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Arne Swabeck

Second National Conference Marks Step Forward

(October 1931)

From The Militant, Vol. IV No. 26 (Whole No. 85), 10 October 1931, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The second national conference of the Communist League of America (Opposition) has completed its tasks through a four days session of fruitful discussion held in New York City, September 24 to 27 inclusive. In the unanimous opinion of all delegates it recorded a substantial forward step for the Left Opposition in taking account of the past, both of achievements and. of shortcomings, as well as in its adoption of a guiding policy for future work.

A completely free and untrammeled discussion during a preceding sixty days period, conducted without any trace of the factional or bureaucratic encumbrances which have now become the rule in the official parties, culminated at this conference in such a way that the delegates could return to their branches with a conviction of having attained further strength to the future cadres of the American Communist movement. This does not mean that no difference of viewpoints were presented, for example, on such issues as an evaluation of present trend of economic and political processes as well as in regards to interpretation of the role of the Left Opposition in its practical tasks. There were such differences. However, in every fundamental aspect the discussion resulted in practically unanimous conclusions.

With comrade Coover from Minneapolis in the chair for the first day's session, the credential committee reported the following branches represented: Toronto, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City and Minneapolis. Smaller branches, such as Montreal, New Haven and Richmond, could not see their way to send delegates and in general bearing upon reducing the size of the delegation, for example, from such distant points as Chicago and Minneapolis. The delegates were practically exclusively workers direct from the shops, many unemployed and compelled to beat their way to the conference or to travel on local expenses; hence, the inevitable reduction of size. Not only that but some regularly elected delegates, because of these economic reasons, had to be replaced by alternatives. In this respect a certain weakness became manifest by the absence of those experienced comrades who could otherwise have contributed much.

In spite of these handicaps, the second conference succeeded as expected in marking a new stage when compared to the first held a little better than two years ago. At the first conference the pivotal point became the one of elaboration of a platform based upon the general international views of the Left Opposition with an endeavor to apply it in the sense of building a functioning group in the United States and Canada. Compared to this, the second conference could record a developing degree of maturity. Several experiences were already, at hand not only of results of our propaganda activities but also of our becoming a factor of actual intervention in the Communist movement. Thus it had a firmer foundation to build upon and could further elaborate these views in conformity with the additional requirements of a situation of intensifying developments in the class struggle. Fully cognizant of this more advanced stage, the second conference adopted in full the views contained in the various theses presented by the National Committee, indorsed its stewardship during the past period and decided to continue the leadership with an addition of two members to the National Committee. Thus the committee is now constituted with the following membership: Martin Abern, James P. Cannon, Vincent Dunne, Albert Glotzer, Hugo Oehler, Max Shachtman, Carl Skoglund, Maurice Spector and Arne Swabeck.

It cannot be denied that since the first conference, that is, during the early period following it, a certain organizational slump set in, which naturally also had its political repercussions. The center became greatly weakened, the necessary means for carrying on the work were seriously curtailed and naturally the obstacles in the way contained elements of friction. One of the blows was expressed in the inability to continue the weekly publication of the Militant which had begun in November 1929, about one year after the first expulsions of Left Oppositionists. Yet the great vitality of the organization, the power of the Left Opposition platform made it possible to weather this period with only minor disorganization in a few branches. So much so that capitulations or actual loss of membership during these trying difficulties were exceedingly rare within our ranks.

This experience the conference faced squarely, analysed its reasons and became so much more convinced of our great vitality and powerful political position, by the splendid upward curve which could be recorded following immediately upon the slump. The branches of Boston, Philadelphia and St. Louis, which had witnessed particular difficulties, were re-established. New members were gained everywhere and to a yet greater degree, new contacts of sympathetic elements within and around the party. We rapidly increased our literature supply by printing new pamphlets and books by comrade Trotsky and extended its distribution. The Program of Expansion became a means of setting definite political objects for the material support given by all our contributors. Thus we organized the Pioneers Publishers, opening up new avenues for propaganda activities. We re-established the Mlitant as a weekly, strengthened the staff and made a small beginning toward field organizing work. Progress in rapid strides had political manifestations in important issues of the class struggle, to such an extent that the intervention could be felt, both by growing sympathy as well as by its pressure upon policies of the party bureaucrats, but also in the fact that the American League began to become more of an active participant in the international Left Opposition movement. The second conference could, of course, only accept this as a small beginning, but nevertheless a beginning in the right direction.

