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International Socialist Review, Spring 1959


After the Debate


From International Socialist Review, Vol.20 No.2, Spring 1959, p.34.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


One of the attractions of a good debate is the struggle of ideas that continues after the hall has emptied and you wind up at coffee tables to go over the fine points. We found ourselves doing that after the debate February 20 between Earl Browder, former head of the Communist party, and Farrell Dobbs, National Secretary of the Socialist Workers party.

Dobbs upheld the affirmative and Browder the negative of Does Marxist Theory Retain Full Validity for the US? Neither the question itself nor Browder’s personal influence seemed likely to inspire a large meeting. Yet Manhattan’s radical movement, all currents and tendencies, were either down in force or well represented.

The reason was that this seasoned political audience suspected that no matter what Dobbs and Browder were supposed to talk about they would almost certainly end up arguing big questions involving Communist party policies and their meaning in the reconstruction of American socialism.

They did go into Marx’s theory of impoverishment of the proletariat; and Browder referred the audience to a recent book of his on the topic; but the debate really ended on Browder’s policies as head of the Communist party and their validity or lack of validity for the socialist movement today.

Where we were, after it was over, most of the discussion centered on how big a distinction can be drawn between the policies Browder claimed as his own and those advocated today by Foster in the wrecked organization.

A forum gadfly, joined our table to offer his puzzlers.

“Answer me this: If Browder’s policies were so successful in building the CP, how come he ended up as a failure as a leader? And if Foster was such a rigid sectarian, how explain his ultimate success in taking leadership away from Browder?”

He got his answer.

“Both Browder and Foster were only carrying out what Stalin wanted, the same as in all the Communist parties everywhere. You know that as well as anybody else.”

“I expected you’d say that. But don’t you think it’s a good question?”

“I had the feeling,” a former follower of Browder said, “that Browder did a better job than Foster could have done, arguing for the policy the Communist party is really following. Browder said, ‘The Communist party under my leadership was correctly described by the Trotskyites as a reformist party with revolutionary trimmings.’ That was a strong point if you believe in reformism. But Foster wouldn’t dare admit something like that even if he knew it was true.”

“You’re wrong,” said a member or semi-member of the Communist party. “Foster wouldn’t say it because he’s against revisionism.”

“Communist party policy is about the same under Foster as it was under Browder,” we ventured. “Tonight – leave out the theoretical trimmings – and you could say Browder was defending current CP policy.”

“You ought to stick to facts instead of throwing slanders around,” the Communist party member retorted. “Facts are stubborn things. I heard Browder with my own ears. He wasn’t defending Foster.”

A member of the Socialist Workers party pulled the January issue of Political Affairs out of an inside pocket. When the quoting-from-documents stage is reached, our feeling usually is that the conversation is getting rough. But the debating mood, or perhaps the purple cover, maintained receptivity.

“Listen to this where Foster is speaking about the Debs period when the socialist movement stuck to class-struggle principles – this is Foster: ‘The left parties generally followed the policy of attempting to build independent mass parties ... instead of working with the masses ... The result was a serious split in the ranks of the working class, with almost the entire Left on the sectarian end of the split.’ Wasn’t that Browder’s main point tonight?

“And here’s one where Foster credits the CP with being the first radical party to break from the old policy. He says, ‘In the latter 1930s ... the Communists, who were in working alliance with the progressive or middle group in the CIO unions, began to participate ... inside the Democratic party, supporting certain candidates, advocating certain policies.’ Now I ask why didn’t Foster say that these class-collaborationist policies started in the latter 1930s under Browder’s leadership? When credit is due, it’s due.”

To clinch his point he added:

“When Dobbs was defending Marxism, and Browder came back with the remark that Dobbs ‘has here faithfully repeated the very dogmas and formulas that were put forward 75 years ago, probably in this very same hall,’ didn’t that sound to you just like Foster fighting ‘left sectarianism?’”

To this our CP friend shrugged. Maybe Foster thinks like Browder and that’s why the move to oust Browder had to come from Duclos of the French CP. Anyway he’d like to hear an expert like Arnold Johnson debate a Trotskyist.

We agreed and said we hoped he could use his influence.

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