Obviously, for a Marxist, the question of working class political power is central to the possibilities for the main thrust of his or her politics- the quest for that socialist revolution that initiates the socialist reconstruction of society. But working class politics, no less than any other kinds of political expressions has to take an organization form, a disciplined organizational form in the end, but organization nevertheless. In that sense every Marxist worth his or her salt, from individual labor militants to leagues, tendencies, and whatever other formations are out there these days on the left, struggles to built a revolutionary labor party, a Bolshevik-style party.
Glaringly, in the United States there is no such party, nor even a politically independent reformist labor party, as exists in Great Britain. And no, the Democratic Party, imperialist commander-in-chief Obama's Democratic Party is not a labor party. Although plenty of people believe it is an adequate substitute, including some avowed socialists. But they are just flat-out wrong. This series is thus predicated on providing information about, analysis of, and acting as a spur to a close look at the history of the labor party question in America by those who have actually attempted to create one, or at to propagandize for one.
As usual, I will start this series with the work of the International Communist League/Spartacist League/U.S. as I have been mining their archival materials of late. I am most familiar with the history of their work on this question, although on this question the Socialist Workers Party's efforts run a close second, especially in their revolutionary period. Lastly, and most importantly, I am comfortable starting with the ICL/SL efforts on the labor party question since after having reviewed in this space in previous series their G.I. work and youth work (Campus Spartacist and the Revolutionary Marxist Caucus Newsletter inside SDS) I noted that throughout their history they have consistently called for the creation of such a party in the various social arenas in which they have worked. Other organizational and independent efforts, most notably by the Socialist Workers Party and the American Communist Party will follow.
On the Labor Party Question in America
First Published: 1932.
Source: Class Struggle Official Organ Of The Communist League Of Struggle (Adhering to the International Left Opposition), Volume 2 Number 7, August 1932. We have added an appendix that was included in the uncopyrighted version of the Merit Publishers version of this interview at the bottom of this article.
Online Version: Vera Buch & Albert Weisbord Internet Archive.
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Albert Weisbord Internet Archive/David Walters.
I reread the theses of the Second Conference of the American League concerning the question of the Labor Party. I find it excellent in every part and I sign it with both hands. I find it necessary to emphasize my full agreement with these all the more as my interview to the New York Times of March 1932 gave rise to the misunderstanding and misinterpretation, especially from the part of the Lovestone group.
1. What was my idea about the “Labor Party” in that statement? I affirmed that American politics will be Europeanized in the sense that the inevitable and imminent development of a party of the working class will totally change the political face of the US. This is a commonplace for a Marxist. The question was not of a “Labor Party” in the specific English sense of that word, but in the general European sense without designating what form such a party would take or what phases it would pass through. There was not the slightest necessity in this interview to enter into the internal tactical differences within the Communist ranks. The translation of my interview from the Russian text which employs the words, “Rabochaya partia” into the English was defective in that it permitted one to get a concrete and specific interpretation of what should have been general.
2. One can declare that even the general term “Party of the working class”, does not exclude a “Labor Party”, in the English sense. Be that as it may. However, such an eventuality has nothing to do with a precise tactical question. We can admit hypothetically that the American trade union bureaucracy will be forced in certain historical conditions, to imitate the British trade union bureaucracy in creating a kind of party based upon the trade unions. But that eventuality, which appears to me to be very problematical, does not constitute an aim for which the Communists must strive and on which one must concentrate the attention of the proletarian vanguard.
3. A long period of confusion in the Comintern led many people to forget a very simple but absolutely irrevocable principle that a Marxist, a proletarian revolutionist, cannot present himself before the working class with two banners. He cannot say at a workers meeting: I have tickets for a first class party and other tickets cheaper for the stupid ones. If I am a Communist I must fight for the Communist Party.
4. One can affirm that under the American conditions a “Labor Party” in the British sense would be a progressive step and by recognizing this and stating so, we ourselves, even though indirectly, help to establish such a party. But that is precisely the reason I will never assume the responsibility to affirm abstractly and dogmatically that the creation of a “Labor Party” would be a “progressive step” even in the United States because I do not know under what circumstances, under what guidance, and for what purposes that party would be created. It seems to me more probable that especially in America, which does not possess any important tradition of independent political action by the working class (as Chartism in England, for example) and where the trade union bureaucracy is more reactionary and corrupt than it was in the height of the British Empire. The creation of a “Labor Party” in America could be provoked only by a mighty revolutionary pressure of the working masses and by the growing threat of Communism. It is absolutely clear that under these conditions the Labor Party would signify not a progressive step but a hindrance to the progressive evolution of the working class.
5. In what form the party of the working class will become a genuine mass party in the United States in the immediate future we cannot prophesy because the Socialist and “Labor” Parties are very different in different countries even in Europe. In Belgium, for example, we see an intermediary sort of party arise. Certainly the phases of development of the proletarian party in America will be sui generis (unique). We can only affirm with the greatest assurance: Especially since the United States, in the period from 1921-1924 has had already an important rehearsal in the creation of a “Labor” or “Farmer-Labor” Party a resurrection of a similar movement cannot be a simple repetition of that experience, but a far more pregnant and more crystallized movement i.e., either under the guidance of the revolutionary Communist Party or under the guidance of reformist elements against the growing Communist Party. And if even in 1921-1924, the Communist Party did not find great possibilities for independent action inside the organization of an inchoate “Labor Party”, it would have less possibility in the new phase of an analogous movement.
