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T. Stamm

Stalinists Discredited at Mooney
United Front Conference in N.Y.

(March 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 19, 18 March 1933, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The New York United Front Mooney Conference was no ordinary demonstration of the strength and weakness of the Satlinlst machine. As it turned out the conference got out of control of the Stalinist steering committee. Bedlam broke loose. A riot was avoided only by summarily adjourning.

The conference, overwhelming Stalinist in its political complexion, was oriented on the party’s half-turn on the united front. The contradiction between this political orientation and the attempt on the part of the party steering committee to run it in the well known Stalinist, closed-corporation manner is the key to an understanding of the tense political drama that was fought for eight hours on the floor of the conference.

The conference was opened by the reading of a message from Mooney. Following this Palmer of the Federated Press was elected temporary chairman. A motion to elect a credentials committee was carried and the following were elected: Sultan of the Freiheit; Nessin of the TUUC; Gubernick of the Huntington Branch of the S.P.; Mac Christian of the NWIU; Riner of the Brotherhood of Painters, Local 445; Penn of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen; and Berman of the Left Opposition who was a regularly elected delegate from a Workmen’s Circle Branch. Berman’s election caused the party members no end of confusion. Comrade Berman is well known to party members as a member of the L.O. When it came to voting on Berman the party steering committee raise their hands. Half the party members followed suit. But the other half were confused by the sight of their leaders voting for a counter-revolutionary Trotskyite and did not vote. The 140 votes Berman got were enough.

From this point on the confusion grew apace until the conclusion of this eventful gathering. Louis Scott, Mooney’s personal representative made the report. He summarized some of the outstanding points in the legal aspect of the case. His perspective for the future of the fight was essentially a legal one. He laid down the tasks of the movement as follows: united front mass meetings and demonstrations; a delegation to Roph to demand the immediate and unconditional release of Mooney; a delegation to Roosevelt to get him to intercede with Roph for Mooney; a congressional investigation; and if all these measures fail, a general strike. The emphasis he gave the legal fight gave the impression that he regarded the mass movement as a somewhat helpful auxiliary; an ace-in-the-hole to be sprung on the capitalists if all else fails.

In the discussion which took place later the party offered no line of its own nor any criticism of this essentially liberal-legalistic line. Why did the party maintain an opportunist silence? On the vital question of policy and line it must speak openly and clearly its silence contributes only confusion.

The credentials committee tried to carry out the pretence of a genuine united front. Nessin reported 599 delegates from 347 organizations. All attempts to obtain an analysis of the report met with the stubborn resistance of the party steering committee which publicly prevented Nessin from giving the information asked for from the floor. 40 trade union organizations were reported but what they were was not revealed. 31 political organizations, 50 defense organizations, 22 unemployed organizations, 195 fraternal organizations were also listed but no analysis was given.

However, it is known that there were very few A.F. of L. locals. The CPLA was there as were Weisbord, the Lovestoneites, the League for Industrial Democracy. The New York district of the CP was represented. In front of us sat delegates from the YCL. It was said that some YPSL locals were present. The SP was represented by a lone individual, Gubernick of the Huntington, Long Island Branch. It was reported from the floor that the S.P. had instructed the locals of the ILWGU over which it has control to stay away. Scott reported later that the City Central Committee of the S.P. had voted unanimously not to endorse the conference and not to attend. That is how the Socialist party answered Mooney’s call. But it also testifies to the weakness of the united front policy of the C.P.

The fight to establish the composition of the conference on the floor was intense but short-lived and unavailing. The Stalinists were in complete control of the proceedings at this point. The matter was finally disposed of by Scott’s personal promise to publish a detailed report within 48 hours. The report which has just arrived confirms our analysis of the composition of the conference.

But what the credentials committee report failed to establish, was made clear from the collection which together with pledges exceeded $500. For some forty minutes a flood of donations and pledges was poured into the treasury of the conference by IWO branches, ILD Branches, Unemployed Councils, TUUL unions, the C.P. and Communist opposition groups. It was clear to all that this was a Stalinist conference.

The resolutions committee was carefully selected by the Stalinist steering committee. It was composed of “reliable” people: Becker, Benjamin, Gubernick (!), Corliss Lamont, etc. Its retirement to consider the resolutions of the conference created a vacuum in the proceedings which was filled by discussion.

