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Harry Strang

A Letter on the Hitler Boycott

(December 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VII No. 1, 4 January 1934, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Dear Comrades:

December 30, 1933

Some months ago the International Left Opposition and the Communist League of America came out in favor of a militant transportation boycott of Hitler Germany. At the time you published an editorial on this question, I was moved, although not a member of your group, to write you endorsing your stand. I still feel that the consumers’ boycott for Jewish relief is no substitute for a labor struggle on behalf of labor. Only by international labor action, the refusal to transport goods in and out of Germany, until certain demands are granted (release of political prisoners, restoration of right to organize workers independently, publish labor papers, etc.), can a smashing blow be dealt to Hitlerism.

The Old Position of Comintern

As I pointed out in my letter some weeks ago, a similar view was taken of similar problems years ago by the Comintern under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky. At the time of the Hungarian White Terror and the Primo de Rivera dictatorship in Spain, for example, the C.I. sent out ringing calls for international action by all workers to smash these reactionaries by means of a transportation boycott. When the idea was first brought up with respect to Hitler, however, the Comintern under the leadership of Stalin’s office boys, turned a cold shoulder to it. They found it to be ineffective, unrevolutionary because it would divert some trade from Germany to other countries and thereby benefit other capitalists, etc., etc. The C.I. denounced the proposal in the Rundschau (Basel) and elsewhere.

But the validity of the idea could not be obliterated. Spontaneously, workers in France, Belgium, Spain, Holland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Czechoslovakia and elsewhere began to put the transportation boycott into effect. The chief struggle was by longshoremen who repeatedly refused to unload ships displaying the Nazi flag. On one occasion even, Scandinavian members of a Red Trade Union refused to load Soviet naphtha on a German boat flying the Hakenkreuz. Efforts made by the International Left Opposition and other organizations to spread the idea of a united front transport boycott for joint, immediate demands have not been entirely fruitless; important labor organizations of various political tendencies in half a dozen countries have endorsed the idea.

A Typical Stalinist “Turn”

After attacking the idea, the Comintern and its sections shut up on the matter like a school of clams. But now they have quietly executed a change: the Daily Worker of December 30, attacking Bill Green for his sure-enough rotten piece of faking on the consumers’ boycott, comes out in favor of “the formation of united front committees to be set up for effective action to stop the import and transportation of German goods.” It even contrives to find a quotation from Bela Kun: “The revolutionary workers must see clearly that the merchandise boycott of German fascism is a deception if isolated from the general anti-Fascist struggle, if conducted without a transportation boycott.”

Thus the C.P. of the U.S.A., and presumably the C.I. which gives it its line, have made another turn and, as usual when the turn is in the right direction, it is a turn to the line laid down by the Left Opposition, which the Stalinists first persistently rejected and ignored. Of course, you can’t expect them to thank you for the idea. What you can do is to try to bring the idea off paper and force the Stalinists not simply to talk about a transportation boycott, but to do something about it. Can’t you call a united front conference on the matter?


Harry Strang

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