The Political Report

While it may be difficult to determine which item on the conference agenda, or which report made, called forth the greatest attention or more thorough discussion by the delegates, it stands to reason that in the discussion on the general political thesis most of the vital issues were concentrated. It was also in this document that a certain tactical departure from past position was presented in regards to our views toward the labor party question. Comrade Shachtman delivered the report for the National Committee and most every delegate made valuable contributions. All were unanimous in indorsing the general line represented by the thesis with possibly one exception, which advanced a view that the present crisis marked the beginning of the definite downward curve for United States capitalism, whether or not it could emerge from it at the cost of other imperialist powers and of its own working class. Then also, on the very vital question of our position as a faction of the Communist movement, discussion centered around a specific interpretation of what this implies. However, there was unanimous agreement that our platform is correct, i.e., that our orientation is directly upon the Communist movement, of which the Comintern, and in the United States, the official party is the center, as the only historically progressive force, to which our appeal, despite the blunders and mistakes of its bureaucratic leadership, is addressed for the purpose of re-establishing its Marxian foundation. But to make this effective the delegates again reaffirmed the necessity of organizing the Communists inside and outside the Communist Party of the United States on the platform of the Left Opposition.

As already mentioned, the second conference made a tactical departure from the views presented in our platform, adopted in 1929, in regards to the labor party question. While we then still carried remnants of officially adopted party views we considered it feasible under certain conditions for Communists to raise the slogan of organization of a labor party. In this respect, our thesis presented a change away from such views and found unanimous indorsement from the delegates, not, however, overlooking the fact that should a labor party come into existence upon a working class and trade union basis it would become necessary for us to consider our relation as Communists towards it, depending upon the general conditions existing.

The trade union discussion, report of which was made for the National Committee by comrade Swabeck, was the second point on the agenda but with no less attention. It is particularly in this field that we have witnessed the sharpest clashes of policy with the Stalinist party apparatus and naturally more so with the Right wing views of the Lovestone group. That is because the issues present themselves here in the most concrete form, already in the initial stage of each specific struggle. We have had the very recent experiences of the strikes in the mine field and in Paterson. We have had the general experience of the T.U.U.L. unions under control of the party bureaucrats as well as the emergence of other new unions under leadership of social reformists. All this rich material at hand in the view of the delegates had served to vindicate more decisively the views and the platform of the Left Opposition and complete unanimity prevailed in indorsing the National Committee thesis.

While space makes it necessary to treat the other reports more briefly, they received fully as much attention and created just as live and fundamental a discussion as the other reports mentioned. The next in order was the report on the international situation and the development and growth of the Left Opposition within the various countries. While it contained many important lessons of the birth pangs of a movement— expressed in this case particularly in groups and elements professing adherence at first to the Russian Left Opposition and later to the International Secretariat but without accepting its views thus having made several operations and splits necessary—all in all the main lesson accepted by the delegates became the one of striving much more seriously and consciously for a real international orientation. That is to function more actively and more directly as a part of the international movement and participate in all of its problems and achievements. As to the latter the conference could take joy in the great progress, to mention only two instances, the rapid growth organizationally and in revolutionary influence of our Left Opposition in Spain and the unification of four distinct Left Opposition groups in China into one organization.

A small token of this spirit the conference expressed in its cable greetings to the new weekly Left Opposition paper in Spain the El Soviet and to comrade Trotsky. Similarly it also expressed its feeling of solidarity with the thousands of Bolshevik-Leninist prisoners now in the Stalin prison camps in Siberia.

On the Soviet Union

In discussing the report on the situation within the Soviet Union the conference was fortunate in having the draft thesis presented by comrade Trotsky. It met with unanimous approval. The youth question received more serious attention than at our first conference. This is natural as we have since that time gained quite a good number of young members. A couple of valuable amendments were made to the youth thesis before its final acceptance and prospects are very good that the youth committee to be selected by our National Committee will find a splendid field for its work. We would be remiss if we failed to mention that several amendments and proposals were on hand from the branches pertaining to the various issues and problems before the conference. But since all were in conformity with the general views presented in the various documents and reports, only altering formulations or adding minor points, it became quite easy to select only those which could really mean an improvement. In the organization report, the second conference received a graphic picture of the developments which had taken place and had proposals presented for means of further strengthening in an organizational sense. A further elaborated constitution presented also served that purpose. The discussion in particular centered around concrete experiences in the tasks of building a Communist organization supplemented by experiences on a local scale as told by the delegates. Its general tenor became the one of deeper penetration into the party, every member active in the existing party auxiliaries and mass organizations, more definite expression of the requirements for membership in the League, definite requirements for entering into its leading bodies, etc. In sum and substance, it can be said that with the acceptance of the report and the proposals made by the National Committee one more important forward step will be recorded. One step toward more clearly defining our purposes, our duties and obligations and to prepare for a more solidly knit body of revolutionists conscious of their tasks and able to carry them out.

