Saturday, December 17, 2016

A century of struggle for a proletarian party

I've been re-reading The Struggle for a Proletarian Party by James P. Cannon this week.

It documents the 1939-1940 factional struggle inside the U.S. Socialist Workers Party. Cannon and the majority of proletarian cadre in the party faced a challenge from leaders and members who wanted to cease unconditional defense of the USSR after the Hitler-Stalin alliance was announced in August 1939.

As pressure of bourgeois public opinion bore down on a middle class layer in the party, they tried to run for cover. Some said the USSR was no longer a workers state. Others said Marxism wasn't science. All wanted the right to express their new opinions to the public even though they were not the line of the party.  So they started blaming Cannon for being a bureaucratic dictator.

Other resources on the 1939-1940 struggle:

Background to 'The Struggle for a Proletarian Party'
By George Clarke, James P. Cannon, Leon Trotsky

In Defense of Marxism Against the petty-bourgeois opposition in the Socialist Workers Party
By Leon Trotsky

The effort to build a communist party in the U.S. that is proletarian in both program and composition began in 1917. My notes below, excerpts from Cannon's book and some articles from The Militant, spell out the stakes more clearly and eloquently than I can.



….With the signing of the Soviet-Nazi pact the flight of the Stalinist fellow-travellers began. They could stomach the Moscow trials but not the prospect of coming into collision with the democratic government of US imperialism. After the Soviet invasion of Poland and then of Finland, the flight of the fellow-travellers became a rout. This wild migration attracted wide attention and comment. We ourselves contributed our observations and witticisms on this ludicrous spectacle. Up to now, however, we have remained silent on an analogous phenomenon in our own "periphery". The flight of the more sophisticated, but hardly more courageous, intellectual fellow-travellers of American Trotskyism has been scarcely less precipitate and catastrophic.

With the approach of the war Trotskyism as a doctrine and as a movement began to lose its "respectability". Many of the intellectuals, sniffing danger, arranged a somewhat hasty and undignified departure. In truth, there is not much left of that considerable army of drawing room heroes who used to admire Trotsky's literary style and confound the less intelligent periphery of Stalinism with nuggets of wisdom mined from Trotsky's writings. The collapse of the Trotskyist "cultural front" was taken by some people, especially the ex-fronters themselves, to signify a collapse of our movement. In the journals of the class enemy to which they promptly attached themselves some of them have already worked up courage to write about Trotskyism as an "outmoded sectarian tendency". However, it is they who are "outmoded", not the movement of the proletarian vanguard, Trotskyism.

The petty-bourgeois intellectuals are introspective by nature. They mistake their own emotions, their uncertainties, their fears and their own egoistic concern about their personal fate for the sentiments and movements of the great masses.


From Chapter 9

....It is precisely in times of crisis that the real character of a leader shows itself most clearly. But these inner qualities of the individual are often adumbrated beforehand, and are usually observed by those who are in a position to see things in a close view as they develop from day to day over a long period of time. This has been the case with the representatives of the two camps involved in the present struggle, and it has not taken us by surprise. The leaders of the two camps did not come to their present positions by accident. Neither did the two antagonistic tendencies in the party ranks—the proletarian and the petty-bourgeois—rally around the contending factions in the party leadership without a deep instinctive feeling that this was for them in each case the necessary alignment. The polarisation in the leadership produced almost immediately a similar polarisation in the party ranks. Each faction in the now divided leadership attracted to itself those elements whose inner tendencies they most truly represent.

The leadership which has now fallen apart into factions can properly be said to have been consolidated in the struggle against the Muste-Abern combination and the sectarian Oehlerites. It took over the direction of the party at the convention in the spring of 1936. During the entire period of our work in the Socialist Party, that is, for a whole year, I was, as is known, absent from the centre, in California. The administration and political direction of our faction in the SP was in the hands of the present minority, primarily of Burnham and Shachtman. True, I attempted to participate in this direction by correspondence, but without much success. It was during this period that the leaders of the present opposition first showed to me their abominable and intolerable bureaucratic conception of leadership as a function that belongs exclusively to the people in the office at the centre. My criticisms and proposals "from the field" got scant consideration.

My stay in California, my personal relations with the comrades there, and my collaboration with them in fruitful political and propagandistic work and in trade union activity, will always remain a happy memory. At the same time, I must say, my futile attempts to participate by correspondence in the work of the New York centre; my inability to get from them the slightest sign of understanding, or consideration or comradely aid for the heavy tasks we were undertaking in California; their callous and stupid bureaucratic disregard of our local opportunities, problems and difficulties; their narrow-minded, suspicious, office-leaders' hostility to the launching of Labor Action; their mean-spirited sabotage of this enterprise, and their attempt even to construe it as a "manoeuvre" against them—all that stands out as perhaps the most infuriating experience of all my activity in the revolutionary movement. I cannot think of it even to this day without bitter resentment.

