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Labor Party?

Hugo Oehler

Should Revolutionists Build a Labor Party?

(February 1935)

From The New Militant, Vol. I No. 9, 9 February 1935, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Leftward-moving workers who have broken or are in the process of breaking with the past are looking for weapons of struggle to the left of the Democratic and Republican parties.

Reform and utopian movements and middle class movements as well as fascist movements are springing up and taking root in the minds of the discontented masses who know by hard experience that something is wrong.

Every prolonged depression in the past increased the political activity of the working class. Reform and utopian movements sprung up on the heels of economic and social dislocation. These movements were washed away with the first signs of the return to prosperity. But the present crisis continues. Government and private measures to Stimulate business fail. The condition of the working class becomes worse and discontent increases. Hoover’s promises could not be realized and Roosevelt’s “plans” for the forgotten man are more and more seen as plans for the “forgotten” financiers and industrialists.

In this fermentation the slogan of the Labor Party is brought forward again. As yet it has not taken root in any substantial section of the working class nor has a crystallization taken place. However, the new opportunist right turn of the Communist International and its sections and the issuing of the instructions for a Labor Party campaign bring the subject to the fore for clarification.

Labor Parties and Reform

In the period of capitalist development, the Labor Party took root in European countries and played its role as the handmaid of reforms, as the concession for class peace through the policy of class collaboration with the capitalist overlords. These reformist labor movements took on different, forms in various nations all the way from Labor Parties based upon collective membership through trade unions and other workers’ organizations to the Social Democratic movements of individual membership. In the prewar period they constituted the progressive and liberal opposition parties championing the cause of labor, humanity and what not. In the post-war period these parties became the left covering of the capitalist governments for the reorganization of Europe and for the prevention of the extension of the October revolution. They were labor governments in name but capitalist dictatorships in reality. Since the rise of Hitler and fascism in Europe this has become plain for everyone to see.

Capitalist Decay

But the post-war period revealed another striking fact in regard to the Labor parties and the parties of reform.

Developing capitalism could grant reforms, and such were granted to the degree of the pressure of the working class, and the labor leaders of the reactionary trade union movement and the labor party movement held them up us special concessions these “leaders” had obtained “for” the working class. But the post-war period marked a deepening of the decay and decline of capitalism. Many of the leading capitalist nations were in no position to grant, further reforms. Instead the very life of the different capitalist, nations after the war period demanded that they reduce and take away concessions from the workers, in order to compete with imperialist, powers on the world market for capital investments, commodities and raw material.

Every concession wrung from the capitalists in this stage rests upon an entirely different basis than the previous reforms. The reforms in the period of capitalist growth were used to bribe a part of the working class to enable the capitalists to have a free hand against the majority of the working class and the colonial people. The most outstanding representative of reform during this period was the Second International.

Reform Base Disappearing

The economic base of reform parties has been wiped out by the conditions of capitalist decline. But it was not a uniform process which accomplished this condition. In America the whole process lagged behind European developments. The permanent miserable conditions confronting the American workers since the beginning of the present, crisis were at far deeper levels in Europe even before the first, world war.

The elimination of the economic base of reform parties did not mean the immediate liquidation of these parties. The parties had developed into complex systems and definite parts of the superstructure of capitalism whoso organizational and ideological .structure could not be killed so easily. Even after their economic base was lacking these reformist parties served as the instruments to save European capitalism from the proletarian revolutions. “New” reforms were the price to be paid by the capitalists as the “lesser evil” to maintain power. Developments have shown that such concessions, especially since Hitler seized power, can be wiped out with the stroke of a pen.

The sweep of developing American capitalism enabled her to build a whole network of special means of bribery without the aid of a large layer of labor agents within the workers’ ranks. While a relatively small number of skilled workers was placed on a high level, the masses of American workers, the oppressed races and foreign born workers within the country, and the colonial people, paid the hand of robbers super profits. This was not a difficult problem for the American capitalists due to the country’s natural resources and high degree of exploitation of labor.

The millions of American workers were unorganized and labor’s participation in politics was confined to the two old parties, while social-reformism flourished in Europe it was not even budding in America. It bloomed and withered in Europe before its American counterpart had a chance to walk upright.

The radical political movement of American origin was first a land reform movement in the forties of the last century, next an agrarian movement of the eighties, to be followed by a more confused and heterogeneous agrarian movement in the first part of this century. The urban middle class that was beaten back by monopoly capitalism joined forces with it and produced the various hybrid movements such as the Farmer-Labor parties and the LaFollette movement.

(This article will be continued in the next issue of the New Militant.)

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