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Hugo Oehler

Review and Criticism

The Communists in the South

(September 1930)

From The Militant, Vol. III No. 29, 1 September 1930, p. 7.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

With, the black hundreds in the saddle and our activity shifted to holding and reorganizing our forces for a comeback we started our new work. Secret work in the Gastonia area through mill locals and increased open work all over the South to hem in Gastonia and to narrow the circle and close in. All that was needed in the outer area was organization, for the sentiment for us was there in masses and our organizers and colonizers from the outer area all sent letters telling us they are behind us and to keep up the good work. Many new contacts were gained and work toward October 13 went ahead.

The newspapers predicted that our convention would now be a failure and the bosses openly declared that it would not be held. We decided it had to be held even if we had to move out of this area but a survey of our forces convinced us we could hold it in Charlotte as originally planned. The third trial was on and while the legal end was taking care of the trial the organizers were as busy as hell with the union work in the two Carolinas, Virginia, Tennessee and Georgia. Campaign after campaign was launched against us, one on the heel of the other so fast that it seemed like one continuation: red scare, Negro issue, revolution, etc., but this did not stop the work from progressing toward October 13.

Now to consider a few of the other issues for a while. As far as the national I.L.D. campaign by this time was concerned it was a flop. We had a direct issue, more important to the American workers than the Sacco-Vanzetti issue (as far as they were concerned). Such favorable situations no organization had faced for yearn and naturally half an effort would show some results but on the whole we saw failure. Why? This failure can be traced to the “third period” tactics and the “third period” tactics can be traced to Stalin revisionism of Marxism, of the most fundamental international issues and the elimination of the Opposition.

In correcting the Party policy of the Right wing Lovestone leadership of “marrying” all possible fakers in the A.F.L. and other working class organizations we “corrected” this by dumping overboard with the fakers all progressives and Left wingers and Leninist united front tactics and replaced them with “pure” united front tactics with ourselves. Paper conferences were held everywhere.

And the masses of other blunders and mistakes, a volume in itself, of all types of mistakes from important ones to little ones that amounted to setbacks were made by the incompetent leaders, Engdahl, Poyntz and Jakira. The field fraction pounded away at these errors, constantly, night and day, in every manner and form and found the leading committee at the center wanting because they were a hindrance instead of a help. I realize this now: That a Marxian Central Committee can correct this but a Central Committee made by a mechanical shift at the top replacing one variety of bureaucrats with another variety can only lead to further negative results.

In words the center accepted our program but in deeds – what follows shows the contradiction between the two. At this point serious minded comrades at the center (who were not decisive in determining actions instead of words from the center) laughed at my enthusiasm and told me that now since the spectacular, emotional part was over the bureaucrats would forget the south in deeds if not in words, and I would receive less support from now on than I had. This was my first trip to N.Y. with several more to follow on the same argument and I did not fully realize the truth of this statement until my last trip in December.

Yes, the spectacular end was over and the W.I.R. (Landy’s incompetence) “pulling stakes” with the Leaksville strike on was followed by other departments in deeds (but not in words) and a decline set in after the end of the trial. The objective factor was more favorable but our force was not taking advantage of this situation. Reports from our field organizers and especially comrade Amy Schechter proved the favorable situation our work had given us this far.

The October optimism of our many southern organizers and mill local officials with months of this inactivity was transformed into pessimism and our fraction of northern comrades was in a similar condition. The postponed national textile convention held in December in Paterson did not solve one of the basic problems of the south. In the meantime the A.F.L. was increasing its work and with the liberals and a section of the bosses was being used as a dam against our advance.

Another blunder following from the “Third Period” is the lumping of all outside the official Communist Party as Fascist or Social Fascist while life was proving the class struggle is not so mechanical and simple.

In the Atlanta case the Daily Worker had a scare headline telling how the A.F.L. official on the jury helped indict our comrades calling for the death penalty. But facts prove that Steve Nance, President of the Atlanta Federation of Trades, member of the Grand Jury that brought in the indictment was the only one who voted against the indictment. Later the Trades Assembly passed a resolution with only Secretary Marquardt of the State Federation and one other voting against the resolution calling for free speech for the Communists. This “third period tactic and misstatement played into the hands of these A.F.L. fakers as similar tactics play into the hands of Muste, Thomas, Howat, etc. Our plan is to defeat these labor lieutenants and not to strengthen them.

The Party Task in the South resolution to the 7th Convention of the C.P. says, “Our perspective must be for the defeat of the A.F.L. and its Muste wing in the mass industries of the south.” We must by all means defeat these fakers in the ranks of labor but to say this in harsh terms, that may denote our feelings, and to accomplish the task are two different things. The present tactics of the official party is strengthening the position of these fakers instead of weakening their control over the masses.

Not even a half-baked revolutionist will argue that the struggle is simply one of the capitalist against the workers. The problem in the concrete is more complicated in the divisions and the many antagonisms within the classes and between the classes. Success or failure in advancing our position in winning a strike or revolution depends upon how many of the antagonisms and divisions in the workers ranks can be eliminated for united action against the enemy in a favorable objective situation and how wide a breach we can make in the class enemies ranks, the unity of the first and the division of tine second spell success for us. But without a favorable objective situation we cannot speak of success.

In Marion for example, the Musteite wing of the A.F.L. first sent the striking workers back to work with a promise of a settlement that we know never did come, second, they did not force the mill owners to live up to the preliminary conditions pending settlement, third, sold these workers out after they were, back to work, and fourth, betrayed these workers to the strike against the sellout contract. Such action DeLeon and others pointed out before and it is not a new and exclusive development of the “Third Period”.

After all this and after the Marion massacre the Musteites still retained leadership and gained influence throughout the country. The southern fraction tried four times to break into Marion, but I realize now that each time our advance and attempt at united action against these fakers was shackled and we failed to gain our objective because this shackling from the top by “Third Period” tactics predetermined our united action from below. We were criticized four times by the center for these failures that can be traced back to them. Why not ask ourselves this: How can such brazen, betrayals be rewarded by greater influence of the Muste wing while our class struggle of Gastonia, which even our enemies admit was led by forces that cannot be bought out or run out (as is the case with the A.F.L.) have not been able to organize our influence from this struggle which was on a much higher class plane?

You cannot answer this on the basis of capitalist reaction and the necessary “smallness” of the revolutionary forces until we are at a higher stage of the class struggle or in power, because the question is not the organization of the majority of workers under reactionary leadership or revolutionary leadership but the organization of a goodly section of the forces either reactionary or revolutionary in the struggles and strikes. We must also not forget we are in the “Third Period” with “revolutionary upsurge”. Facts prove that with proper tactics the revolutionary movement can consolidate its influence organizationally, as it has done in the past. In other words, our tactics have not only weakened our own forces but at our expense have rendered aid to these very enemies we talk so much about. We do not expect to build POWERFUL REVOLUTIONARY INDUSTRIAL unions in a few weeks’ work, overshadowing the few million membership of the A.F.L. but we can expect to build a substantial influence and organization in the labor movement under our leadership with correct tactics.

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