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The “Socialists” and Their Line of Action

(May 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. 5 No. 22 (Whole No. 118), 28 May 1932, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Within its shell of moribund reformist ideology considerable divergences have been for some time developing in the Socialist party. At its just concluded convention these difference, came to stand out quite clearly. It was not a matter of revolutionary views struggling against reformist encumbrances. No, if it had been, their proponents would be obliged to find new fields of expression in some form of common action with the Communist movement, not within the polluted waters of the Socialist party. Yet these divergences reflect the pressure of a working class moving toward the Left.

Essentially the differences were expressed in the groupings which have quite clearly crystallized. There are, on the one hand, the “militants” who appear to have hopes that the S.P. can be made to play a progressive role as a social democratic party. They speak of achieving a “social and economic system for the benefit of the workers”, which would justifiably put down counter-revolution within a Socialist state through the use of violence, but strictly dissociated from class rule through the Proletarian Dictatorship. Hillquit characterized them as young, sincere and impatient – that is sincere to Hillquit’s “ideals” – people who will soon settle down to more “sane” views. That, evidently, is not far from the truth. Secondly there is the group of futile petty bourgeois liberals whose outstanding representative is Norman Thomas. It sees ever greater opportunities for its particular brand of “salvation” and conceives of the S.P. as a good instrument to further petty bourgeois liberation on a grand scale expecting it to be reinforced by the workers. Thirdly there are the so-called practical socialists, whom Hillquit also quite truthfully characterized as to their “noble” goal of building new sewers. Lastly, there is the old guard led by Hillquit and O’Neal. This is the most conscious group with a consistent program, deeply saturated with hostility to revolution. A group which cleverly manipulates reformist demands, clothed, when necessary, in Marxian phraseology, but as treacherously reactionary as its European brethren and as conscious in preparing the social reformist instrument to serve capitalism. With its deep seated hostility to the proletarian revolution it can pursue no other course. This group prevailed at the convention.

The S.P. claims a gain in membership of 8,000 in four years to a total of 25,000. In that is reflected in a sense the fact that some sections of the workers have taken the step away from the traditional bourgeois parties to social democracy. It shows also that what is at the basis of such growth reflects a pressure from which even the S.P. is not immune. This found its expression in the two extreme wings. In the “militants” striving for a new, a better reformist dressing for a decrepit body – all in an unblushing alliance with the petty bourgeois liberalism of Thomas and the “practical” new sewer socialists. Next it found its expression in the old guard sitting tighter on the lid but manipulating a few extra safety valves of concessions in phraseology. But above all, a large share of this growth must be laid at the doors of the Centrist zigzag blunder policy of the official Communist party leadership and its failure to give proper direction to workers moving away from bourgeois ideology and allegiance.

The adopted S.P. declaration of principles, for example, again contains lip service to a recognition of the class struggle. It declares: “Freedom, equality and plenty for the workers can therefore be obtained only by socializing the ownership and control of the productive wealth which is now held as capital.”

What is meant by such a declaration became clear when a credulous California delegate, who took it at face value, moved that the S.P. declares for confiscation of property. His proposal went down to defeat under the combined thunderclap of horror stricken “respectability” and the weight of the reactionary bureaucracy.

A survey of the S.P. convention, however, cannot leave out of account the new use to which the old guard of Hillquit and O’Neal put their ability of crafty maneuvering. Their new plan of organization contains two “united front” proposals. There is one for international “unity” professing to attempt to “bring together the Socialist and Communist Internationals (1) on the basis of democracy and civil liberties in Russia (?!); (2) In Fascist countries, a union of both parties to overthrow Fascism by any means possible; (3) in countries where there still is democracy (sic!), a union of both parties in an attempt to change the present system by peaceful means and by other means, if necessary.” The “unity” proposals for the home sector reads: “In cities where Socialists, Communists, the L.I.D., the Friends of the Soviets, the Civil Liberties Union and other similar organizations exist, a permanent committee be organized to bring them together in informal conferences to consider practical steps to be taken on matters of concern to all.”

The recent years of experience have amply proved that the social reformists, now a distinct anti-revolutionary force, do not at all intend to unite the working class, not even for reformist objectives. But pursuing their cunning design they do intend to utilize the popular unity slogan to deceive the workers into support of their instrument deliberately destined to serve and preserve capitalism. This cannot be defeated by mere denunciation. It must be exposed in the open. This can be done effectively only by counterpoising the policy of a genuine united front to attain the immediate working class aims as steps to the necessarily revolutionary objective. This is one of the particular tasks of the Communist party.

The future working class perspectives demand imperatively that the Communist party take up this task in earnest. The revolutionary objectives first of all demand that social reformist ideology be defeated.

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