The pitiful attempt made by Weisbord to represent himself and his few supporters as a group adhering to the International Left Opposition, and his proposal to send representatives to our conference to discuss what he considered as following from his pretended adherence, namely to "unite" the alleged "two" groups, met with a very stern rebuke from the conference. The resolution adopted unanimously upon this question is printed elsewhere in this issue, suffice only to say that the conference had no time for this imposter pretending to adhere to our movement while at the same time using every opportunity to show that he has nothing in common with our views. Yet the conference did decide to call upon those who may follow Weisbord, those who really have sincere intentions of supporting the Left Opposition to do so by joining our League.

Having settled in a thorough and exhaustive manner all of the main issues presented by the National Committee reports the conference found itself compelled to deal very briefly with other problems arising. For example the Negro question and what is at present its main immediate aspect viz. the correctness of the slogan of “Right of Self-determination" as well as all the implications which would necessarily flow from such a slogan. While a general consensus of opinion exists within our ranks of deep scepticism in regards to the correctness of this slogan the conference accepted the National Committee on this question. It decided to instruct the National Committee to create a commission which is to make an exhaustive study of this problem in such a way that when a policy is finally arrived at it can be fully motivated and definitely based on Marxian conclusions. Similarly in regards to the specific issues and tasks of the present acute unemployment situation the conference decided to instruct the National Committee to finally elaborate the draft resolution presented.

It can truthfully be said that the first manifestation of the second conference actually marking a real forward step were apparent in the splendid banquet arranged by the New York branch in honor of the conference on Saturday, Sept. 26. A total of 150 plates were set and every place filled with comrades who came to give their enthusiastic indorsement. At several instances the hall virtually rocked with the applause given to the remarks of the speakers when picturing the advance of the Left Opposition and forecasting the future prospects and tasks. Beyond the fondest expectations, and in spite of existing unemployment and economic difficulties, that sentiment was translated into action in a collection of $207.13 for the future work of the League. Two comrades representing the militant miners of Pennsylvania and Ohio appeared to make an appeal for their follow workers. They were invited to sit at the banquet and a collection was taken up on their behalf amounting to $24.85, the contributions being started off with a donation from the National Committee.

Such examples are a telling answer to the Stalinist bureaucrats who have been exuberant in their predictions of collapse to the Left Opposition. But with each such prediction we have appeared stronger. We are stronger in numbers and stronger in influence with constantly growing sympathetic contacts. We have succeeded at this conference in preparing to meet our organizational requirements. All proposals were worked out on the basis of the experiences accumulated. We have made provisions for a stronger and more definitely defined constitution, a beginning toward a functioning staff, more effective use of propaganda and educational material, organizational tours, utilization of voluntary organizers, recruiting of new members, etc. We have made provisions for much more effective utilization of the many young members who have joined our ranks. A shortcoming of the past, but with prospects of really taking up youth work in the future as it should be taken up.

Conference Achievements

While these may be considered small achievements let us point to the yet more important facts as emerging from the second conference.

  1. Our experiences during the longer existence and difficult struggle of the International Left Opposition, the facts of which were assembled and analysed collectively at this conference, has confirmed in all of its major aspects the correctness of our position.
  2. Our strength is reinforced in a developing maturity toward a Marxian evaluation of political and economic processes as well as of the needs and tasks of the revolutionary movement.
  3. We are establishing ourselves more firmly and more clearly as a faction of the Communist movement orienting ourselves mainly upon this movement for an uncompromising struggle to restore our party to again become the party of Lenin capable of fulfilling its great historical mission.
  4. We are increasingly strengthening ourselves for more active and more direct intervention in the class struggle as a force presenting and fighting for our definite views of strategy and policy to be pursued, be it in the trade union field or elsewhere, be it in regards to a correct conception and practice of the working class united front or other major issues.
  5. Our decisions at the second conference, despite any differences of opinion and freely expressed, were arrived at unanimously on all major questions of policy. This itself gives the nearest possible guarantee which can be given for a collectively functioning leadership.
  6. We have succeeded in marking one further step toward a broader and more precise understanding and practise of internationalism in a revolutionary sense. The inevitable conclusion flowing from this must be our more active collaboration in the solution of problems of the International Left Opposition movement.

With this we feel certain that we can confidently face the future which belongs to the developing world proletarian revolution.

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