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Hugo Oehler

Congress Sidelights

Political Notes on Incidents at the Chicago Sessions

(May 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 26, 13 May 1933, pp. 1, 2 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Mooney Congress was a big step forward for the Communist Party and had many positive qualities, which we must acknowledge at the start, even though Communists do not stop to pat themselves on the back. It was, at the same time, top heavy with a whole series of the most elementary and fundamental mistakes and blunders that can always be expected from Stalinism. At least one can say, without fear of contradiction, it was a big step in the correct direction, even though only a start.

* * *

The success and step forward is due primarily to the rejection of the “united front from below” by the Communist Party and the acceptance of the united front between organizations. In a few months this policy has been able to obtain greater results than the Stalinists, with the united front from below, could obtain in the whole past period. In fact, the last few months has demonstrated that the united front of organizations has done more to expose the Socialist and A.F. of L. misleaders than all the slander of the Stalinists and their theory of social-Fascism, which is the motivation for the united front from below.

* * *

When the Stalinists opened the door for “all” workers’ organizations in their turn on the united front they hoped to find a way to keep the Left Opposition out, contrary to their expectations, they find themselves in the awkward position of being forced to take the defensive under the hammer of the Communist League of America. In other words, as we have pointed out so often before, to close the door to the Left Opposition is to close tho door to contact with the American workers. And likewise to open the door, not for us, but for the American workers, is to open the door for us. Ask Hathaway, Minor and the steering committee of their caucus in the Mooney Conference, or. consider the conference and judge for yourselves.

* * *

Progressive Miners of America

The heaviest weight outside of the organizations under the ideological influence of the Communist Party was the delegation from the Progressive Miners of America. One of the “lightest” forces in the conference was the C.P.L.A., represented by Muste. However, it was Muste this and Muste that. They thought they were using Muste but facts will prove Muste was using them.

* * *

Muste was the Stalinists’ “best bet,” for a front because the club he held, for bargaining was none too big. Sad to say for the Stalinists, every time the delegates from the Progressive Miners were put on committees, they were able to exert, such great pressure, due to the masses they represented, that they more than once upset the well laid plans of Stalinism and were a great factor in helping keep the Mooney Conference on the path of workers’ democracy on the path of the correct united front, in general, helped keep the Stalinists within “civilized” bounds and helped round out a policy in order to build a powerful movement on this start. More power to the Left wing of the Progressive Miners of America.

* * *

Until the afternoon of the third day the conference was, in the main, just one long mass meeting. In fact, the Stalinists intended to call off the third-day session to enable them to carry on two days of mass meetings, to wind up with the big May Day Stadium mass meeting and end up the conference by passing a manifesto bursting with propaganda but void of a concrete program of action. At the end of the first day the mass protest of the delegates promoted the change in plans, caused the Stalinists to retreat, continue with a three-day session. On the second day, they forced the election of a Resolutions Committee, a committee the party “forgot about” while they kept everybody entertained with propaganda speeches but nothing substantial on policy and program. Instead of reporting at the beginning of the conference on policy and program, the delegates of the conference had to fight the Stalinists up to the afternoon of the last session before a report on resolutions and policy was given, and then the half day that was left was to be used by the more than fifteen hundred delegates to discuss the program.

* * *

The United Front

A big sign in the hall said: “Only a united front of the workers will free Tom Mooney.” One could excuse such a slogan from a party that practiced a united front for years but one cannot excuse such a slogan issued by Stalinism. Within it, can be concealed the united front from below. There can be no united front between workers. There can be a united front only of workers’ organizations.

* * *

Scott and Goldman

Scott, representative of the Molders Defense Committee said he wanted to safeguard the conference from communist control. This went over big with the anti-communist element. This position has nothing in common with the anti-Stalinist position of the Left Opposition.

Goldman, a delegate from Chicago, pointed out that the conference was a good start but too narrow, saying that over 75 percent was Left wing workers. Scott, who replied to Goldman’s criticism on this and many other points made a poor job of it. He said on this point that Goldman objects to having a conference with 75 percent Left wingers. Goldman had pointed out that 75 percent of the conference was Left wing in order to show that we have been able to bring the Left wing element together in a united front but that we must now build up and around this Left wing a broad layer of other American workers.

Some members of the committee and most Stalinists cannot distinguish positive from destructive criticism.

* * *

The fact, that after four years of the crisis the American workers organized the largest, most representative united front – not on unemployment; not on social insurance; not on the six hour day and no reduction in pay struggle; not on a fight against wage cuts; but on a question of freeing a framed-up class-war prisoner, the most elementary working class demand possible, proves that the failure to build the movement cannot be attributed to objective conditions, which are in our favor. It proves that there is something rotten in our own ranks.

We expect nothing but betrayals from the reformists and reactionary labor leaders. The key to the situation, therefore, is in the hands of the Communist. Party. But the party is in the hands of Stalinism and this revisionism of the program on basic international questions and tactics that flow from this is the determining factor in this glaring contradiction between favorable conditions and the Communist Party’s present position in the American class struggle.

