United Front Call Issued for
Unemployment Insurance

Opposition Welcomes Party Turn
and Warns Against Opportunistic Tendencies

(January 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 2, 14 January 1933, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The call issued by the New York State Trade Union Committee for Unemployment Insurance for a conference to be held in New York City on January 22 at the Irving Plaza Hall, is a step forward Which the Left Opposition cannot but welcome. Virtually from the beginning of the crisis, with its constantly growing unemployment, we have steadily advocated the establishment of a united front of all the working class organizations for the common fight to gain relief from the sufferings and hardships inflicted on the workers.

Despite the hailstorm of abuse and ridicule to which our standpoint was subjected by the official representatives of the Communist party we have held steadfastly to the view that the best way to mobilize the collective strength of the workers for the purpose of shifting the burdens of the crisis on to the shoulders of the ruling class, was the genuine limited front once practised by the Communists, but thrown overboard and denounced as “counter-revolutionary” by the Stalinists. We declared at the outset that the inexorable pressure of the facts of the class struggle would lift our point of view to the top, piercing through the calumny and suppression of the bureaucracy. We uttered our warnings to the Communist workers that the policy imposed upon the party by the leadership would isolate the movement, would reduce it to a sectarian influence over the revolutionary workers and nobody else – unless the helm was turn and the course steered in the tested direction we had charted.

Opposition Stand Vindicated

The recent united front conference in Chicago, was the first big vindication of our point of view. However grudgingly and inadequately the turn was made in the Chicago conference, it was nevertheless sufficient to inspire tens of thousands of workers with confidence in their own strength, with the conviction that now the battle conducted with closed ranks would bring concrete results. The first stiff blow at the theory and practise of “social Fascism” and the “United front from below” was dealt by the Chicago conference. The proposal for the New York conference is the second blow struck at the theories which have crippled the effectiveness of the Communist movement, and consequently of the working class movement as a whole.

The editorial comment of the Daily Worker (January 11, 1933) which prefaces the call of the Trade Union Committee for Unemployment Insurance and Relief, is a far cry form the frenzy of the “Third Period”: “The preliminary conference, if agreed upon, is to in[vite] workers’ fraternal organizations: local unions of whatever affiliation and workers’ fraternal organizations, social and benefit organizations. Branches of the Workmen’s Circle and Socialist Party are being invited.” The call itself proclaims that the Committee “proposes a meeting of representatives of workers organizations to discuss the advisability of carrying through a state-wide workers’ conference to map out a legislative program in defense of our interests. We propose that such a conference, if agreed upon, is to conclude the widest possible representation of all workers’ organizations, social, fraternal and benevolent and above all labor unions, irrespective of political opinions of affiliations. The workers of this state have never before been confronted with the need for unity and united action as they are at the present time. Any attempt at dividing the forces of the workers at this time would be a betrayal of their interests”.

Finally, the Daily Worker puts the stamp of approval on the enterprise with its concluding comment:

“The need for united action of all workers of all shades of opinion and of whatever organization is desperate. The good results of such action can be seen by the typical case of the smashing of a relief cut in Chicago recently by 100,000 workers built into a united front of every shade, Communist, A.F.L. regulars and socialists.”

What is said in the call of the Committee, in which as is known the Communists play the decisive role, and in the comments of the Daily Worker – we can agree with all the more easily because we have fought to have the party adopt this standpoint at a time when its policy was exactly the opposite. The step forward in the action under consideration consists in the following changes of policy:

Old Policy Dropped

1. The slogan and designation of “social-Fascism”, which was theoretically false and in practise drove a wedge between the Communist and socialist workers, helping the letter’s leaders to maintain their control over the ranks, is prominent by its absence. The term is not mentioned; it is not even given the courtesy of a hint. 2. The conception formerly dominant in the party that the A.F. of L. is “Fascist”, that the conservative unions are “company unions”, is not to be found at all. 3. The bureaucratic idea of a “united front under the revolutionary leadership of the Communist party”, which simply put to the masses the ultimatum – accept Communist leadership or you get no “united front”! – is also deleted in the present case. For the first time, we have the invitation specifically sent to the “branches of the Socialist party” – the very suggestion of which would have thrown the Stalinist bureaucracy into an advanced fit of hydrophobia a year ago.

In a word wherever changes have been made in the party policy, as indicated above, have not only been in the right direction, but more specifically, they have been in the direction advocated by the Left Opposition during all the time when its advocacy was equivalent to little better than “Left Social-Fascism” in the eyes of the Stalinists.

