects class struggle unionism and direction and Communist participation will run the strike to ground. The Party is similarly correct in fighting against the element in control of the strike and attempting to win the strikers to the National Textile Workers Union. But the Party methods are wrong and it is these that have given birth to the very forces they are fighting. To miss opportunities and fight with false exaggerated policies, is to play into the hands of the reactionary element who can then demagogically influence the workers against a proletarian outlook and method of struggle.

It must be repeated that Bessemer City is in the very heart of the Party’s most sensational struggle, of its fortress in the South. That it is now entirely out of the N.T.W.U.’s hand is an alarm signal for the Communist workers. The “third period” and its philosophy have already witnessed several strikes in this country: Illinois, Flint, Imperial Valley, Pittston, and now Bessemer City. They were indications of the better objective situation for the movement, and the incapacity of the Party leadership. The dumping of the “third period” and its philosophers is the preliminary condition to the progress of the revolutionary movement. Bessemer City shows us why.

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