"Go fight City Hall!"—says the New York push-cart peddler with ironic despair when he means to say: "It is hopeless; you can't get justice or even a hearing from the office-proud officials there." The people who were running things in the New York centre in those days taught me an unforgettable lesson in how not to lead the activities of field workers from the office. I understand how the comrades of our auto fraction felt when they encountered the same attitude from "the office". I know their white-hot anger, because I, myself, have lived it. Down with office leadership! To hell with office leadership! You can never build a proletarian movement from an office!

The great bulk, though not all, of the concrete criticisms of the opposition are directed at the "regime" which was formally constituted at the Chicago convention [December 1937-January 1938] and which continued in office up till the second convention last July. Very well, whose regime was it?

This not unimportant question must have occurred to the opposition leaders when they finished writing their indictment. After painting in endless pages of denigration a horrific picture of party weakness, sickness and failure, and assigning all the responsibility to the "party regime", and thereby to "Cannon", they suddenly and unexpectedly reminded themselves that the picture must be a bit one-sided. They tacked on a parenthetical remark: "In closing: We do not blame Cannon for all the ills of the party." Naturally, I appreciate this generous gesture "in closing". But the real picture will be still clearer, it will be a more accurate representation of reality, if a few concrete details are added.

The Political Committee which was responsible for the direction of the party during that entire period consisted of six members of the present opposition—plus Cannon. The other members were Burnham, Shachtman, Abern, Widick, McKinney, Gould. Does the history of the international labour movement offer anywhere a more bizarre performance than six out of seven members of a decisive committee—all of them "leaders" by their own admission—complaining about the committee's methods of operation and blaming the seventh member? What were the noble six doing when the seventh member was leading the party astray? Did Cannon have more than one vote? Was anything ever decided, or could anything be decided without their agreement? Were any decisions made, any statements issued, any political directives given, anybody expelled, without their vote? Was anybody, anywhere, at any time, appointed or removed from the terrible "apparatus" without their sanction? Let them wriggle all they will, they can't get away from the fact that the PC, the "regime" about which they are complaining, was their PC—plus Cannon.

Moreover, at least a good one-third of the time I was absent from New York, on trips to the field or abroad. Perhaps during those intervals, the six Trilbies, free from the influence of any Svengali, introduced radical improvements in the functioning of the committee, substituted "progressive" politics for "conservatism" and eliminated bureaucratic practices? No, those were just the times when things really went to hell on a bicycle.


From Chapter 9

....the petty-bourgeois minded type of secondary leaders, who gravitate naturally to the opposition, tend to shy away from field work, with its arduous duties and economic uncertainties. They prepare for civil war by first preparing for the civil service.


From Chapter 10

....all of us, including the majority, have shown insufficient energy, initiative, etc. By that we acknowledge that we are not Bolsheviks in our habits and practice, but only striving to become such; slovenliness and slackness are Menshevik traits. But our theory, Marxism, is the only revolutionary theory in the world; there is nothing conservative about it. Can we be justly indicted for conservatism in our politics, that is, in the application of our theoretical principles? I do not believe our record justifies such an indictment. The essence of politics is to understand the realities of a given situation, to know what is possible and what is excluded; above all, to know what to do next—and to do it.

....The opposition, following Burnham, began to designate us as conservative only when we refused to accept a revision of the program of the Fourth International on the Russian question after the signing of the Soviet-Nazi pact, and instead, reaffirmed our fundamental position. Their whole case rests on this. From it they construe a conservative tendency in our whole past record. They also rail at our stick-in-the-mud attitude toward the fundamental concepts of Marxism—the class theory of the state, the class criterion in the appraisal of all political questions, the conception of politics, including war, as the expression of class interests, and so forth and so on. From all of this they conclude that we are "conservative" by nature, and extend that epithet to cover everything we have done in the past.

Such "conservatism," which they consider a fault, we hold to be a virtue. We aim to "hold on" firmly to these principles which have been verified in the test of the greatest historic events, and which in our view constitute the only program of proletarian liberation. We have carefully examined the substitutes offered to us by Burnham. They are not the products of his own manufacture. He is not the inventor or originator of anything. The offerings of Burnham are shoddy stuff, and if you inspect them closely you will see on every item the trade mark of another class. Burnham is merely the broker of shopworn merchandise that has been palmed off on the workers time and again by bourgeois ideologists and always to the detriment of their struggle. We will have none of it. We stick to our own program. We accept no substitutes. If this be conservatism, make the most of it.


