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Thomas Stamm

The Unemployment Councils at Work

(July 1931)

On the Workers’ Front, The Militant, Vol. IV No. 13, 4 July 1931, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In more than a year the party has not developed out of the rank and file of its unemployed councils a single leader of even secondary caliber, certainly not one of real stature. To expect the latter is to ask the mouse to bring forth a mountain. But the mountain has brought forth mice in plenty. The party has developed in the apparatus of its unemployed councils a host of little functionaries, petty careerists, badly trained ideologically and politically. It is enough to participate in one or two demonstrations, play a more or less prominent role, subscribe without reservations to the party line, obey orders, heap abuse and slander on the “renegades” – to be assured of some little position in the apparatus and sit on the platform when Foster debates Muste.

Originally, too, the party can show only a minus for its unemployment work. The unemployed councils are largely paper organizations. Workers joined, attended a demonstration or two, listened to general demands unconnected with their local, most immediate needs and drifted away. Or their attendance, at best, even now is irregular. This is due to the fact that they have been recruited from the breadlines and must arrange their time by that of the breadlines or other relief agencies at large distances from their homes. This source of the councils’ membership explains why there are almost no working class women and children in them.

Because of this floating membership and irregular attendance, it is necessary to hold business meetings every day to organize each day’s work. It is impossible to organize the details of work more than one day in advance. A worker who will distribute leaflets on Monday cannot be counted on in advance to do it again on Tuesday, Wednesday, etc. This applies as well to party members assigned to the councils, who are frequently shifted about from one council to another council or party organization or activity. This day-to-day organization of each day’s business results in a terrible monotony of mechanical business routine. More hours are spent each day in indoor business meetings than in actual work. This further discourages the workers from attending the meetings regularly.

The floating membership and irregular attendance make it necessary for a small group, usually party members and apparatus functionaries, to carry on the work. Small as it is, the work is too much for the working nucleus, who protest and complain about the inactivity of the membership. This results in sporadic “discussions”, futile paper plans to activize the general memberships and in a deepening chasm between the “active” and the “inactive” members.

A general looseness pervades the inner organizational work of the councils. Motions are passed and promptly forgotten. A motion initiating socialist competition among the councils in their organization of tenant’s leagues, is passed unanimously by an executive body and never heard about again. Motions calling for reports on finances, on the sale of literature, etc., are passed and result in nothing. Committees and delegations are elected, do not work, make no reports and are not brought to account. Small sums are continuously stolen by unemployed workers. Efforts at elementary workers’ education are as irregular as the attendance of the rank and file. A course in public speaking by Brodsky is dropped when half completed without explanation given or demanded. The ideological level of the “education” is unbelievably low. Thus Johnstone on the unemployment program of the I.W.W.: “The program of the Trotskyists, as I will show, differs only by a hair’s breadth from the program of the I.W.W.”

The external activities of the councils suffer from the same looseness. The distribution of leaflets is unsystematic and haphazard. Some workers throw them away. What tenants’ league work is done is equally unsystematic and haphazard. Meetings with house committees are not followed up. No minutes of these meetings are kept. No further steps are taken to spread the organization to neighboring houses. In restoring the furniture of evicted workers, the council proceeds to the scene of the eviction without leadership, etc., etc.

No adequate technique has been devised for fighting evictions. The procedure in vogue at present can be compared only to fire fighting. An eviction is reported to a council. The council is mobilized and proceeds to the scene. If it outnumbers the police ten to one the furniture is restored. Obviously this is a ridiculous procedure. Should the councils be able, from the point of view of time, numbers and other factors – which they are not – to restore the furniture of every evicted worker, they would be reduced to a society for restoring evicted furniture. But in that case, the police and the municipal governments would be more than equal to the problem. Their organization is as yet stronger, more mobile, better disciplined and trained. In New York City, one or two patrolmen in a position to summon more, are stationed at the scene of every eviction in the neighborhoods where the councils are known to function.

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