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The Opposition and N.Y. “United Front” Unemployment Confab

(August 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 34 (Whole No. 130), 20 August 1932, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The “conference” called by the Unemployed Council of New York under the direction of the Communist party at the Manhattan Lyceum, August 15, “to work out a plan to further advance the fight for immediate relief and unemployment insurance” was a pure brew of opportunism. From beginning to end it was saturated with the spirit of reformism. Every speech was devoted to the fakery of the relief agencies, the collusion of the city government with the real estate sharks and landlords, etc., etc.

In themselves these exposures are in order – provided they are linked up correctly with the revolutionary goal of the working class and the Communists. This was nowhere apparent. In fact its absence made it impossible to distinguish the ideological approach of the conference from a Left wing socialist meeting.

Winters, the reporter by appointment, worked himself into a minor heat over the “insult the city offered the unemployed by allowing the Board of Estimate to take a four month’s vacation.” He made an “analysis” of the failure of the unemployed movement to build organizationally, to build a stronger movement from which he deduced the necessity of building a movement strong enough to wring from them tens and hundreds of millions of dollars for relief.

Insurance Relegated

Even unemployment insurance was relegated to the background. It was mentioned only by way of obeisance to a discarded but still living god. Relief, any kind of relief, was the note of the conference. This is not a new development of the party’s efforts to build a movement or relief from the crisis. It is only the latest phase of the opportunist turn initiated a little more than a year ago by Browder in the Daily Worker of March 6 and 12.

The difference lies in the fact that this conference, as the reporter’s speech showed, had a programmatic character. The National Committee of the Unemployed Councils of the U.S.A. has issued a Proposed Draft Program of Fighting Methods and Organization Forms of the Unemployed Councils. Whereas before the party pursued its opportunistic way by twists and turns in the party press it is now definitely committed to a program opportunistic through and through. We will return to this program in the next issue. Time is needed to plough through the swamp and reduce it to its opportunist elements.

The conference was a model of bureaucratic machine control. It ran smoothly on all six cylinders of mechanical control and ideological oil. The conference was opened by Winters who in the name of the arrangement committee nominated Wiseman, organizer of the Unemployed Council. Attempts to make other nominations were ignored and Wiseman rode into the chairmanship on a wave of “ayes”. Wiseman introduced the main reporter, Winters, “who will speak for forty minutes”. Winters consumed an hour and a half of one of the hottest nights in memory.

He outlined the fakery of the relief agencies, the collusion of the city government with the landlords in evicting workers; he spoke much of “our” failure to embrace masses of workers but failed to explain its causes in the incorrect policy of the party. He also subscribed to the Stalinist article of faith, that the line is correct, benedictum sit, but the execution poor.

Winters reached the pinnacle of Stalinist theory and logic in explaining that the arrangement committee some time prior to the convening of the conference had changed the name of the demonstration on September 10 which the conference was called to organize, from “Bread Parade” to “Relief March”. The reason? Shades of Marx and Lenin! Said Winters: This is not to be just another demonstration limited to our members and sympathizers shouting the same slogan for relief and unemployment insurance. It is to be a march of workers already struggling for relief. We are going to indicate that we are going to carry on concrete struggles in every flop house ... The words and music are only too familiar to our readers. Winters’ little quirk did not make this sort of Stalinist pap any more palatable.

The tasks which Winters imposed on the movement were no whit different from those which the movement has been struggling to carry out. As these are contained in their entirety in the Draft Program of the Unemployed Councils we will deal with them next week. Here it is necessary to remark only that they did not advance us one step toward uniting the unemployed and employed, toward making a serious approach to the socialist workers and the workers in the A.F. of L. unions. In short Winters left us standing exactly where we were, marking time furiously in a circle from which the Winters, big and little, cannot lead us.

When Winters was through the floor was thrown open for discussion. The procedure was amazingly simple. The chairman announced that the floor was open for discussion and that the first speaker would be comrade so and so from the Gold Dust Lodge. When the comrade was through the chairman informed us that the way to get the floor was to hand a slip of paper bearing the name of the delegate and his organization – “the next speaker will be ...” It was beautifully simple. How these people fear and hate the Left Opposition!

It will help them nothing. From such bureaucratic stultification can come nothing but confusion. No serious worker can learn anything more about his problems from such spectacles, then he can from the Corpus Christi processions of the Roman Catholic Church. What the Stalinists must be made to realize is that the ideas of Marxian-Leninism cannot be stifled by bureaucratic machines in the Stalinist era any more than they were by the corrupt and degenerate social democratic bureaucracies in the days when the Leninist tactics of the Comintern under Lenin and Trotsky smashed their way through all obstacles.

We will yet throw down the wall that separates us from the party rank and file. We will, together with them, work out a genuine Leninist program for relief from the crisis. It will be a revolutionary program from which every vestige of opportunism will be rooted out.

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