From New International, Vol.4 No.1, January 1938, pp.4-6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
THE CONVENTION OF THE revolutionary militants expelled from the Socialist Party and those who are in solidarity with them, will take place in Chicago during the New Year week-end. It will mark an impressive milestone in the building of the revolutionary workers’ party of the United States. The event is of international importance, for in the strongest center of world imperialism the convention will establish the largest section of the Fourth International.
The expulsion of the left wing from the Socialist Party is a decisive culminating point in the development of both the former and the latter. Under the impact of the catastrophic defeats of the working class in Central Europe in 1933-1934 and of the terrific crisis of world capitalism, the then moribund Socialist Party of America acquired a new lease on life by the infiltration of several thousand young and militant left wing elements whom the bureaucratic adventurism of the Communist Party repelled. The pressure of these left wing forces was strong enough to produce a split in the Socialist Party as a result of which the incorrigible Old Guard separated itself from the organization. The right wing Bourbons, stubbornly repeating the stereotyped formulae of the bankrupt social-democracy and refusing to assimilate a single one of the obvious lessons of international events, retired to the comforts of a little Fabian society dedicated to maintaining a couple of municipal socialist election machines and to beseeching the labor bureaucracy to build them a labor party shelter.
With all their immaturity and confusion and despite their haphazard leadership, the left wing militants were seriously striving to build a revolutionary party based on Marxian principles and participating actively in the class struggle. It was quite clear that with the centrist leadership of these militants continuing at the head, the energies of the movement would be dissipated and the movement itself end up in a state of disintegration. The best elements among the militant left were therefore constantly at loggerheads with the New York centrist leaders who, from the days before the Detroit convention in 1934, operated on the theory that capitulation to such congenital right wingers as came from the Milwaukee sewer-socialism school – to say nothing of capitulation to Norman Thomas and his entourage of muddleheads, Fabians, pacifists, Industrial Democrats and other nice people – was always preferable to an honest fight for revolutionary principle.
Nevertheless, revolutionary ideas were making their way in the party and the desire to have them prevail was concretized in the growing demand that all revolutionists not members of the SP should be invited to join its ranks with full rights, obligations and privileges, including the right to defend their point of view. In order to break down any organizational barriers between the revolutionary workers inside the party and those outside of it, and to effect a fusion of the two, the Trotskyists, organized at that time in the Workers Party of the United States, decided more than a year and a half ago to join the Socialist Party.
The affiliation of the Workers Party members to the SP (and of the Fourth Internationalist Spartacus Youth League to the Young People’s Socialist League) coincided with the departure of the Waldman-Oneal-Lee-Forwards gang at the Cleveland party convention. Almost automatically, the split of the main bulk of the right wing, followed shortly thereafter by its Bridgeport and Reading contingents, caused a shift of position within the ranks of the party. A consistent left wing, standing on principled grounds and meaning business, was soon crystallized around the Socialist Appeal at its Chicago Institute in the Winter of 1936. It was achieved by a harmonious fusion of all the genuinely left wing elements – the former members of the Workers Party and those revolutionary socialists who had been carrying on a fight for left wing policies before the Workers Party was dissolved.
At the opposite pole of the party, the right wing forces effected a concentration of a loose but nonetheless effective kind, united on no clear-cut political program, but animated by a violent antagonism to the principles of revolutionary Marxism to which, like the Stalinists, they applied the general tag of “Trotskyism”. The concentration included both groups of Wisconsin reformists, the Porter-Berger Stalinist crew and the Hoan-Benson good government people; the pacifists, the Fabians of the League for Industrial Democracy and other good folk for whom the socialist movement begins and ends with Norman Thomas; liquidators of the Alfred Baker Lewis school who favor the dissolution of the party into an educational institute; the deadwood, the right wing remnants, young trade union officials on the make and assorted imponderabilia organized in New York under the leadership of an ambitious office-holder by the name of Altaian; and a frankly Stalinist group in Connecticut organized under the fitting, memory-stirring name of Committee of Correspondence.
