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Arne Swabeck

Organizing the Jobless

The Need for Change of Course in the Official Party Policy

(July 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 31 (Whole No. 127), 30 July 1932, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Workers who have serious concern for the interests of their class cannot avoid posing the timely question of what is to become of the unemployment movement. With our advance toward the fourth crisis winter it naturally enters with so much more persistency, pressing for a solution. No actual relief measures have as yet been obtained. The numbers of the unemployed army are mounting higher but the emergence of a serious movement is still lagging.

Will anybody question the fact that such a movement, to have real meaning, should bring into its sphere of activity the trade unions, the various existing unemployment organisations and the working class political parties. Or, to put it more bluntly, the problem is to secure the necessary unity of action of all of these working class sections to tight for actual relief measures and to advance the movement to a higher plane. This does not at all leave out of account the sharp differences of aims and objectives. Of course, these fundamentally opposing differences remain. There can be no common ground between the aims and objectives of revolution and those of reform. Nor can there be any community of interests whatever between the revolutionary party and the reactionary capitalist lieutenants now in control of the trade union official positions. Nevertheless the united action of the workers from all of these organizations remains the imperative need when obtaining unemployment relief is to be seriously contemplated.

The Various Relief Programs

In surveying these various organizations it is apparent that the pressure of working class need exerts itself everywhere. Hence there is a good deal of identity in the programs of immediate demands. While the objectives differ sharply the immediate needs stand out clearly. The various organizations demand immediate governmental relief. They demand unemployment insurance and the shorter workday. Reformists make these demands to obtain reforms within capitalism and to cater to the working class support, though when the support is obtained, they will without scruples betray their own reforms. The revolutionists advance the demands for the working class needs to obtain them and to advance the struggle toward its revolutionary conclusion.

Even the American Federation of Labor, under pressure of these needs, is now compelled to somewhat change its front. The Executive Council at its recent meeting, in the swell resort of Atlantic City, instructed the meek Baptist, Wm. Green, to draw up a program for unemployment insurance. This reinforces the foundation upon which the revolutionists must put these organizations, including their leaderships, to the actual test. It increases the opportunity for the revolutionary party to forge ahead, initiating a mass movement.

If the party fails to do this it will be on the penalty of the reformist forces assuming uncontested leadership of the unemployment movement which will then develop without it and in spite of it. It is therefore necessary that the party without delay change its course in this respect.

First of all, the party must give up the idea of a separate unemployment movement narrowed by artificial limitations which demand that the party leadership and control be accepted in advance.

Secondly, it should utilize its present position of leadership in the Unemployment Councils to build a much broader unemployment movement. It should officially and genuinely propose to the trade unions, to the workers’ unemployment organizations of the various groupings and to the Socialist party to join the united front for unemployment relief. It should particularly appeal to the workers of all these organizations that they put their leaders to the test by demanding that their organizations join the united front fighting for the needs of the unemployed.

Thirdly, the party must maintain its independent position, patiently explaining its objectives to the workers, making its tactics of the united front clear and constantly criticizing the reformist forces in the united front. The party has the duty of clarifying its revolutionary objectives by pushing the actual struggle for relief measures and demonstrating in practical experience that they can be only temporary measures, that the unemployment situation can find its final solution only through the proletarian revolution.

In the Leninist party these elementary requirements used to be accepted as the ABC of the movement. The fact that they have been forgotten, emasculated and pushed aside to give way to false policies makes necessary that they be re-stated again and again until accepted in practice. Mere lip service will not suffice, it is the actual practise which counts and it is the future life of the movement which is at stake.

We could well conceive of a structure for the movement in which the workers, employed and unemployed alike, are organized in the city block councils and centralized on a territorial or city wide basis into delegated bodies where the trade unions and other workers’ organisations will send their representatives.

On the Program of Demands

Naturally the program of immediate demands for a genuine united front movement will first of all reflect the pressing needs of the present situation. But it is of the utmost importance that it be so construed as to take into account the identity of interests of the working class as a whole and not only its separate sections. It must particularly harmonize the needs and the objects of both employed and unemployed workers and unite them into one common stream. Ir must recognize the international aspect of the unemployment problem in such a way that it will strengthen the international class solidarity and help to break down the artificially erected national barriers. It must give articulate expression to the community of interests of the workers of the Soviet Republic and of the capitalist countries. That is why the Left Opposition has long since advanced the slogan of long-term credits to the Soviet Union. This has been rejected by the Stalinist leadership. But the continued failure to adopt this timely and correct slogan may easily play into the hands of reformist demagogues who may grasp it as an opportunity purely and simply to extend the capitalist market and endeavor to take it out of the realms of a working class issue.

In all of this, it is necessary to emphasize again the importance of the demand for the Six Hour Workday Without Reduction of Pay. There could be no objections to its timeliness. Moreover, with the advance of the crisis and the permanency of unemployment, a serious movement for its attainment could above all draw into its orbit and unite in action the employed and the unemployed workers. This demand would become a potent weapon of the united front. It does not in the least, however, obviate nor conflict with the other demands. For example, unemployment Insurance still remains as necessary and as pressing as ever. And suffice to add only the fact of the growing misery and destitution bringing to the fore more sharply the need for immediate governmental relief.

The Party’s Duty Is Clear

Illusions held of help coming from other sources outside of what the movement itself, by its pressure, can obtain, should soon be completely dispelled. The force of necessity will more positively propel the American working class into motion. The logic of coming developments will emphasize its community of interests and give it expression in the unemployment movement. From this point of view the position of the party assumes ever more importance which its leadership must not dare to fritter away.

Its duty should be clear. It is from the elementary needs and objectives that it must take its starting point. The genuine united front offers such a real starting point. It is a necessary prerequisite for the working class today without which it cannot hope to unify its forces for the greater revolutionary tasks. It is a necessary prerequisite for putting the misleaders of labor to the test and of finally separating them from their control and influence over large sections of the working class. It is the starting point to prevent their designs of sell-out and betrayals and to advance the class struggle to a higher level. The Left Opposition will fight with the party for these objectives.

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