Hugo Oehler Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Hugo Oehler

Under the Lash of Unemployment

Wrong and Right Tactics
in the Unemployment Movement

(October 1930)

From The Militant, Vol. III No. 31, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The unemployment situation in this, period of depression following the period of overproduction and crisis of American capitalism brings forth a problem of greater magnitude than the unemployment accompanying the classical crisis of capitalism in its growth stage. A permanent army of unemployed due to the machine development and rationalization, aggravated by the crisis, swelling the numbers of the unemployed to over seven millions. Unemployment is the most pressing immediate problem of the American, workers and every class conscious organization, reform group and the capitalist vanguard is vitally concerned with its solution; the working class with one aim and the capitalist class with the opposite aim.

The aim of the workers vanguard is to utilize this issue to strengthen the position of the working class and consolidate the ideological change taking place in the ranks of the workers. The aim of the capitalist class is to stem the tide, throw out enough crumbs to prevent this ideological crystallization and maintain their tottering equilibrium a little longer.

Not only can the two main contending classes use this issue to strengthen their position but the reformist and revolutionary wings of the working class movement are now in battle for a position in the American working class which will be an important victory in the immediate future and a big factor in determining the strength and duration of reformism in America. Therefore, tactics not only against the capitalist but especially against the reformist wing are vital problems in the unemployment activity of the revolutionary movement.

The Program of the Official Party

All the class conscious organizations are reaping some benefit from the favorable objective situation in spite of the fact that none of them has a concrete program for unemployment. The Communist Party, as the main organized force of these organizations, has done the most in this field and has a concrete program. But what kind of a concrete program, is another question.

Parties that only present an abstract program for the unemployed cannot be criticized in the same light the Communist Party must be. The Party at least attempts to solve the problem. It is its “Third Period” antics and non-Marxian analysis that causes all the trouble.

When the crisis began the Party issued the slogan of “Work or Wages”. After the 7th Convention, when the crisis has deepened and is going deeper it shifted the emphasis to the Social Insurance Bill. The political analysis of the Party informs us, through the 7th Convention thesis, that we are in a period of revolutionary upsurge in America and yet this seventh convention gave birth to the Social Insurance Bill as the main activity in a period of “revolutionary upsurge”.

The struggle for social insurance and the unemployment councils are elementary activities to mobilize all workers possible in order to use this mass against capitalism today and to win the most advanced section of this mass to our Party. The “revolutionary unions” of the T.U.U.L., on the other hand, represent the most advanced section. To tie the unemployed councils organizationally to the tail of the T.U.U.L. is to cut off our advance. The Party must be the driving force and the T.U.U.L. must be the most active factor for organizing these unemployed but to apply the separate front in place of the united front, and mechanical control in place of control through Marxian policy, is fundamentally wrong.

The “Social Insurance Bill”

A struggle for social insurance is correct, but to direct our main energy in this field in the manner of the Party, means creating parliamentary illusions. Communist participation in elections does not guarantee revolutionary political action instead of parliamentary action. A struggle for social insurance does not mean the main weight should be placed on a BILL, on the contrary the main emphasis should be placed on the industrial end with proper political coordination. This would easily enable us to draw a clear line of demarcation between our struggle for social insurance and that of the reformist and capitalist but at present the only distinction the Party speakers can find to prove that our bill is “revolutionary” is that we advocate $25.00 and they advocate $5.00. To compare our bill with “Roosevelt’s Bill” in order to denote the revolutionary content of our social insurance struggle is another step in the swamp.

A struggle against unemployment must have the main emphasis on the field of struggle rather than in Congress and this activity (trade union, unemployment councils, shop committees, mass literature distribution of elementary educational value) should be coordinated with the parliamentary (elections, etc.) in order to strengthen our entire activity instead of arming the “industrial actionist” on the one hand and the reformist on the other by stressing a Congressional BILL.

The United Front

This struggle against unemployment of millions of workers who are just becoming class conscious, with only a small section of this ideology crystallized, cannot be even started unless the Leninist UNITED FRONT is applied. The Party started at the beginning of the crisis with pure separate fronts and after the convention only gave lip service to the united front in a couple of half-hearted articles in the Daily Worker and Labor Unity. A united front with all the organizations of the workers will enable us to gain and to expose the reformist. The reformist and trade union fakers have made this a big issue and our tactics are strengthening them. We need tactics that will strip these fakers before the eyes of the workers proving that their fight for unemployment is in name only.

The struggle for shorter hours is more important in content than a struggle for a social insurance bill. The main emphasis must fall on shorter hours. Such a struggle, like the 1830 struggle for the ten hour day and the 1886 struggle for the eight hour day are political struggles of basic working class content which is the distinction between revolutionary political actjon and “pure” parliamentary action. Not the slogan for the seven hour day but the slogan for the 6 hour day and five day week is what is needed.

Abstract propaganda for the Soviet Union means nothing to the average American worker who is separating himself from the capitalist and reformist. The sympathizer of the movement will be patient with any amount you give him, but we cannot base our propaganda on the circle we have already won. The slogan demanding credits to the Soviet Union is a concrete method of gaining the support of the workers. In the basic industries, those which produce the means of production which the Soviet Union needs and is buying, is where we can come to the American worker with a “Soviet issue” that means more than abstract support through convictions of a few based on scientific understanding. The approach should be through the bread and butter angle. It will tear down the walls of prejudice to enable us to present a scientific understanding to unbiased minds. And one may mention that credits to the Soviet Union is a burning issue with the plan of socialist construction.

The depression is growing deeper and this winter the conditions of the workers will be worse. Defensive struggle will reach a higher plane. There is still time for the Party and the revolutionary forces really to work out a concrete program of action for the unemployment situation and for the Party to shift from its reformist tendencies of main emphasis on a BILL to revolutionary political action.

Hugo Oehler Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 11.11.2012