6. One can imagine that the trade union bureaucracy and its Socialist and left democratic advisers may show themselves to be more perspicacious and begin the formation of a “Labor Party” before the revolutionary movement becomes too threatening. In view of the groping imperialism and provincial narrowness of the American labor bureaucracy and aristocracy of labor such perspicacity seems very improbable. The failure of such an attempt in the past shows us that the bureaucracy, so tenacious in its immediate aims, is absolutely incapable of a systematic political action on a great scale even in the interest of capitalist society. The bureaucracy must receive a blow on the skull for such a “radical” initiative. However, if the creation of a “Labor Party” would prevent, in a certain period, the large success of Communism, our elementary duty must be not to proclaim the progressiveness of the “Labor Party”, but its insufficiency, ambiguity, and limitations, and its historical role as a hindrance to the proletarian revolution.
7. Must we join that “Labor Party” or remain outside? This is no more a question of principle, but of circumstances and possibilities. The question itself has arisen from the experience of the British Communists and the “Labor Party”, and that experience has served far more the “Labor Party” than the Communists. It is evident that the possibility of participating in and of utilizing a “Labor Party” movement would be greater in the period of its inception, that is, in the period when the part is not a party but an amorphic politic mass movement. That we must participate in it at that time and with the greatest energy is without question, but not to help form a “Labor Party”, which will exclude us and fight against us but to push the progressive elements of the movement more and more to the left by our activity and propaganda. I know this seems too simple for the new great school which searches in every way for a method to jump over its feeble head.
8. To consider a “Labor Party” as an integrated series of united fronts signifies a misunderstanding of the notions, both of united fronts and of the party. The united front is determined by concrete circumstances and for concrete aims. The Party is permanent. By a united front, we reserve for ourselves a free hand to break with our temporary allies. In a common party with these allies, we are bound by discipline and even by the fact of the party itself. The experience of the Kuomintang and of the Anglo-Russian Committee must be well understood. The strategic line dictated by the lack of spirit of independence of the Communist Party and by the desire to enter into the “big” party (Kuomintang, “Labor Party”) produced inevitably all the consequences of opportunistic adaptation to the will of the allies and through them to the enemies. We must educate our comrades in the belief in the invincibility of the Communist idea and in the future of the Communist Party. The parallel struggle for another party produces inevitably in their minds a duality and drives them on the road of opportunism.
9. The policy of the united front has not only its great disadvantages but its limits and its dangers. The united front even in the form of temporary blocs often impels one to opportunistic deviations frequently fatal as for example Brandler in 1923. That danger becomes absolutely overwhelming in a situation when the so-called Communist Party becomes a part of a “Labor Party” created by the grace of the propaganda and action of the Communist Party itself.
10. That the Labor Party can become an arena of our successful struggle and that the Labor Party created as a barrier to Communism can, under certain circumstances, strengthen the Communist Party is true, but only under the condition that we consider the Labor Party not as “our” party, but as an arena in which we are acting as an absolutely independent Communist Party.
11. All the resolutions about the British Labor Party must be taken into consideration not as they were written before the experiences of the Comintern and the British Communist Party in that regard, but in the light of that experience. The attempt mechanically to apply them now in 1932 to the American conditions is characteristic of the epigones’ mind and has nothing to do with Marxism and Leninism.
12. It is not necessary to say that the idea of a Farmer-Labor Party is a treacherous mockery of Marxism.
Appendix: Excerpt From Interview
The New York Times of March 3, 1932, carried an interview with Trotsky, then an exile in Turkey. One of the questions was: “How do you view the position of the United States in the present world situation?” Trotsky gave the following reply:
“ I think, as a result of the present crisis, the predominance of American over European capitalism will grow still more pronounced. In the same way, as a result of every crisis, you see a growth in the predominance of the big enterprise over the small, the trust over the isolated undertaking. However, this inevitable growth of the world hegemony of the United States will entail further deep contradictions both in the economy and in the politics of the great American Republic.
“ In asserting the dictatorship of the dollar over the whole world, the ruling class of the United States will introduce the contradictions of the whole world into the very basis of its own dominance. The economy and the politics of the United States will depend more and more directly upon crises, wars, and revolutions in all parts of the world. The position of’observer’ cannot long be maintained formally. I think that America will create the most colossal system of land, sea, and air militarism that can be imagined.
“ The conclusive emergence of America from its old ‘provincialism,’ the struggle for markets, the growth of armaments, and active world policy, the experience of the present crisis —all these things will inevitably introduce deep changes into the inner life of the United States.
“ The emergence of a labor party is inevitable. It may begin to grow with an ‘American tempo,’ leading to the liquidation of one of the two old parties, just as the Liberals have disappeared in England.
“ To sum it up, you must say the Soviet Union will be American-ized technically, Europe will either be sovietized or descend to bar-barism, the United States will be Europeanized politically.”