Between these two currents stood the Hamlets of the Clarity group, organized as a separate entity following the split that occurred in the New York left wing group when the centrists – Zam, Tyler, Delson – found themselves in a minority. It set itself the not at all modest and not at all mean task of reconciling the irreconcilable, thus underwriting its own certain collapse.
The first blow dealt the left wing was delivered at the special convention in Chicago early this year, when a motion by Thomas was adopted prohibiting the publication of any separate group organs. The left wing being excluded from participation in the official party paper, which was the monopoly of the right wing and the centrists, the decision was tantamount to a gag, especially when the convention pledge to publish a generally accessible internal discussion paper was nonchalantly scrapped by the first meeting of the National Executive Committee following the convention.
The second blow at the left wing in particular, and at the leftward development of the party in general, was delivered at the Philadelphia meeting of the NEC which finally adopted a resolution on Spain. Although the convention had taken a position against People’s Frontism, the resolution on Spain was a political endorsement of the Caballero People’s Front and, worse than that, covered up the regime that massacred the revolutionary workers during Barcelona’s May Days. Noteworthy is not the fact that the right wingers throughout the party and on the NEC voted for this resolution, but that it was sponsored and carried by the Clarity group majority on the committee, which, then as now, made no modest claims to radicalism.
The reply of the rank and file of the party and the youth organization was a fear-inspiring reminder to the right wing and its centrist allies of the growth of the left wing movement. In one party and youth organization after another, the membership voted down the miserable resolution on Spain and called upon the NEC to discard it in favor of a revolutionary document. This evidence of left wing growth was answered by the Clarity-right wing combination with one of the most stupid decrees known in the radical movement. As one Clarity statesman said, martial law was established in the party. Others called it the gag-law. And so it was. It prohibited the membership from discussing party policies – nothing more. It forbade any attempt to call upon the NEC to initiate a new policy or alter an old one. It established an index prohibitorum for heretical literature – i.e., the literature of the left wing – which party institutions might sell only upon peril of excommunication and consignment to the fires of hell. The whole idea met with the approval of everybody but the membership, and it might still have worked if the NEC could have gotten enough cops to enforce it, or if it really had the power to issue letters of mark and reprisal. But the more desperate and arbitrary the prohibitory decisions of the NEC, the more clearly was its futility and impotence revealed.
The general rebellion of the membership against the infamous gag-law was only widened by the notorious Altman-Thomas-Laidler proposal to support the bourgeois blatherskite, LaGuardia, candidate of the Republican party for mayor of New York, to support him not only in contravention of solemnly adopted convention decisions, but by the peculiarly craven step of withdrawing the socialist candidate for LaGuardia’s benefit without giving him a “formal” endorsement. The right wing took the offensive on this proposal, and as was always the case when confronted by a serious offensive, the Clarity National Executive collapsed and endorsed the proposal by a majority vote.
Simultaneously, a fox-hunt was organized by the right wing against the left, which had roused the bulk of the active membership against the odious sell-out in New York, and therefore stood in the way of its execution. More than a hundred supporters of the left wing Appeal Association were brought up on charges by the Altman administration for the crime ... of belonging to the Appeal Association and owing fealty to an alien organization, namely, the Fourth International. In a word, the crimes charged were not acts of indiscipline, but the facts of association and belief, that is, a “conspiracy indictment”. Speaker of the Assembly Sweet who hailed the five socialist assemblymen before him in 1920 in order to deprive them of their seats, charged them with no greater crimes.