From Chapter 12. The 'Clique' and the 'Leader Cult'

....The Stalinist bureaucracy represents privileged social groupings which have appeared for the first time in history on the basis of a workers' state. The Marxists alone—that is, the Trotskyists—found the key to the real mystery of Stalinism. They first revealed its social base. Then they demonstrated that its privileges and special interests collide irreconcilably with the interests of the masses in their march toward socialism. In order to serve their special interests the Stalinist bureaucracy was compelled to introduce a line of policy which contradicted the program and tradition of the party. In order to impose such policy upon the party and upon the country, they were compelled to suppress party democracy, to force their line through by means of bureaucratic violence, and to concentrate all power in the party apparatus.

But the conflicts of class interests in the country, and the numerous rivalries and conflicts of interest between the various privileged groups, found a distorted expression in factional struggles within the apparatus itself. This unsettled the regime and created possibilities for the intervention of the party rank and file, and of the working mass in general. The Left Opposition for a time made its way through just such fissures in the apparatus and threatened its overthrow. This demonstrated to the bureaucracy the iron necessity of a still narrower concentration of power. The conflicting privileged groups required a means for the arbitration and regulation of their conflicts without the intervention of the masses, and in such a way as to unite them all against the masses. Out of this necessity, after the revolutionary wing of the party had been annihilated, emerged the single, all-powerful leader, the arbitrator, the Soviet Bonaparte, Stalin.

Stalin thus appears as a "leader" of an entirely different type from Lenin, who also enjoyed exceptional authority, and one who arrived at his position by an entirely different practice. Lenin, the Marxist, the revolutionist, truly expressed the interests of the masses and maintained his position by the consent and even the love of the most conscious section of the proletariat. Lenin consequently leaned upon the masses and required party democracy to mobilise their support against the privileged elements within the country and in the party. Stalin, the revisionist, the betrayer of the revolution, came to his position not by the voluntary will of the masses but in a struggle of the privileged groups against them. Stalin is not the "leader" because the people "love" him; it is obligatory to "love" him because he is the dictatorial power, the Soviet Bonaparte, whose prestige must be artificially inflated and promoted in order to strengthen his position as the arbitrator, defender and best representative of the privileged elements in the population. If anyone disagrees, there is the GPU to convince him.

All the "methods" of Stalinism grew from the necessities of an unstable and highly privileged bureaucracy which cannot maintain itself by other methods, and dares not permit democratic procedures that would permit the masses to intervene. As for the Stalinist bureaucracies in the parties of the Comintern, they are simply the extensions of the Russian social phenomenon, its foreign agents. The main social base of the bureaucratic gang in the American Communist Party is in the Soviet Union. That explains the peculiarities which distinguish it from the bureaucracies of the trade union movement, the reformist political parties, etc....


From 13. The Proletarian Orientation

....Our basic problem still remains, as stated there, to "turn our faces in the right direction. That means, first of all, to turn our backs on the pessimists and calamity howlers, the soul-sick intellectuals and tired radicals who whine and dawdle around the fringes of the movement and even, to a certain extent, infest our ranks." I still think that "most contemptible of all are those who seek to cover their desertion and retreat by hurling newly invented 'ideological' disagreements with Marxism over their shoulders. Taken altogether they are an unattractive and uninspiring aggregation. It is nothing less than a monstrous travesty to consider them as in any way reflecting the movement of workers' emancipation which, by its very nature, is alien to all pessimism and defeatist tendencies. It is criminal folly to waste time or even to argue the question with these runaway boys and heralds of defeat before the battle."


....The faction struggle in the Socialist Workers Party preceding the split was found in the very course of its development to turn not on the meager concept of "bureaucratic conservatism" but on the more substantial questions of the nature of the proletarian party and the fundamental principles from which its program flows.

In demanding that as a minority tendency within the party it be given the right to appear before the masses with its own specific programmatic and policy concepts and proposals, the minority faction in fact challenged the concept of democratic centralism at the very root and sought to substitute for it an organizational concept which abandoned all centralism in favor of a petty-bourgeois anarchist brand of democracy. By their attitude to Marxist philosophy and to the Marxist conception of the state, they similarly struck at the very root of the Marxist method. It was thus apparent already before the split that the minority faction represented nothing else than a petty-bourgeois current within the SWP.

....Those who walk out of the proletarian party not only walk out on their colleagues but also into another and an alien environment. The proletarian party is a developing collective body which, driving as it does toward
a definite objective by definite means, also provides a specific milieu in which the revolutionary cadre is formed and hardened. Even a petty-bourgeois opposition which remains within the party has therefore the opportunity not only of setting itself right politically but also of proletarianizing itself effectively. The party assists in protecting them from the influences of the alien class milieu in which they otherwise move. By walking out of the party, therefore, they bring themselves under the full blast of alien class influences.

