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Arne Swabeck

A Review of the Recent National Tour

The Sweep of the Economic Crisis;
Its Effects on the Revolutionary Movement

(January 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 4 (Whole No. 100), 23 January 1932, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A tour of the country today reveals particularly the stark picture of the realities of unemployment. Cities like Chicago and St. Louis, one can say, are taking on a desolate appearance. The Illinois government itself admits 1,049,000 unemployed in the state, or 15½ per cent of the total population. Yet everywhere the signs of a live virile unemployment movement of a mass character are quite absent, although a number of councils have been organized in the various cities. Throughout the official party there is an immense turnover of membership. As many as join the party ranks, pressed by the realities of the crisis, leave it again in just as large numbers. As a matter of fact most of the new recruits leave its ranks after a very brief sojourn. Upon the party this turnover is making its indelible imprint.

In the Left Opposition branches this is not the case. We are gaining new members slowly, the new recruits remain in our ranks, but our members are still small. What then becomes of these many “visitors” to the party ranks? Most of them take leave again because of being repelled by the existing bureaucracy or specifically by its blundering mistakes. Some of them learn a valuable lesson in the process and come toward the Left Opposition. A few become so disgusted that they are browbeaten back into their former apathy, but most of them unquestionably remain within the movement, sympathetic to Communism. In this sense the movement as a whole has certainly experienced growth. But within the party itself the ideologically low level is particularly apparent. The political life within the units is reaching zero.

In the Illinois mine fields this condition is reflected as well as is also the fact of the party’s failure to employ the united front policy. Compelled by the power of job control concentrated in the hands of the union officials, and by the agreement reached between the John L. Lewis and John H. Walker cliques, the Illinois miners are again all back in the U.M.W. Now they may expect a wage cut, at the expiration of their agreement in April. But testifying to the opportunities which have been available is the fact that in several local sections progressive elements still have considerable influence. The National Miners’ Union is non-existent in that field. Its attitude of boycotting the rebel movements and its failure to meet them on a united front basis brought this result.

Meetings in the Mine Field

Naturally we presented this criticism at our meeting in Staunton, Ill. Present were the party organizer in the mine fields with some of the party members. In the discussion they had very little to say about this question, the organizer had something else in mind. He asked the direct question: “Do you support the hunger march to Washington?” The answer was in the affirmative. He then, after first voicing his agreement with our general analysis of the capitalist crisis, attempted to prove that our position was the opposite. In support of this contention, he quoted the following from our open letter to the party on the unemployment question: “It is false to center the unemployment program, and the activities and demonstrations, around the deceptive opportunist petition campaign to Congress ...” For us it became quite easy to verify, not only that this was still as correct as when written, but also that the hunger marchers themselves declared that, they did not come to congress to present petitions but to make definite demands. The audience present voiced no doubt of our further statement, that the workers will obtain only what they are ready to fight for.

St. Louis Crowd Responsive

The city of St. Louis has very little of a revolutionary movement or of Communist activities. Naturally our Left Opposition branch there is small. Still, a splendid meeting gathered for our meeting. In fact, we were greeted by the hearty applause of a typical American audience composed of workers who evidently had so far had very little contact with the Communist movement but nevertheless had received one object lesson from the capitalist crisis. A couple of Stalin supporters took exception to our views, but it came in the form of merely repeating old slanders of Trotsky always having been a menshevik. Unfortunately for the objectors, a person who evidently had strayed in by accident very fervently took up the cudgels for the capitalist system which was under indictment of the whole audience. And despite our efforts to make the distinction clear, it quite naturally turned its scorn almost equally against all three objectors in common.

The Tour Further West

In Kansas City we met a different kind of opposition. The party functionaries spared no efforts to keep the workers away from our meeting. Members from the unemployed councils were warned to stay away. Those who had distributed our leaflets were labeled “dangerous to the working class”. But there was no evidence that the workers took that very seriously and those party members who came to our meeting greeting the first remarks with a snicker, soon became attentive and listened very carefully.

In both of these cities there are good opportunities for the movement in general and for the Left Opposition. Our units, however, are as yet weak numerically, a condition which we must, of course, endeavor to overcome. In this respect comrade Clarke, who went to Kansas City to stay for a period, is doing good pioneer work. Our St. Louis branch is taking up much more effective work. Perhaps there could be no better tribute to this fact than the panicky fear with which the party bureaucrats have gone about destroying the Mooney united front movement which was beginning to develop in Southern Illinois particularly through the assistance of our St. Louis branch.

Minneapolis Movement Growing

In this respect we have had similar experiences in Minneapolis. There, our members have for years been deeply rooted in the labor movement and established real prestige for themselves among progressive and Left wing workers. Naturally our members would be of serious account in a Mooney movement actually organized on a united front basis. Because of this, the petty party bureaucrats worked overtime maneuvering to keep our branch representation out. By a little trick it was accomplished at the first conference, but with the result that all representation, outside of the party and its auxiliaries, dropped near the vanishing point. This, however, can soon be remedied and the Mooney movement rebuilt.

Our Minneapolis branch had not less than four public meetings arranged for the tour with a banquet thrown in for good measure. But it occurred just during the period of the Christmas holidays which to an extent accounted for the fact that these meetings were not as large as they should have been when organized by a live and strong branch. Nevertheless the elements mostly attracted were those with a militant record in the local labor movement. Because of that, the discussions following each lecture became very thorough and fruitful.

A portion of the Minneapolis stay became devoted to the problems of our branch and its function. It has succeeded in adding quite substantially to its ranks. Its activities are generally organized in a thorough manner, particularly centering in the trade union field. Just now it is renewing its efforts to put more active life into the local railroad council to organize a fight against the pending wage cuts.

Excellent Meeting in Chicago

The Chicago Left Opposition branch made one important step forward in acquiring permanent headquarters. It has become a place full of life, meetings and study classes take place regularly and generally speaking, quite successfully. For our tour, one public meeting was held at the headquarters and one in the down town section. The latter proved highly successful. It attracted a good-sized audience and brought out so many questions which in sum and substance amounted to almost a full review of the Left Opposition platform.

This branch has some recent gains to its credit, particularly among young workers. Those comrades who a short time ago were expelled from the Y.C.L. because of their fight against the system of bureaucracy have continued their logical development and adhered to the Left Opposition platform. They are now active members of the Chicago branch, comrade Satir is already busily engaged teaching other young workers. While there have been periods of a certain let down in active work carried on by this branch in the past, its future prospects of steady growth are already quite well assured.

Winding Up in the East

In the Eastern section, we held public meetings in Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Youngstown. In the latter city we will hence forth have a functioning branch. It begins its activity with small numbers, but that is no deterrent; it has been the history of our whole movement including those branches which are today very lively. In Cleveland we have also taken steps toward the formation of a branch. When we reach the point of recording the gain of a few young recruits in that city, a live existence will be assured.

The efforts made by the little party bureaucrats in Pittsburgh, to break up our meeting and by similar individuals in Youngstown to create friction, our readers already know, came to naught in a rather inglorious fashion. In all of the meetings there was a good sprinkling of party members present, at several instances asking questions and participating in the discussion. Throughout the tour good collections were made to aid us in further activities. As one example in this respect, we might mention that from seven comrades alone, in Boston a total contribution of $50.00 was made.

All in all the tour brought splendid results. First, in again bringing forward in public meetings the Left Opposition views of problems of the class struggle. Secondly, in strengthening our branches everywhere and lastly, but perhaps foremost, in knitting our organization as a whole more closely together.

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