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The Party and the May Day Demonstration

(May 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 20 (Whole No. 116), 14 May 1932, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The May Day demonstrations organized by the Communist Party this year, when taken throughout the country as a whole, were bigger and more impressive than any before in its history. Even when we discount any wildly exaggerated figures of numbers participating and accept a realistic estimate of, for example, about 40,000 in the New York march, 20,000 in Chicago and 8,000 in Minneapolis, it affords a good cross section of the splendid working class response. First of all, this, of course, bears testimony to the effects of the yet deepening crisis moving the American workers toward the Left. But it is also worth noting that, while the Socialist Party this year ventured into street demonstrations of a sort in several cities, it attracted only much smaller numbers. In this comparison we exclude Milwaukee, where the Socialist Party is in control of the city administration.

We have, therefore, in politically backward America a growing response to Communism, a distinct growth of Communist influence. That is clearly expressed in the May Day demonstrations. Also we have an ever more distinct expression of the fact that the new forces set into motion gravitate toward the official Communist Party That is in the nature of things and holds bright prospects for the party's future. But it should be a telling answer to those disappointed "revolutionists" who persist in looking for revolutionary awakening separate and apart from the party. They will themselves only remain hopelessly outside of the movement.

In practically all of the major cities the party further affirmed the right of the working class to demonstrate for its demands on the International Labor Holiday. In this sense the demonstrations were militant turnouts. And we can say this, even when discounting the disgraceful scene of attacks upon Left Oppositionists in Minneapolis. But yet, compared to these turnouts, the party weaknesses as an actively moving force in the class struggle are all too apparent. Such a comparison reveals an enormous gap which must be closed.

Experience from Recent Struggles

The gap is revealed most glaringly in the fields where the party leads actual struggles. We are not speaking in this instance of the question of militancy displayed in such struggles—though that is important in itself and cannot be disputed—but we are speaking here purely in the sense of how does the party lead and what support has accrued to its leadership. We will mention only some of the outstanding examples. There is first of all, the Pennsylvania and Ohio miners strike of last year. A splendid struggle with excellent militancy displayed. Yet it did not result in a strengthening of the miners positions, organizationally or otherwise. It failed entirely to unite the Left wing and progressive forces in the mine fields. Today there is very little of the National Miners union organized in these districts. We experienced the Paterson and Lawrence textile workers strikes. The party, through the T.U.U.L. union had the leadership of a section of the workers in both places. Yet it conducted a strike policy which resulted in a comparative strengthening of the A.F. of L. forces and a weakening of the Left wing. Practically the same situation has resulted from the recent strike of the New York needle trades workers. To this should be added the fact that the struggle for the unemployed, despite the very large demonstrations at the beginning of the crisis today, has narrowed down to a movement almost exclusively of the conscious vanguard alone.

What is the Policy Pursued?

How can such a contradiction be possible? We witness a splendid response to the May Day demonstrations organized by the party while in actual struggles it fails to really win the working class confidence and loses ground. The reason for this must be sought essentially in the policies and methods the party leadership pursues. It is not to be sought merely in the question of insufficient party contacts in the factories, nor in the smaller items which are being brought out in so-called self-criticism. Voluminous theses and resolutions have been written on these questions without, however, striking at the essential issue. With a correct policy and a correct orientation these difficulties—although they are considerable—could nevertheless easily be overcome. What is involved is essentially the failure of an orientation which will unite the workers in struggle.

The important question confronting the Communist Party today is particularly the one of a correct united front policy. We have no intention at all to propose that a united front policy is a universal solution for all times and under all conditions. On the contrary we think that the method pursued in the May Day demonstrations of a purely formal united front appearance does not at all serve the purpose. May Day demonstrations have become a revolutionary tradition and should be so maintained. It would be far more correct for the party to conduct these demonstrations in its own name, also in the formal sense, and call upon the working class to give its support on that basis. For the participation in the coming elections this is more so the case. The party has the duty of presenting a Communist program and entering Communist candidates and appeal for the working class support to Communism. To assume a formal guise of a united front election activity is merely to confuse the essential issues and does not help in the least.

The matter of actual struggles for the elementary needs of the workers is, however, an entirely different affair. And that holds true under politically advanced conditions as well. In Germany today, the threatening danger of Fascism demands imperatively the working class united front. In the United States today the conditions of the working class struggle demands it just as imperatively.

This has been amply demonstrated in the very strikes mentioned above. The building of a serious Unemployed Movement s quite inconceivable without an approach to the existing workers organizations for united pressure to obtain the demands which in reality involves the employed and unemployed alike. A serous movement for the liberation of Tom Mooney, the Scottsboro boys and all class war prisoners requires this tactic. And above all, the defense of the American working class in the present reactionary onslaughts upon their elementary rights and conditions demand a definite change toward employing the united front tactic.

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