....This was also the case with the petty-bourgeois opposition when it walked out of the SWP and the FI; and although its subjective desire might have been to remain on the ground of the proletarian revolutionary movement, the intensified pressure of bourgeois influence attendant upon an imperialist war which was neither interrupted by nor followed by successful revolution has tended steadily to push the WP off the ground on which it sought to stand, in the direction of, if not wholly onto alien class ground. Nothing less than this is the meaning, for example, of its theory of bureaucratic collectivism, its views on the so-called national question, and indeed, its whole perspective of pessimism in regard to the proletarian revolution (e.g., the theory of retrogression); for all these theoretical positions, and in particular the practical actions resulting from them in war and peace, constitute nothing but capitulation to bourgeois pressure in the sense of adaptation to the bourgeois program.

....WP has furthermore failed in its effort to establish itself as a viable party in opposition to the SWP. The rest of the postwar period has therefore seen the WP engaged in a sustained effort to gain legitimacy in the movement via some form of fusion with the SWP. "Unity" with the SWP has been the slogan of the WP since 1945.

It is to be stressed that this "unity" campaign has been conducted within the framework of a steady continuance of the sustained hostility which the WP has shown, ever since its inception, both to the FI program and, especially to the Fl organization. However, the fact that the WP sought "unity" with the SWP
without abandoning any of its theoretical positions would not of itself exclude unity if its announced intention of observing party discipline as a minority within the SWP was for the purpose of constructing the revolutionary party under the leadership of the existing majority. But this was not the case with the WP. Its conception of unity proceeded, as it still proceeds, from the idea of transforming the SWP and the movement into an arena for continuing the factional struggle which it has manifestly failed to conduct successfully from without. In other words, it was and is only seeking to execute in relation to the SWP and the movement, a form of the entrist
tactic, with the object of capturing the organization or splitting it at an opportune moment.

Resolution on the Workers Party
Resolution Adopted by the Second Congress of the Fourth International—Paris, April 1948

Adopted: April 26, 1948.

First Published: 1948-49.

Source: Fourth International, Vol.IX, No.7, September 1948, pages 219-220.


42. A Letter to Leon Trotsky
New York, February 20, 1940
(Copies to All Groups of the Majority)

Dear Comrade Cornell [Trotsky],

We must not wear our lives out trying to convince intellectuals and petty-bourgeois smart alecks who don't want to be convinced, or who are not prepared to act seriously even when they agree fundamentally. I am very much afraid that here in New York at least the party activity—including my own—has been too much concentrated on this barren soil ...

We must change all this after the convention and take drastic steps to reshape the whole nature of our activity in New York. That will be far more profitable for the party and far more satisfying than trying to explain to over-wise college boys and girls that the question of the class character of the state is an important point and that Trotsky really didn't raise the question of dialectical materialism as a factional trick.


…. For the proletarian revolutionist the party is the concentrated expression of his life purpose, and he is bound to it for life and death. He preaches and practices party patriotism, because he knows that his socialist ideal cannot be realized without the party. In his eyes the crime of crimes is disloyalty or irresponsibility toward the party. The proletarian revolutionist is proud of his party. He defends it before the world on all occasions. The proletarian revolutionist is a disciplined man, since the party cannot exist as a combat organization without discipline. When he finds himself in the minority, he loyally submits to the decision of the party and carries out its decisions, while he awaits new events to verify the disputes or new opportunities to discuss them again.

The petty-bourgeois attitude toward the party, which Burnham represents, is the opposite of all this. The petty-bourgeois character of the opposition is shown in their attitude toward the party, their conception of the party, even in their method of complaining and whining about the "grievances," as unfailingly as in their light-minded attitude toward our program, our doctrine, and our tradition.

The petty-bourgeois intellectual, who wants to teach and guide the labor movement without participating in it, feels only loose ties to the party and is always full of "grievances" against it. The moment his toes are stepped on, or he is rebuffed, he forgets all about the interests of the movement and remembers only that his feelings have been hurt; the revolution may be important, but the wounded vanity of a petty-bourgeois intellectual is more important. He is all for discipline when he is laying down the law to others, but as soon as he finds himself in a minority, he begins to deliver ultimatums and threats of split to the party majority.


Workers are the union

During the conference summaries, Steve Clark described a debate over a statement he made in a class presentation that the unions today aren't weak; they're hamstrung by decades of class collaboration by the labor officialdom. There are millions of workers in the unions. The officials' lament that the unions are "weak," Clark said, is a rationalization for their refusal to organize workers into the labor movement and use union power — instead of subordinating workers and our unions to the bosses, their government, and the capitalist Democratic and Republican parties.

