Wednesday, September 14, 2011

William Z. Foster and 21st Century Socialism

Given the international character of war and depression today, and the impending 2012 US presidental election, my thoughts have been going back to the 1932 elections.  Granted there is no 1:1 relationship between periods, but communists typically view the present as a historical event, and that usually begins a process of 'hitting the books' to find out what communists in previous and not dissimilar periods did when confronted with periods of similar crisis.
I asked Caleb Maupin, whose blog Class Against Class is exemplary of Fosterism today, for his thoughts.   His reply below [links and illustrations are mine] sums up the period, and the role communists played in it.
1932 elections,eh?

William Z. Foster was nominated in absentia while on Riker's Island serving eight months for leading the New York City unemployment demonstrations in 1931.
He got out of jail, and got on a train. He published Toward Soviet America and went to every place in the U.S. he could put a crowd together to listen to him.
The CPUSA vice presidential candidate was James W. Ford, the Black WWI vet who had led the Bonus March the year prior.
In Los Angeles and numerous other cities, Foster got off the train and was grabbed by the police and beaten senseless before giving his campaign address.


Los Angeles police use arrests and tear gas to break up a rally by 4,000 people who'd come to hear a speech by Communist Party presidential candidate William Z. Foster.

LA Herald-Examiner

By the time of the November elections, Foster had had a massive heart attack and was in the USSR for medical care.
The 1932 Foster-Ford campaign issued numerous pamphlets: "The Only Candidates For Working Youth" was one YCL pamphlet.
A group led by Langston Hughes held concerts, poetry readings, etc. for the campaign.  It was called "Artists for Foster and Ford".  Young Pete Seeger played his first concerts for them as a music student at Harvard.
Leaflets in the south called the Communists "The New Abolitionists" and referred to the USSR as "The New North."
That election was a golden moment in U.S. Communist history.
The only error I think was how so much hatred was directed at Norman Thomas for being a "Social Fascist." A lot more of Thomas' cadre would have been open to the CP without it.
Where were the Trotskyists during this election? 
The CP's analysis of the New Deal "paving the road to fascism" was obviously way off. Roosevelt did not take on his Bonapartist character until 1936, but he was never a "fascist."
The fact that a lot of fascists endorsed FDR in 1932 was probably confusing, though.  It should be noted that Coughlin endorsed Roosevelt in 1932, claiming that if Hoover's policies continued it was be "necessary to establish a dictatorship" in order to stop "the rising threat of domestic Bolshevism."
The slogan of the fascists who endorsed Roosevelt was "Roosevelt or Ruin!"  It was an odd fascist political formulation. "Roosevelt, fix this, or else we'll have to take power and that won't be fun for you!" 
in 1936, Roosevelt's entire program had become more left-sounding, because of his desire to "defend the republic" from fascists who were poised to take power.   
Strategically, the Wagner Act of 1935 gave the AFL legal status, ensuring that rank-and-file union militants in TUUL and the Minneapolis Teamsters (led by Trotskyists)  wouldn't sweep the union movement by their clear willingness to disobey anti-union laws and use class struggle tactics.
In fact, the Wagner Act sought to make AFL unions "legal" so they could be enshrined and do nothing. Not all the bureaucrats agreed, especially John L. Lewis. The CIO was formed, the rest is history.

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