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Unemployed Activity


Unemployed Activity in Retrospect

(September 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 37 (Whole No. 133), 10 September 1932, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

(Continued from last issue)

We do not mean to create the impression that it is incorrect to fight for these demands wherever they are issues. But by an almost exclusive concentration on these demands the larger objectives of the movement are lost sight of and these demands do not become steps leading toward the development of class consciousness and the raising of the struggle to a higher plane, but ends in themselves. They become reformist, opportunist demands. And they sow confusion in the minds of the workers by wiping out the essential differences between the revolutionary-Communist program, and the Socialist and other reformist programs.

This can best be seen from the text itself. The program is based on “– a recognition of the fact that those who own and control the wealth and government are willing to allow millions to suffer hunger and want in order that their great wealth shall not be drawn on for relief.” (Emphasis in the original) “The Unemployed Councils are the organs for the determined, uncompromising struggle against all who are responsible for and all who assist in imposing upon the workers the miseries that result from mass unemployment.” Again: “In the effort to safeguard the masses from the effects of unemployment the Unemployment Councils organize and conduct the daily struggle ...”

It is in keeping that such “theoretical” opportunism should find its counterpart in the schema of fighting methods. Under the heading, How to Formulate and Fight for Immediate Demands, there is to be found the following axiom of opportunism: “It should be obvious that if we constantly appear in a given relief agency to dispute over the contents of every basket – the authorities will soon find it more convenient and safer to grant the demand for cash relief or more adequate relief as the case may be.” (Emphasis in the original)

What working class content do these formulations and methods have? What is there in them to which a well-meaning, Christian clergyman cannot subscribe? Have the Stalinist authors of the program, like the Socialist Party, forgotten the class struggle? Who are the “all” who are responsible for mass unemployment? This is degeneration to liberalism. It makes of the occasional militant phraseology of the program a ghastly masquerade.

It is true that the program lists in its “basic” demands the “seven hour day without reduction in wages” which it does not motivate with figures or reason any more than did the T.U.U.L. resolution, and “recognition and unhampered trade relations with the Soviet Union”. But they are present as window dressing. They are not explained in the text of the program, nor is their connection with the fight for relief established. They do not outweigh the excessive weight laid on the fight for relief as an end in itself.

The result is that no basis is established by the program for drawing into the movement the Socialist and A.F. of L. workers without whom no broad movement can be built. And, consequently, no directives are issued by the program to accomplish this vital task. The program thus makes the same blunder made by the T.U.U.L resolution of last October. It is forced to present the two movements as separate, and it is forced to pose the question of uniting the two movements. Its solutions are a repetition of the solutions of the T.U.U.L. resolution which have been tested by time and found to be no solutions at all. In short the program does not advance us a single inch toward building one united movement of employed and unemployed.

But it does narrow the chasm separating the Communist relief program from the Wobbly charity-begging schemes and the Socialist reformist program dressed up in militant phrases. In this sense the program becomes not an instrument of clarity in the direction of class consciousness, but a vehicle of confusion.

This narrow conception of the unemployed movement is thus, of necessity carried over to the organizational forms worked out for the movement. The unemployed committee is established by the program as the basic form of unemployed movement. This is defined as an elected body to which is eligible “any worker ... regardless of any other opinion or affiliation who agrees with the program adopted in the meeting (of workers) where the election takes place ...” These unemployed committees are groups of “from three to fifteen workers who have been elected by a body of worker’s in any given place ...” The committees elect delegates to a larger territorial Unemployed Council.

This formulation seems to establish the basis of a united front. But it is only an appearance. There are some fatal limitations to this happy beginning. With no basis laid for drawing the Socialist and A.F. of L. workers into the movement the united fronts which the program projects must become united fronts of workers sympathetic to Communism, which is to say, no united fronts at all. More than this, because of the movement’s orientation on relief unemployed workers for the most part, are drawn into the movement and the united fronts will be, are composed of unemployed workers sympathetic to Communism. The united front which begins so happily in the program can, in practice, turn out to be nothing more than another party auxiliary good for useful work in demonstrations, etc.

What remains is another milestone on the road to the opportunist swamp. The program in practise cannot bring us closer to our revolutionary goal. It leads in another direction. It will not serve to develop class consciousness through struggle because the struggle, which it is conducting, is based on reformist premises. The program attempts to put a programmatic seal on the flight to opportunism. – It consummates the turn initiated by Browder last year. It is the second step backward.

One Step Forward

Against this opportunist course the Opposition has repeatedly warned. It has done more than that. It has offered a program in place of the ideological mess of porridge the Stalinists have served up. In its Open Letter to the C.C. of CPUSA, issued early in 1931, it enumerated six basic points of a Marxist program upon which to build a fighting working-class movement for relief.

It predicated it program on the absolutely correct assumption that the fight for relief must be a general class fight embracing both employed and unemployed workers. It rested its program on the obvious truth – for Marxists – that, for revolutionists, a relief program had to be linked up with the final revolutionary goal as a step toward that goal. As its third major premise it declared that the slogans of today had to prepare the movement for tomorrow and act as a bridge.

On this basis it placed in the forefront of its program the slogans of the six-hour day, five-day week with no reduction in pay; unemployment insurance at the expense of the capitalist class and its government: and long-term, large-scale credits to the Soviet Union. It called for a fighting movement around these central slogans and stated that such a movement could be built only on a genuine united front basis.

That this program was not accepted by the party everyone knows. That, however, did not make it incorrect. Today it is as correct as it was when issued. The party’s failure to build a movement around its program emphasizes the correctness of own program in a negative sense.

The class struggle will yet force the adoption of our program. But we cannot wait while unparalleled opportunities are being wasted by the Stalinists. It is time now to make a step forward.

The party should adopt our program now. It should begin by opening up a discussion in its ranks on the entir’e question of unemployment and the fight for relief. The discussion should be free. Party members seriously interested in learning from the Party’s failures and in building a movement for relief should raise their voices for such a discussion. They should also demand that the Left Opposition be given an opportunity to participate in the discussion and defend its program.

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