Don't think of the union as a "thing," Barnes said in his summary remarks. The union is an activity, a movement. We are the union — that's what communist workers need to remind ourselves and other workers. And when workers take hold of this powerful instrument to fight back against attacks by the bosses and their government, that lays the basis for further steps to organize a revolutionary social and political movement to advance the fight for workers power.

No one knows when or where there will be such a sustained rise in workers' resistance to the bosses' relentless blows against jobs, wages and working conditions, or in the fight against racism, for the rights of women, against imperialist wars or in defense of workers' political space to organize and act in our class interests.

But beginning to build the kind of revolutionary working-class organization our class needs before the bigger battles come is decisive, Barnes said.

All the party's experiences over the last year, he said, confirm that the course we are on — timely participation with others in political activity and labor struggles in the interests of the working class, anchored in weekly propaganda door to door in working-class neighborhoods — is the road to deepening the struggle for a proletarian party today.


Revolutionary centralism

In order to build a workers vanguard in face of the capitalist crisis and growing resistance, Barnes said, communist workers need to remain loyal to disciplined habits and organizational norms conquered over decades through the struggle for a proletarian party.

That means rejecting the bourgeois illusion of "individual freedom" promoted by the capitalist rulers to pit us against each other, Barnes said. Class-conscious workers take responsibility for each other in struggle and learn to organize in a disciplined way. That's what makes it possible for workers to pay attention to planning, timing and detail, which are essential to fight and win against the bosses and their government.

These questions were at the center of another conference class, "Proletarian Revolutionary Centralism: From the Communist League (1847-48) to Today," led by Louis Martin and Sam Manuel.

The revolutionary centralism of a proletarian party isn't a set of rules, Barnes said. It's how revolutionary-minded workers function together—voluntarily in harness, as part of a common organization—in order to defend ourselves against the employing class and their cops, thugs and armed forces. It begins on the picket line or wherever workers engage in class combat. It's the bedrock of a revolutionary party fighting to win workers power from the ruling capitalist families who own the land, factories, and other means of production and who use the state to maintain their property and their political rule.

A proletarian party cannot be built in the U.S. without involvement in the fight for Black liberation and recruitment of growing numbers of workers who are Black. This extends from participating in actions against cop brutality and "stop and frisk" harassment of youth, to labor battles alongside fellow workers who are Black, to social and political struggles of all kinds. It involves regular sales of the Militant in neighborhoods with large numbers of workers who are Black.

Socialist workers act on a recognition of the disproportionate weight, both in numbers and combat record, of workers who are African-American in the vanguard of working-class-led social and political battles since the Civil War and Radical Reconstruction—the second American Revolution.

Barnes pointed to the place of outstanding proletarian leaders who are Black in battles that overthrew Jim Crow segregation in the 1950s and '60s, opening the road to broader fights for Black freedom—from E.D. Nixon in the 1955-56 bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala.; to Fred Shuttlesworth in the 1963 "Battle of Birmingham"; to Malcolm X. The SWP joined these struggles and reached out to working people involved in them.

These themes were addressed in a third conference class, "The Struggle for a Proletarian Party and the Fight for Black Liberation in the United States," led by Steve Clark and Gerald Symington. It was based on the book Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power by Jack Barnes.

The book includes discussions from the 1930s by members of the SWP and its predecessors with Leon Trotsky, a leader of the Bolshevik Revolution and world communist movement. Trotsky urged the party leadership to turn toward broader involvement in the fight for Black freedom along the road to power in the U.S. "It is a question of whether the party is to be transformed into a sect or if it is capable of finding its way to the most oppressed part of the working class," Trotsky said.


…. An essential part of the strategic line of march toward the establishment of a workers and farmers government in the United States is the fight for the transformation of the industrial unions—the most powerful existing organizations of the working class—into revolutionary instruments of class struggle for the interests of the exploited and oppressed.

During the long postwar period of capitalist expansion, political conditions in the United States stood in the way of effective revolutionary work by socialists in the industrial unions. The political and economic situation that opened in the mid-1970s made it possible once again for communists to advance this fight from within the industrial unions. This dictated a sharp turn. The SWP decided to get a large and stable majority of its members into the industrial unions and to build national fractions of its members in these unions.

