Tom Stamm Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Unemployed Activity

T. Stamm

Unemployed Activity in Retrospect

(September 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 36 (Whole No. 132), 3 September 1932, pp. 2 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Three milestones mark the party’s course in its unemployment work since Browder, a little more than a year ago, turned the helm away from the fight for unemployment insurance and set the course for immediate relief, to the exclusion of every revolutionary demand. These are: Browder’s pronouncements in the Daily Worker of March 6 and 12, 1931, the TUUL NEC resolution adopted in Pittsburgh on October 3 and 4, 1931, and now the Proposed Draft Program of Fighting Methods and Organization Forms of the Unemployed Councils. These are the theoretical fruits of the course which has led into the opportunist swamp.

It will be remembered that February 25, 1931, marked the close of a year’s nationwide, fighting demonstrations for unemployment insurance under the leadership of the Communist party. February 25 marked a tremendous decline in the influence of the Communist party over the masses, insofar as its unemployment work was concerned. In the March 6th, 1930, demonstrations the party claimed a million and a quarter workers. In the February 25th, 1931, demonstrations it claimed only four hundred thousand. That both figures were grossly exaggerated goes without saying. But that the decline was great is equally true.

The great loss in influence, at a time when the crisis was deepening and the struggle against it should have been rising to greater heights and embracing broader masses of workers, presented the Stalinists with the necessity of making a turn. Marxists would, have begun with an examination of their past policies to find in them the cause of their failure. Not so the Stalinists. The cornerstone of their faith is the dogma that the line is correct. To doubt it is heresy.

To Browder was entrusted the ideological legerdemain of pronouncing a turn, yet absolving the previous line of any suspicion of error. This he sought to accomplish in a series of two articles in the Daily Worker (March 6 and 12, 1931), under the title: On the organization of Relief Work by Unemployed Councils.

The Turn

Browder called for the creation of food collection committees “to get food from the larger capitalists and corporations of the locality, particularly in those institutions where the unemployed were formerly at work.” Anticipating failure for this idiotic nonsense, Browder provided: “When the committee is unable to get food from the corporations and large capitalists, they shall then begin to solicit small merchants and 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.”

Under the leadership of Browder and Co. the movement was plunged into systematic, organized beggary. It became a fish-wife haggling with the charities over pennies. The revolutionary link between the day-to-day, reform demands and the revolutionary goal was cast off like so much unnecessary ballast.

On the key questions of policy: of uniting the employed and unemployed workers, and working out broad organizational forms to include workers of all shades of opinion, regardless of their political affiliations; the success or failure to attain which is the measure of every unemployment program, Browder was silent. He let his readers infer that as with the line, so with its results in these essential questions.

“Two steps backward in order to make one step forward,” said a worker, misquoting Lenin. Browder’s directives were the first step backward on the road which has led inexorably to the opportunist swamp where the movement is bogged.

The TUUL NEC Resolution

Contrary to the Stalinists’ expectations the pursuit of this policy, the orientation of the movement on relief, the relegation of unemployment insurance to the background, the failure to organize a fighting movement for a shorter working day, for credits to the Soviet Union, did not see the unemployed councils “grow and stabilize themselves as powerful organizations.” They continued to be weak and ineffectual instruments embracing only unemployed workers, and only workers sympathetic to Communism. With the exception of Chicago and several other cities they took no deep root in the masses.

By October the failure of the new turn was apparent to all. Time had demonstrated its bankruptcy. Yet the T.U.U.L. NEC resolution of October 3rd and 4th affirmed the correctness of the line: “The present developments do not require a change in policy of the TUUL.”

That this whitewash was meant to apply to the unemployment policy as well as the trade union policy is evident from the text of the resolution. Our readers can find this monument of confusion and distortion in the flies of the Daily Worker. It was published as a supplement to the issue of November 11, 1931.

The unemployed and “red union” movements are conceived in this document as separate movements. This marks a retreat from the previous policy of the party which confined the unemployed councils to the organizational control of the TUUL. This is a necessary step toward establishing the correct base for a broad movement for unemployment relief.

But the party has made the division a formal one. In its resolution it posed the question of uniting the unemployed movement with the “red union” movement. This is fundamentally incorrect. It is not at all a question of uniting the two movements but of building one united movement of employed and unemployed workers. This must be a broad movement, much broader than the as yet weak “red union” movement. It must embrace, in the first place, the organized labor movement. This means the A.F. of L. unions.

In the question of the organizational forms the resolution made no advance over the party’s previous narrow conception of the united front as applied to the unemployed councils. The united front projected in the resolution is essentially a united front of unorganized, unemployed workers.

In one respect the resolution marked an advance over Browder’s directives. The resolution restored the fight for relief to a more nearly correct basis. It placed on the agenda again the tight for unemployment insurance. It made it the central slogan. It reaffirmed the seven hour day without motivating the demand by any reason or figures. And it added at the end of its program, the demand for “the development of trade relations with the Soviet Union, in order that the idle factories may work, fill the constantly growing demands of the successful construction of the workers’ government and its Five Year Plan.”

Around the slogans of the resolution the National Hunger March to Washington was organized. With this march and its repercussions the party resurrected the fight for unemployment insurance. In this sense the resolution marked a limping, half-step forward.

The Draft Program

With the termination of the Hunger March of last December the fight far unemployment insurance was again relegated to the background. And the flght for “more not less relief” as one placard in a demonstration announced, was more oriented on the road which led to the opportunist swamp.

It is now, in full swing headed toward the Relief March, scheduled for September 10. Its demands, slogans and organizational forms are incorporated in a Proposed Draft Program of Fighting Methods and Organization Forms of the Unemployed Councils – A Manual for Hunger Fighters. It is issued by the National Committee of the Unemployed Councils of the U.S.A.

It is understood that this is not a Communist program in the sense of, let us say, a party election program. It cannot be a statement of Communist aims and receive the endorsement of workers in the unemployed movement who are just awakening to class consciousness. But it must present Communist ideas in an elementary form so that when they are applied in the class struggle they become steps toward the final, inevitable goal. If the program fulfills this requirement it is a Communist document.

But this is precisely what the Draft Program is not. It is enough to glance at the section, The Typical Issues and Demands, to realize that it is not a Communist document. The first typical demand is concerned with cash relief; the second with flophouses; the third with breadlines and food-kitchens; the fourth with food for children; etc.

(Continued in Next Issue)

Tom Stamm Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 7.1.2014