* * *

Political Forces

Without, a doubt, the two main political forces of the conference were the Stalinists and the Left Opposition. The Stalinists who have been exercising on us for the last several years up to a few months ago by kicking us out of conferences were forced to recognize us officially. The presiding committee was forced to nominate us for the Resolutions Committee. We were elected to the Permanent National Committee. We compelled the adoption of some important points of our policy.

This was not due to any change of heart by the Stalinists. It was due to the fact that the Left Opposition had a mass pressure great enough, in relation to the pressure of the Stalinist forces, to demand recognition. The Left Opposition had delegates from bona fide trade unions, unemployment organizations, defense committees, etc., that could not be ignored without ignoring a decisive section of the conference itself. For example, to ignore the large delegation from the Progressive Miners of America would have to ignore the most important mass organization in the conference.

* * *

The Lovestone right wingers had a hard fight to obtain the right to the floor for even five minutes. Their floor tactics were terrible and their right wing policy was even worse. A clear line of difference on policy could be seen between them and the Left Opposition. The right wing had no pressure of importance relative to the pressure of the organized Stalinist caucus, while the Left Opposition had a pressure and policy that was able to make, drastic inroads into the Stalinist original plans. On the other hand, with our pressure we were able to threw our force with the Stalinists on specific issues where they were in the main correct and thereby keep intact the unity of the conference as well as weaken the anti-communist tendencies of the conference that the Stalinist blunders helped free. This is the correct function in a united front.

* * *

The Resolution

In the past the Stalinists had to be criticised from the right, because their united front from below was an ultra-left deviation. In this conference, where the united front of organisations replaced the old formula, we had to fight them from the left, because they deviated to the right of the Leninist concept. In the main resolution, they had a sentence stating that there would be no attacks on organizations participating in the united front. This is a non-aggression pact, no matter how one tries to explain it away. One must not confuse two different kinds of attacks, slander and criticism of policy. We presented a minority report on the main resolution stating the following: “Each organization entering the united front obligates itself to discipline in action but retains its complete independence and its right of criticism.” Hathaway, speaking for the majority, and the Stalinists, and, having the backing of all right wing elements in the conference, voted us down but we obtained 63 votes – heavy trade union votes – for our amendment. This was the largest minority vote of the conference.

The Left Opposition voted for the main resolution with the above amendment. It was not the best resolution possible but was, in the main, presentable and laid the basis for a working agreement for the united front.

The Lovestone right wingers introduced an amendment on the Scottsboro case. The amendment of Zam’s was a concrete expression of his position at the Chicago city conference a few weeks ago, when he tried to leave the Mooney case high and dry, divorced from every other issue and the class struggle. Zam proposed that the Mooney issue be the only issue of the Congress.

The original petition of the Stalinists was for a Mooney-Scottsboro Committee. In the Resolutions Committee this was amended after a fight, led by the Left Opposition. It was agreed that the Committee would be a Free Tom Mooney Committee and that we agitate for the Scottsboro case and cooperate with the defense. To affiliate with and be part of the Mooney united front it is necessary only to agree with the campaign to free Tom Mooney.

The Left Opposition differed with both the Lovestoneite and Stalinist positions. We were opposed to the Stalinist attempt to turn the Mooney Committee into a Mooney-Scottsboro Committee, but, we were equally opposed to the Lovestone right wing attempt to separate the Mooney case from the Scottsboro case and other class struggle issues. Both the centrists and the Right wing confuse the question of organizational and propaganda relations, as well as the relations between different issues of the class struggle.

The final draft of the resolution had some bad points on this question and some wrong formulations, such as: “The unity of the workers and Negro people.” In the main. however, it was correct, and we found common ground on which to vote with the Stalinists.

* * *

The C.I. May Day Bombshell

After the Resolutions Committee had adopted a very good and correct formula on the united front with the exception of the sentence dealing with “no attacks” the Stalinist steering committee, Amter, etc., discovered, through our information that the Daily Worker that had arrive in the morning of this session carried a manifesto from the C.I. on May Day that again returned to the united front from below. It was a wrong position and a return to the old formula. At least one thing was clear, that the C.I. formula and the formula adopted at the Mooney Congress were two different positions. Which one will the Stalinists try to live up to? This is their contradiction.

We will do all that is possible to help the party find its way to the correct Leninist united front position expressed, in the main, by the resolution of the Mooney Congress and not by the C.I. resolution.

The Left Opposition was on the Resolutions Committee of the Mooney Congress but unfortunately was not on the Resolutions Committee of the C.I.

If the Mooney movement slips back to the old Stalinist formula of the united front from below, the Socialist Party and A.F.L. leaders will be greatly strengthened and rendered a great service by us.

* * *

Hathaway and Borich, speaking in defense of a confused formula on the united front that has elements of both the Mooney Congress formula and the C.I. formula, said, in reference to the Socialist, and A.F.L. leaders: “The leaders will never come into a united front of this kind,” meaning the Chicago Mooney Congress. The leaders never decide the question of joining or boycotting a united front. This question is decided for them by the use of a Leninist policy of the united front by the revolutionists and the mass pressure of the workers upon and within their organization. If the united front policy is not correct and the pressure, consequently, not great, enough then they will refuse. This the Stalinists must still learn, just as they must learn that we never must give up our independence or our right to political criticism in united fronts.

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