Without such a turn to the industrial unions a retreat from the struggle for a proletarian party would have been unavoidable. The party's internationalism, its political homogeneity and centralization, and its revolutionary centralist character would have been eroded. The working-class composition of its milieu, its membership, and its leadership would have been diluted instead of strengthened. It would have become more white and anglo. There would have been even greater pressure on party members who are female to retreat from the demands of political leadership and lose their political self-confidence. The party would have been more susceptible to the pressures of a growing economic and social crisis and war preparations—pressures originating in the bourgeoisie and transmitted through various petty-bourgeois layers and organizations. It would have been more vulnerable to cliquism and permanent factionalism, and therefore less democratic. If a revolutionary proletarian party does not base its membership in the industrial working class and industrial unions when it is politically possible to do so, this inevitably results in the erosion of its program.


A prescient school in 2001.


Character of political period

"This is the first of what we hope will be four regional socialist schools," said Norton Sandler at the opening of the weekend. "Why hold such events now?" he asked. "It's because we are coming out of a retreat of the labor movement--and, while making no prediction on the pace of events, the direction of motion is toward revolution. Our communist theory and our understanding of it become more important as revolutionary possibilities stop receding and start coming closer."


Factionalism in U.S. politics

James Harris introduced the discussion on "Factionalism and Polarization in U.S. Politics: The Changing Struggle for a Proletarian Party," by sketching the evolution of factional clashes among capitalist politicians in the United States since the close of the November election. He used sections of Capitalism's World Disorder and The Changing Face of U.S. Politics, both by Jack Barnes, and State and Revolution by Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin.

The new Bush administration will carry out the bipartisan antilabor course of Clinton and the Republican Party-led Congress, of the last near decade, he said. This is an example of the continuing shift of capitalist politics to the right, said the SWP leader. At the same time, more factional disputes are brewing, dramatized by Clinton's celebration of Gore's "victory" a few weeks after Bush's election had been confirmed (see article on front page.)  

Irrationality of capitalism

The power crisis in California is an example of the irrationality of the profit-driven capitalist system, said Harris. "What is their solution?" he asked. "It's to have us--'consumers' and working people--pay more!" The crisis will also be used to promote nuclear power, he said. The dangers of that alternative were illustrated when the Indian Point plant in New York was recently restarted. It immediately sprang radioactive leaks, blamed by the company on the operators who carried out the startup.

"What we have to do," said Harris, "is use the accumulated experience of the communist movement contained in the books and pamphlets distributed by Pathfinder Press to deal with the political events breaking today from a Marxist orientation. If we don't do that, then inevitably we begin to adapt to this or that voice in bourgeois politics, which can only be directed back into the maintenance of the bourgeois system."


Discussion on 'The Jewish Question'

The pace of discussion kept up through the last day of the school, which began with Dave Prince's introduction on "The Jewish Question."

...."In a period of retreat by the labor movement, and of capitalist 'prosperity,' assimilationist illusions grow," he said. "Even communists have been known to answer the question 'Are You Jewish?' with something like, 'I'm not Jewish, but my mother and father are,' as if being Jewish is simply a matter of religion or tradition."

Such illusions, said Prince, go hand in hand with denying the coming violent social conflicts, as well as the revolutionary opportunities, that capitalist crises always engender.

Capitalism itself "makes a Jew a Jew," said Prince. "Anti-Semitism is used by the capitalist rulers to misdirect the frustrations of the lower middle classes, who are ruined by the workings of capitalism. Jew-hatred is inscribed on the banner of fascist movements, which rise in a period of crisis. It took on a gigantically virulent form in Germany in the 1930s and '40s," said Prince. He also emphasized that the key to the Nazi victory and the holocaust that followed was the misleadership of Stalinism and the defeat of the working class.

Early warning signs of such trends can be seen in the United States today, Prince noted, pointing to ultrarightist Patrick Buchanan, who uses coded anti-Semitic allusions as he works to pull together a fascist cadre.

The importance of Leon's book, he said, is that it explains the history and special character of the Jewish nationality, which provide the grist to the mill of fascist forces and other rightists to try to turn Jews into a scapegoat for the evils of capitalism, especially in periods of crisis and open class conflict.

"Leon explains that Jews were defined by their economic role as traders and representatives of a money economy in the period of the Roman empire and then the feudal Middle Ages," he said. The ruling classes of these precapitalist epochs deflected class resentments of the masses in town and country by organizing pogroms, or anti-Jewish riots.  

Rightists exploit fears, resentments
"With the coming of capitalism, Jews ceased to play any special economic role. But rightists, using violent methods to salvage capitalist rule, exploit fears and resentments surviving from the past to mobilize their forces."

A number of speakers noted that this is an issue today among their co-workers. Arlene Rubinstein said this is a frequent discussion on her job. "One co-worker blamed one injustice on the fact that 'the plant manager is a Jew.' It's an idea that's out there," she said, "and we have to take it on as part of fighting for the unity of the class."

