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Arne Swabeck

Proletarian Party Opposition

Some Fundamental Problems of Its Future Course Discussed

(February 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 9 (Whole No. 105), 27 February 1932, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The opposition Communists who were expelled from the Proletarian Party are now facing the important issue of the next step to be taken. This the group proposes to approach through a national conference preceded by a discussion. That method is, of course, quite as it should be. If, in addition, the group centers its discussion on the questions which for its particular position become the most essential, it should be able to further accelerate its development in a progressive direction.

So far this is already indicated in various views expressed by some of these comrades. There have, for example, been recorded views in favor of the organization of a new party. In our opinion, the building of a new party could not at all be considered a problem facing this group. Moreover, it would be entirely incorrect to set such an objective. For Communists, in respect to this question, the problem is not the building of a new party, but the one of building a single party which will embrace all Communists and which will be capable of taking up its serious tasks. A second question which already occupied a prominent position from the inception of this group was the one of its further attitude to the Proletarian Party. In this respect it is true the group has a certain duty to perform; primarily to win the rest of the membership for progressive development. As a third question arose the problem of approach to the working masses which are now manifesting signs of awakening because of the effects of the crisis. It assumed an added importance by virtue of the endeavors of this group to get away from the Proletarian Party sectarianism and its insistence upon a struggle for immediate demands.

For a Communist organization this is always a problem and particularly so today. It is to be taken for granted so to speak. On March 11, 1889, in the period of formation of the Second Inter national, Engels wrote in a letter to Sorge: “The workers will follow those that know what they want and how to get it”. That, of course, for a Communist group, presupposes first of all that it defines its principle position and strategical objectives. And so it becomes necessary to conclude that the main issue just now confronting the Proletarian Party Opposition is the one of defining its principle position, that is, its orientation toward the existing currents in the Communist movement. Some Serious Progress Already Made The emergence of the Proletarian Party Opposition we have already characterized as a genuinely progressive step. It arose out of a struggle against the sectarian sterility of the P.P. It demanded revolutionary activity first by insisting upon an attitude toward and a formulation of immediate demands. Concretely, in the unemployment situation, it proposed a struggle for measures of relief. It demanded a Left wing policy for trade union work not to exclude co-operation with the C.P. in certain practical tasks. Particularly in regard to the Communist International – and that is important – did this opposition group denote its progressive direction as distinct from the P.P. It recognized the necessity of functioning in revolutionary activities with the world Communist movement, simultaneously with criticism of and a fight against the opportunism of its leadership.

In this respect, the background and origin of this opposition group assumes considerable significance. The P.P., from which it came, proclaimed itself Communist. As such it should have recognized that there can be only one Communist party. It gave complete endorsement to the C.I. and found no fault with the Stalin leadership, but refused to give the slightest recognition to, or have anything but condemnation for the American section. Its endorsement of the C.I. policies and leadership should have made obligatory upon it to unite with the official C.P. on the conditions laid down by the C.I. But despite its endorsement, it remained a second party outside the Comintern. It sought to replace the official C.P. In reality this became the sharpest reflection of its sectarian sterility and its narrow nationalist position. The remnants of the Proletarian Party may still endeavor to seek comfort for this position in the national socialism of Stalin; in the theory of socialism in one country, but this, instead of helping in the least, merely emphasizes its contradiction.

Can this group of Communist opposition comrades now conceive of emulating the P.P., from which it broke away, by proposing to also become a second party – by building a new party? If so, it can only become doomed to the same contradictions it endeavored to extricate itself from. It can only remain sectarian, separated and isolated from the revolutionary working class section. Evidently some of the members of this group have hopes of making the Workers’ League, organized by them, a basis for a new party. But what is a pure and simple unemployment organization. Its proposed program envisages a struggle for unemployment relief to be secured exclusively by levy on capital and large incomes, with the elimination of the present charity character, administration of the funds to include representatives of the labor movement and co-operating in its attainment with working class organizations on the basis of the united front. This as a foundation or a part make-up for a new party could at best only become a reformist one, despite the fact that many good militants may be found within its ranks. The Workers’ League should be properly conceived as a part of a general united front unemployment movement and as a bridge to the masses.

Will This Group Continue In A Progressive Direction?

But let us again return to the vital issue of orientation. That there are three distinct currents within the Communist movement today these comrades know and acknowledge. The currents have their organized form in factions. Can their group remain ideologically independent or neutral of these currents and still remain Communist? Obviously this is quite impossible. For the Stalinists, the problem appears to be very simple – just denounce and calumniate the others without any argumentation or endeavor to prove one or the other wrong. But these comrades are not mere Stalin puppets. At least this is the very method to which they have taken exception. Hence, there can be only one conclusion. They must define their attitude. They must orientate toward one or the other current. Finally they must become organically a part of the current whose position they adopt.

Some of these comrades may want to follow the method of the little P.P. bureaucrats of merely brushing this issue aside, of not adopting any position, or of maintaining a double position, at any rate for the time being. We hear some of them say: These are international issues, or even: These are only Russian issues, we will come to them later, first we must build right here. But the all decisive question is – to build what?

If the issue of the currents in the Communist movement is only a Russian one of what enormous importance would it still be with the U.S.S.R. occupying the position of the only proletarian dictatorship? We grant it is essentially an international issue but as such it affects the very root and foundation of the movement no matter in which country the specific problems arise. It is fully and completely interwoven in every major question of principle, policy, strategical objective and tactic of the movement here. It becomes part of every revolutionary problem here. It determines the building of the revolutionary cadres.

There can be no doubt that the first and most essential question for the Proletarian Party Opposition to decide is the one of its orientation toward the existing currents within Communism. Ideologically the group is not so far a homogeneous one and could hardly be when we recall its compromised background. There is no advance guarantee that it can determine its orientation unitedly and without splitting into various tendencies. But it has a revolutionary duty to put this issue at the very top of its pre-conference discussion agenda.

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