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T. Stamm

Unemployment and Communism

(January 1932

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 4 (Whole No. 100), 23 January 1932, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

On February 25, 1931, 400,000 workers in the United States according to the Daily Worker demonstrated for Unemployment Insurance. Compared with the demonstration of the year before, this showed a great decline. The Daily Worker claims 1,250,000 workers in the March 6, 1930, demonstration. This tremendous decrease was hailed by Browder as an advance. (Daily Worker, March 6, 1931) On the basis of this “advance”, Browder on March 12, in the Daily Worker motivated a turn from the fight for Unemployment to a system of organized beggary.

This in part is what Browder wrote:

“Where the city authorities reject the demands for the relief of specific cases of starvation – the council must set up a food collection committee which will undertake food collections from the larger capitalists and corporations of the locality, particularly in those institutions where the unemployed were formerly at work. When the committee is unable to get food from the corporations and large capitalists they shall then begin to solicit small merchants and the petty bourgeoisie generally, calling upon these elements at the same time to join the Unemployed Council in demanding relief from the government treasuries and in demanding unemployment insurance nationally.”

This “fight” for relief reached its highest expression in a recent New York demonstration in which a worker carried a placard, reading: “We want more, not less relief.”

While the dwindling party supporters were struggling to carry out Browder’s directives, the fight for unemployment insurance was confined to resolutions passed at narrow, sectarian conferences, and to articles in the Daily Worker and other party organs. The masses no longer could be counted by the hundred thousands, not even by the schooled exaggerators who write editorials Against Exaggeration. They had disappeared from the struggle.

Browder’s strategy, as could have been foretold by a pioneer, ran its course without results. By the end of the summer of 1931 it was clear to all that competing with capitalist charities for pinch-penny doles could not advance the revolution. The fight for Unemployment Insurance had lapsed; the struggle tor relief was equally unsuccessful. The crisis was still deepening: the misery of the masses was greater and more widespread. Bourgeois demagogues were threatening to take over the leadership of the movement for relief and Unemployment Insurance. At this point, the party decide to revive the fight for Unemployment Insurance.

Its first assault on capitalist greed was the National Hunger March. This was organized around the slogans of a resolution adopted by the Executive Committee of the T.U.U.L. on October 3. On the basis of this document the revived fight for Unemployment Insurance is taking place. It is important to understand exactly what this resolution proposes with regard to unemployment. Has the party learned from its mistakes? Does it repudiate the opportunism of Browder and Co.?

If the party’s efforts to win Unemployment Insurance demonstrated anything, they demonstrated that the party could not unite the masses around the slogan of unemployment insurance alone. There is no question that Unemployment Insurance is what the masses need to alleviate their misery and to serve as a bulwark against strike-breaking. It is true that under certain conditions the workers will fight to Unemployment Insurance, but it is also true that the party failed to build a broad movement of employed and unemployed workers for it.

One reason, of course, is the stifling bureaucratic regime in the party and its organizations which drives away thousands of workers sympathetic to Communism. Bureaucracy played its part but it is not decisive. The basic reason is to be found in the illusions of the masses. The masses are not yet convinced that “prosperity” will not return. They still believe that the crisis will lift, bring in work for them. They do not understand that we, like England, will now be blessed with a permanent army of unemployed. The masses think in terms of work. Unemployment Insurance is predicated upon the permanent unemployment of large sections of the working class. For these reasons, the American workers are slow to fight for Unemployment Insurance.

(To be continued)

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