Rubinstein and others reported being asked "are you Jewish," by co-workers. "When you're asked that, it's best to say 'yes' and see what the next question is," said Sandler in the discussion.

"There's less anti-Semitism today in the United States than there's ever been, I believe, but that doesn't mean this won't explode onto the scene as polarization deepens. There were a lot of assimilationist illusions in Germany in the 1930s, but this did not prevent people from being sent to the gas chambers. But we should always remind ourselves that communists and other vanguard workers were the first targets of the Nazis.

"Our analysis of this question is an important part of our theory and our program," he said....

January 29, 2001
Workers study Marxism at Atlanta socialist school



'Tradition makes us'

The National Committee discussed the need for renewed attention to the party constitution, the guiding principles of which were laid out more than 150 years ago by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, founding leaders of the modern communist movement. "The purpose of the party," the constitution of the Socialist Workers Party opens, "shall be to educate and organize the working class in order to establish a workers and farmers government, which will abolish capitalism in the United States and join in the worldwide struggle for socialism."

The basic criteria for membership is the same as that established by the Bolshevik Party, which under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin led the workers and farmers to power in Russia in 1917: "Every person who accepts the program of the party and agrees to submit to its discipline and engage actively in its work shall be eligible to membership."

"We do not make tradition," Barnes said. "Tradition makes us."

The struggle to build any revolutionary working-class party must be rooted in continuity with the political conquests of the communist movement won in the course of struggles from those led by Marx and Engels to the Russian and Cuban revolutions. The major lessons of two key turning points in the fight for such a party in the U.S. are codified in The Struggle for a Proletarian Party, first published in 1943, and The Changing Face of U.S. Politics: Working-Class Politics and the Trade Unions, first published in 1981.

The key accomplishments in building a communist party rooted in the working class in the late 1970s, as laid out in The Changing Face of U.S. Politics, are not registered primarily in the colonization of basic industry carried out universally by the party cadre at the time, but in the political conquests recorded there. Among these was the recognition of Malcolm X as a revolutionary leader of the working class and of the 1959 Cuban Revolution as the first example since the early years of the Russian Revolution of a genuine socialist revolution that brought the working class to power and used that power to advance a proletarian internationalist course in the interests of toiling humanity. The course of the Cuban Revolution stands as an example for workers and farmers the world over….


Counterrevolution in Soviet Union

By the mid-1920s, however, the wave of revolutionary upheavals in other countries that followed the Russian Revolution had been defeated. The worker Bolsheviks, forged in the party built by Vladimir Lenin, the central leader of the 1917 Russian Revolution, were exhausted by the first world war and then the 1918-20 civil war. These objective conditions helped promote the growth of petty-bourgeois, bureaucratic layers in the Soviet government and Communist Party, led by Joseph Stalin, mainly concerned with guaranteeing their privileged positions and life style.

Stalin reversed Lenin's revolutionary internationalist course and replaced it with the narrow, nationalist perspective of the bureaucratic caste in the government and party. He imposed a change in the CPs around the world, transforming them from organizations seeking to carry out socialist revolutions to instruments of Soviet foreign policy, carrying out dictates from the Kremlin and working to pressure their own capitalist classes to accept Moscow's offer of collaboration to dampen workers' resistance.

A minority within the CPs fought to maintain a genuine Marxist course. They were eventually expelled. In the United States, they went on to form the Communist League.

The following decade brought much opportunity for the workers in the Communist League to recruit, as labor radicalized under the blows of the Great Depression. Up to this time the great mass of workers were unorganized. But beginning in 1933, millions of workers began participating in strikes and organizing drives across the country. The massive strike wave culminated in the formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations in 1936, which became a social movement, pressing for government action to bring relief from depression conditions. This upsurge wrested major gains for the working class in the face of attacks from the bosses and their government.

Essential to the most important battles in the '30s was the leadership initiative of rank-and-file unionists who fought for independent working-class action. Revolutionary class-conscious leadership was decisive in some of the most successful battles, such as the Teamsters strikes in Minneapolis and subsequent organizing drive throughout the Upper Midwest, from which many of the best militants were recruited to the Communist League. (See "The 1930s Minneapolis Teamsters rebellion" in the October 20 Militant).

A series of fusions between the Communist League and other revolutionary-minded forces in the succeeding years led to the foundation of the Socialist Workers Party in 1938. U.S. imperialism's drive toward war in the late 1930s precipitated a deep political fight within the SWP. A petty-bourgeois layer within the party bent to bourgeois pressure and rejected many of the party's longstanding Marxist principles. They abandoned defense of the Soviet Union against imperialist attack and rejected fundamental norms of party organization.