But when we say above that “we can agree with” the change in policy represented by the New York conference call, we also have in mind several distinct reservations. Without setting down frankly our inability to accept the present turn unreservedly, we should be guilty of dereliction of duty. When the ruling group in the party made a sharp turn away from the opportunist Right wing course of five years ago, and swung abruptly to the Left – at that time also in the direction indicated by the Opposition – we did not make the mistake of swallowing everything uncritically. We raised our voices then to admonish the party against the infantile and extremist aspects of the Leftward turn of Centrism. The failure to heed the warning of the Opposition brought the now well-established results.

The same holds true this time also, even if in reverse order. In the first place, the party leaders have made the turn behind the back of the party. The inevitable consequence of such a practice will be revealed tomorrow: the bureaucracy will accuse the rank and file militants of having failed to carry out or understand properly the “correct general line”. The militants will be unable to understand and execute the policy of the party unless the party states plainly: (1) that there has been a turn; (2) what is the nature of the turn and the reasons for it; (3) that the policy of yesterday was false. “One uncondemned error always leads to another or prepares the ground for it.” Not the least reason for the injurious consequences of the no-united-front-at-all policy of the “Third Period” was the failure to explain what was fundamentally wrong with the opportunist “united fronts” with Chiang Kai-Shek and Purcell which preceded it, and the failure to condemn them clearly. This maxim holds true in the present case with just as much vigor.

If the party fails to explain clearly why the socialist and A.F. of L. unions were social-Fascist or outright Fascist yesterday, with which no united front was admissible, whereas today a united front with these elements is a “need” that brings “good results” – it will not only fail to generate concerted and intelligent action by the party members, but it will fail also to mobilize under the banner of the united front call those non-Communist workers who, only the day before, were repulsed by the old policy.

Opportunist Aspects of Change

In the second place, we must call attention to another aspect of the change of front. The years of leadership of bureaucratic Centrism in the Communist movement have proved beyond the peradventure of a doubt that it is incapable of pursuing a consistent Leninist policy. It swings like a pendulum between Right wing opportunism and infantile ultra-Leftism. Class conscious militants cannot permit the struggle for relief from the scourge of unemployment to be confined within the narrow channels into which the reformists of all shades seek to divert it. Not only from strictly party platforms, but particularly in the united front movements, the Communists must strive patiently to enlighten the workers to the fundamental truth that purely parliamentary action is at best a secondary, auxiliary weapon. The main emphasis must always be placed upon the militant fight of the masses, in their organizations, in demonstrations, in all the forms of the struggle outside the poisoned, sterile atmosphere of capitalism’s legislative halls.

With these considerations in mind, the call of the Trade Union Committee is open to the most serious criticism. The only concrete proposal for action contained in the call is expressed in the extract, already quoted above. The conference is being called solely for the purpose of discussing the “advisability of carrying through a state-wide workers’ conference to map out a legislative program in defense of our interests.” We are not concerned with quibbling over words. Yet the whole phrase reeks with the spirit of those arch-respectable petty bourgeois “legislative campaigns” so dear to the hearts of the A.F. of L. lobbyists, or the ambitions Socialist party statesmen of the Waldman-Solomon-Thomas-Blanchard school. Whoever makes the slightest concession to this spirit, which the reactionaries and reformists have so sedulously cultivated in the minds of multitudes of workers, is doing a distinct disservice to the movement.

Without in the least ignoring or rejecting the tribune offered the workers, employed and unemployed, by the legislative chambers of the ruling class, without underestimating the value of working class demonstrations and the presentation of our demands before the state and federal Capitols, our main task remains the mobilization of the workers for struggle outside the parliamentary halls of capitalism. The very first appearance in, the Communist movement of any tendency to minimize or ignore the primary importance of this task, must be promptly combated and checked. Only by the extra-parliamentary mobilization of the masses will our demands upon the legislature gain that momentum and force which will compel action by the capitalist law-makers. Any other conception is an opium dream or outright deception.

We refrain from dwelling here on other shortcomings of the call. It would have been far more in harmony with the requirements of the situation had It been issued formally to all the working class organizations directly, without resorting to the petty and ineffectual evasion of appealing only to “branches” and “locals”. Furthermore, it is not correct to confine the objective of the movement to the demand for unemployment insurance. Especially now must the demands for immediate relief, for long-term credits to and recognition of the Soviet Union, and the six-hour day without reduction in pay, be put forth in an unemployment program, not as disconnected demands, but as inseparable parts of a whole.

But bearing all these reservations and criticisms in mind, the fact nevertheless remains that the movement initiated by the Trade Union Committee is a distinct step forward. That the Communist League of America (Opposition) will support it, will help advance it with all the resources at its command, goes without saying. It should meet with the support of every worker, employed or unemployed, and of every working class organizations.

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