It is difficult to describe what followed in temperate language. What passed for a trial of the left wingers was at once ludicrous and obscene. The Altman group functioned imperturbably as plaintiff, prosecuting attorney, judge, jury, court of appeals and executioner, thus economizing time and energy. The no less austerely impartial National Executive Committee, after resolving to turn over the party to the People’s Front combination of Alfred Landon’s party + the Fusion party + the Progressive Party + the American Labor Party + the Communist Party + the Lovestone group, devoted itself for an hour to hearing the appeal of the left wing and then endorsed the expulsion, the Clarity group vying with all the other right wingers for the dubious honor of torpedoing the Socialist Party. To guarantee its sinking beyond the efforts of divers, a resolution was unanimously adopted calling upon all members to cease and desist from any continued support of the left wing or its organ on pain of immediate expulsion. Provision was made for the prompt lifting of the charters of all organizations which failed to execute the mass expulsion order.
The lamentable collapse of the Clarity diplomatists in face of the right wing offensive in New York and Wisconsin was matched only by their effrontery and virulence in proceeding to cut the party to pieces so as to dislodge the left wing. But that proved to be no simple matter. Despite all kinds of shady manipulations, rigging and dues-fixing, the left wing received an overwhelming majority of the votes for the Young People’s Socialist League convention, which adopted a left wing program, elected a revolutionary leadership, and endorsed the Fourth International. In New York, the majority of the active members stood firm with the left wing; likewise in Chicago; likewise in Ohio. In states like Minnesota, California and Indiana, the left wing was supported by anywhere from 75 to 95 percent of the membership. In reply to the LaGuardia party wreckers, the left wing issued a call for a special convention in Chicago over the signatures of the National Executive Committee of the YPSL, the Executive Committees of the New York and Cook County Left Wing, and the State Committees of the Ohio, Minnesota, Indiana and California party organizations. The convention call has since been endorsed by numerous important party centers, like Rochester, N.Y., Bucks County and Allentown in Pennsylvania, Kansas City and St. Louis County in Missouri.
While the left wing is consolidating its forces for the re-formation of the revolutionary Marxian party in the United States, the remnants of the old Socialist Party are disintegrating apace. In the traditional stronghold of New York, the party simply did not exist as a factor in the current election. In Philadelphia, it endorsed the candidates of the Communist Party. Its Stalinist wing is breaking off and moving formally to the CP, as fore-shadowed by the affiliation to the latter by the SP’s star of hope among the students, Lash; by the tour which Hilliard Bernstein, an SP wheelhorse among the unemployed, is making for the Stalinists; and by the approaching desertion of David Lasser, president of the Workers Alliance. The number of members who have become indifferent or dropped out entirely runs into the hundreds. The Jewish section is secretly negotiating for fusion with the Jewish section of the Old Guard, and does it with impunity despite the tearful protests of the demoralized Clarityites. The latter’s tenure in the party is itself tenuous, if the SOS cry of their latest faction circular is to be credited; some of them are already up on charges and others are threatened with removal from posts or from membership. The activity of the National Office in the past period has been confined largely to the not very profitable business of taking in charters – not members. Attempts to resuscitate the “official” YPSL with hypodermic injections of Altmanite subsidies, in lieu of members, have proved vain. The only organization still left in the SP that is worth shaking a stick at – Wisconsin – will not be long in solving the enigma of continued affiliation that has puzzled so many observers. The paladins in the great war against the “sectarian left” have ended by reducing the old SP to a sect, and a disintegrating one to boot.
The future of the revolutionary political party of labor in the United States lies with the left wing conference in Chicago. It has no need to look back to the moribund movement that is left in the hands of Thomas and Tyler. The revolutionary possibilities of the old SP have been exhausted. Substantially all that was life-worthy in it, capable of assimilating revolutionary ideas and carrying out serious socialist action, is now associated with the left wing. The tasks before the new party which will be established in Chicago are truly enormous, and the difficulties not less so. But the prospects of growth are sure, and the convictions of the revolutionists are firm.
The new party will not have to invent new formulae or new principles. It starts with the principles that have withstood the assault of time and the test of the class struggle. It will appear as the American section of the Fourth International, which stands on the granite foundation of the experiences and lessons of almost a century of the revolutionary movement. Its ideas are invincible and, once fused with the rising American working class, they will create a movement that marches irresistibly to the final triumph.
Last updated on 4.8.2006