This layer split from the party in early 1940. Though the split took a large number of members, the party emerged on a stronger proletarian footing. The record of this political fight is contained in the books The Struggle for a Proletarian Party by James P. Cannon and In Defense of Marxism by Leon Trotsky.

For the next few years the party continued to focus its work in the industrial union movement. But over the course of the following decades, industrial unions receded from their central place in politics. The failure of the union officialdom to mobilize labor in broader political struggles—to organize the unorganized in the South and elsewhere, or to fight for independent working-class politics—led to stagnation in the union movement.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s the SWP concentrated its activity on the explosive social struggles by Black workers against segregation and on the openings presented by the Cuban Revolution. These were soon to be followed by the massive opposition to the war in Vietnam, the rise of the women's liberation movement, and other social and political struggles that attracted young people looking for an alternative to the capitalist system. Out of these movements many youth joined the communist movement.  

Turn to industry
A turning point in working-class politics arrived with the 1974-75 economic recession, which was the deepest since 1937-38 and the first downturn since then that was worldwide in scope. This downward slide prompted the bosses and their government to qualitatively accelerate their attacks on workers' standard of living.

In light of this, the Socialist Workers Party prepared itself for the opportunities that would come with the inevitable working-class resistance that the ruling-class assaults would produce. In 1978, the SWP decided to initiate a turn to the industrial unions, organizing the big majority of its members and leaders to get jobs in industry and center their activity there and in the industrial unions. "Our turn has to do with what is changing in the American working class," states the report adopted by the party's 1979 convention. "When our kind of party has the opportunity to go to the weightiest and most powerfully organized sections of our class and do political work, we have to do it."

Since the party's turn to industry, the experience of the workers' movement has illustrated its correctness. While the sharp battles that will materialize in response to the assaults by the ruling class lie ahead, we can already see the signs of initial resistance as more and more workers seek to use union power to defend themselves from layoffs, speedup, lack of safety, and declining real wages. As the consequences of the capitalist economic and social crisis bear down harder, the most class-conscious workers will be won to the communist movement.


….The year 1919 marks the birth of the struggle for a proletarian party with a nose for power in the United States from which the Socialist Workers Party traces its unbroken political continuity — a rich 95-year history in the class struggle fighting to build a workers' party whose political course and revolutionary-centralist methods of organization are modeled on the Bolshevik Party under the leadership of V.I. Lenin.

In face of the conservatizing pressures leading up to World War II in 1939-40, for example, the leadership of the SWP and world communist movement organized a political fight against the rise of a petty-bourgeois opposition that abandoned defense of the Soviet Union against imperialist threat, rejected revolutionary centralist organizational principles and sought to rationalize this bending to Washington's war drive by revising the programmatic foundations of Marxism. The lessons of this political battle are recorded in The Struggle for a Proletarian Party by James P. Cannon and In Defense of Marxism by Leon Trotsky.


(3 struggles for a proletarian party)

….Jack Barnes, national secretary of the SWP, sent a message that was read to the meeting by John Studer, a party leader in New York. "Stu Singer, first and foremost," Barnes said, "was part of the generations that politically transformed the Socialist Workers Party by initiating and carrying out the turn to industry at the opening of the 1980s."

Barnes called that political turn "the third proletarian transformation of the communist party in the United States in the past century." The first, he said, followed the party's founding in 1919, under the impact of the October 1917 Russian Revolution and "responding to the example and leadership of V.I. Lenin and the Bolsheviks." The second was the struggle for a proletarian party begun in 1938 under the guidance of SWP leader James P. Cannon and Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky—a transformation "carried out as Washington entered into the second world imperialist slaughter," World War II.

The Militant - August 6, 2012 -- Stu Singer: 45 years building communist movement in US


Some additional articles of interest to readers of The Struggle for a Proletarian Party by James P. Cannon

Joseph Hansen, Trotsky's Last Battle Against the Revisionists
Fourth International, Vol.1 No.6, November 1940, pp.164-172.

Resolution on Russia: A Statement of Policy by the Political Committee of the Socialist Workers Party
New International, Vol. 6 No.1, February 1940, pages 17-24

George Novack, Elements of Dialectical Materialism
Fourth International, Volume I, No. 4, August 1940, 8/40, pp. 108-111.

Why We Publish Fourth International: A Statement by the National Committee
of the Socialist Workers Party
Fourth International, Vol. I No. 1, May 1940, p. 2.

James P. Cannon.  The Pathology of Reneg122
Fourth International, Vol.1 No.2, June 1940, pp.52-55.

James P. Cannon.  Factional Struggle And Party Leadership
Fourth International, Vol.14 No.6, November-December 1953, pp.115-122.


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