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Arne Swabeck

A Criticism of the Draft Program
of the American Workers Party

(June 1934)

From The Militant, Vol. VII No. 23, 9 June 1934, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In the May Day issue of Labor Action we are informed by comrade Sidney Hook that: “One of the most significant features of the Draft Program of the A.W.P. is that it breaks with the fetishism of terms in the revolutionary tradition.” We take this to mean, that new terms are being used for certain ideas already accepted as correct. And since it is a program that is under discussion the question of whether these correct ideas are actually maintained becomes the essential one.

In his answer to this question comrade Hook says: “For the first time in the history of the American revolutionary parties an attempt has been made to present in intelligible fashion the essential meaning content of such terms as ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, ‘Soviets’, etc.” Further, on in the same article we are admonished that it is, “high time to abandon the linguistic fixations which obstruct clear thinking.”

After that follows the explanation of the term used in the A.W.P. program in presenting what it assumes to be the meaning and the content of the dictatorship of the proletariat. And here we arrive at the crux of the problem. What is presented as a break with the fetishism of terms is a substitution which changes, or certainly at least, completely obscures the correct idea. Instead of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a characterization of the workers’ state during the period of transition from capitalism to communism the term “workers’ democracy” is used.

It is this substitution that comrade Hook defends in his article entitled Marxism and Democracy in which he uses a Marxian terminology but distorts the essential “meaning-content” of Marxism.

In its defense comrade Hook says: “Today for historical reasons it is necessary to stress more than ever before the facts that the workers’ state is a workers’ democracy.” And further on he adds: “The workers’ democracy must be counterposed to the capitalist dictatorship in its representative liberal form as well as its fascist form.” Of course, under a fascist regime and against fascism, democratic demands and demands for workers democracy assume unusual importance. But that is primarily in the sense of agitation and tactical approach to the masses. That, on the other hand, the dictatorship of the proletariat as a transition period signifies a broader democracy than hitherto known is absolutely correct. It signifies a workers’ democracy in contradistinction to bourgeois democracy. This is an essential part of that form of state.

“But that alone does not characterize the content of the workers’ state. It is only one of its aspects. The workers’ state, to maintain itself in power, must suppress the exploiters who held power before and take away their private property in the means of production as well as eliminate them from the government. It represents a new class rule which makes workers’ democracy possible. It is because of these facts that in describing our conception of the workers’ state we use the term “the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

Is it not correct to say that the spirit of Marx’s teachings consist of the doctrine of the dictatorship of the proletariat? It is also assumed that the A.W.P. aims to become a Marxian party. But how does it come, that it is precisely on this vital point that its presentation in “intelligible fashion” so closely approximates Norman Thomas when he argued against the left wing in the Socialist Party. He put it this way: “Even in a transitional period the ideal to hold up and to work for is workers’ democracy rather than a dictatorship of the proletariat, which means the dictatorship of one party.”

The comrades of the A.W.P. want to distinguish themselves from the social-reformists and from their conceptions. Comrade Hook will argue that this conception has nothing in common with what he meant. He has also told us before what he thinks Marx meant. He is well acquainted with Marx although his view is are very far from being Marxist views. Comrade Hook and the other A.W.P. comrades will point to the section in their draft program which says: “The revolutionary government must be prepared to meet the violence of the overthrown but still dangerous capitalist dictatorship. Against the forces of reaction, seeking to recall the old order, the workers must light with every weapon to establish their own democracy. Against capitalist legality ... must be set revolutionary legality ...”, etc. And how is this to be achieved? According to the Draft Program of the A.W.P. “a time will come when the major sections of the population will support the principles of a workers’ democracy. As a measure of defense against the suicidal course of capitalist dictatorship, the workers will take power.”

This sounds simple enough. But what is lacking here in strategy flows from the conception the authors have of the workers’ state. However, the question of strategy we leave aside, for the moment. What is said here about the workers’ state, we grant, reads better than comrade Hook’s interpretation; nevertheless its shortcomings are demonstrated more clearly by these interpretations. It is just such interpretations and such ambiguities which make possible for those in the A.W.P., who say openly that they are opposed to all dictatorships, to stand with those who claim to be revolutionists on the same program. Thus what is presented as abandoning “linguistic fixations which obstruct clear thinking” is in reality a lack of clear thinking, or to be more precise – a lack of revolutionary thinking. The intention of the authors may have been the best but “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

In the program of the revolutionary party ideas and terms must be defined with absolute exactness. We would say that this must particularly apply today to the question of the proletarian dictatorship; and there are good reasons for that. A look at the world movement will convince us that this has become the burning issue with socialist workers adopting a leftward course. On the question of the proletarian dictatorship, they begin to express their break with the whole concept and heritage of social reformism. In all of the recent European experiences this is one of the issues which stand outthe most clearly. The leftward moving socialist workers begin to give an evaluation of the proletarian dictatorship and counterpose it in name and essence to the social reformist concept of defense of bourgeois democracy which helped to strangle the proletarian revolution. They witnessed the perfidious part played by social reformism in these European events and they also notice the Stalinist bureaucratic apparatus measures which distort the character of the workers’ state. In view of this, a party proclaiming itself to be revolutionary, can least of all permit the real meaning of the proletarian dictatorship to become obscured.

Marxism constitutes a generalisation of all working-class experience. This means that for Marxists it is necessary to absorb every new experience gained. If we fall to learn from the most recent ones, from those most fresh in our mind, we shall not be able to learn at all. The A.W.P. cannot proceed as if there were no such experience before it appeared on the scene. Most certainly it cannot assume to be a revolutionary party when proceeding in that way.

Comrade Hook says that the great mass of American workers are non-political and that they must therefore be shown the true democracy – workers’ democracy – against the false democracy under capitalism. That is well and good insofar as agitation amongst the masses is concerned. In that it is necessary to adapt one’s methods to requirements of existing conditions. But the revolutionary program is an entirely different matter. It is the guide to action and its primary purpose is therefore the education of the party itself. Accepting comrade Hook’s interpretations, the shortcomings in the A.W.P. Draft Program become really a matter of adaptation not in methods and approach but adaptation of position. It becomes an adaptation of the program to the prejudices of the backward workers. The result will ie neither a revolutionary program nor a revolutionary party. It will repel the advanced workers, and fail to educate the backward workers for they can be educated only through the advanced workers, through the revolutionary section.

The most important historical instrument in the epoch of wars and revolutions is the party of the proletariat. But it can attain its objective only on the basis of its own clarity of principle.

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