The Stalinists intended, no doubt, to confine the discussion to the routine speeches by their leading comrades. The discussion that took place caught them completely unawares. Delegate after delegate spoke. And all the speeches centered around the united front.

In this discussion the Lovestoneites were jeered and howled down. Boos greeted other delegates who even timidly proposed that to draw the socialist workers into the conference it was necessary to suffer the presence of their leaders. Not all of these proposals were correct in their formulation and content. But they were the gusts of a new wind.

The voice of the Left Opposition rang loudly and clearly for a genuine, Leninist united front. From beginning to end the speech of our delegate was accorded the closest attention. An attempt to heckle was squelched by the entire conference. At its conclusion there was not the faintest sign of hostility.

The blow the Opposition delivered to the Stalinist policy on the united front accounts for what happened afterward. Even the Stalinists were forced to take this into account. All their later attacks against the people who “represent tendencies but no masses” were careful to avoid any reference to the Left Opposition. It was easy to see that the tremendous impression made on the party members by our campaign on the situation in Germany made them eager to hear what we had to say on the Mooney question and especially on the united front.

Under the hammering the Stalinists were losing control of the conference. Their feeble attempts to counter the political attack with parliamentary procedure alienated them. Panic began to seize the the chairman who publicly rebuked party steering committee. They turned loose their heavest artillery. The speeches were the same as yesterday’s but the difference was clear. Heretofore there were violent incitements to violence. Sunday they were last line defenses.

Politically they were a denial of the Comintern’s invitation to the Second International for a united front. Alexander strained himself to prove that we couldn’t have any traffic with Green and Well, Hillquit and Thomas. If the Stalinists did not dare to say it openly they made the implication clear: no united front with the leaders.

The resolutions were abstract expressions on the Mooney question and class war prisoners. The resolution on Mooney set May Day as a day of united struggle for his release. It proposes a united demonstration of the socialist and Communist workers and includes the A.F. of L. Formally the proposal is correct, But the line of the conference and the content with which the Stalinists fill their united front proposals make it doubtful whether this will be realized.

The final blow which accomplished the rout of the Stalinists came with the domination of a permanent committee of 25. Nessin reporting for the credentials committee which had been instructed to make the nomination read only 24 names. Comrade Berman protested from the floor, pointing out that the name of the delegate from the Left Opposition who had been agreed on by the committee had been omitted. The chair asked Nessin to explain. He attempted to lay the blame on Berman. Berman’s contention was supported by another member of the credentials committee. The already heated atmosphere was beginning to simmer. The chair appealed to Scott for his explanation of the incident. Scott came forward and supported Berman. Nessin was left standing on the platform, in view of the entire conference, caught red-handed in a clumsy attempt to remove the

delegate from the Left Opposition. This incident aroused a furious storm of indignation and protest. The chair was deluged with motions, points of order, questions seeking information, and verbal protests. The Stalinists made a desperate attempt to unseat the delegate from the Left Opposition from the permanent committee. Ballham made a motion to replace our delegate by a delegate from the Amalgamated Food Workers. This brought forth a roar of protest from the delegate from that union. He said that the union would willingly serve on the committee but not at the expense of unseating any other organization. The motion was defeated. Two additional delegates were added. The proposals to provide spaces on the permanent committee for all political tendencies represented were defeated. Notwithstanding, Ballham read a statement welcoming all Socialist and A.F. of L. workers as the sentiment of the conference. It carried.

By this time delegates were standing on seats speaking at the tops of their voices as was the chairman. Not a word anyone said could be heard. Above the roar the IWW announced that they were withdrawing from the conference. Half the conference was on its feet. A riot was imminent. To avoid it the conference was adjourned.

The Stalinists have succeeded in wrecking another conference. Nothing fruitful came out of Sunday’s session. The approach to the Socialist and A.F. of L. workers is still incorrect. The positive sides of the conference are its size and enthusiasm, and the beginnings of workers’ democracy accorded to the Left Opposition. The Left Opposition will use its position on the permanent committee to broaden the conference and make it a genuine united front.

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Last updated: 4 September 2015