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International Socialist Review, Fall 1959



Three Years of Regroupment


From International Socialist Review, Vol.20 No.4, Fall 1959, pp.99-101.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


TWO different types of reaction could be observed among socialist-minded individuals when the American Communist party and its supporters were shaken up by Khrushchev’s exposures of Stalin’s crimes followed by the Polish-Hungarian events in 1956.

Many members and followers of the Communist party were so shocked by the deceit and treachery of the Moscow rulers and so disheartened by the incapacity of the Communist party to mend its ways that they abandoned politics, and especially socialist politics, altogether. They joined the lost legions of the “burned-out generation” which had been radicalized during the 1930s, but had since lost faith in the prospects for socialism in the United States.

There were others with more fortitude who, after detaching themselves from Stalinism, looked for a new political road. They saw in the passing of the CP’s domination over the radical movement and the breakup of long-standing prejudices the preconditions for a more honest and effective organization of revolutionary socialist forces in America. Although they may have been uncertain about the character of the realignment, they were willing to consider and discuss how the different socialist elements could be reconstituted.

Today this ferment in radical circles has largely subsided. The crisis generated within the Communist party has about run its course; the CP has been reduced to a diminishing crew of blind apologists for the Khrushchev bureaucracy.

It is time to draw up a balance sheet of the regroupment process. What have been the net results, positive and negative, of all the developments which have agitated radical opinion over the past three years? Where do we stand now?

* * *

The first effect of the crumbling of the barriers that had walled off one group from another was to open up a process of mutual acquaintance and exchange of ideas in an objective manner. Symposiums, debates and forums were arranged in the larger centers from the East coast to the West. This unprecedented fraternization was capped by the launching of the non-partisan American Forum – for Socialist Education.

Many ex-CPers and independents hoped that some wholly new party would crystallize from all this. They were not sure what this might be – except that it ought to be different from the existing organizations. They held that not only the CP but all the old radical parties were bankrupt; their ideas and activities had failed to attract large bodies of adherents; their organizational set-ups were unsuited to the special conditions of American life.

One genuinely different political formation did come into being. It was not, however, a new party. It was an electoral bloc which drew into common action socialist tendencies and individual independents on a minimum socialist program

against the big business parties. This coalition of ex-CPers, former Progressive party and American Labor party supporters grouped around the National Guardian, the Socialist Workers party, the Young Socialist Alliance, elements from other organizations and unaffiliated radicals reached its maximum strength and influence in the 1958 state elections in New York.

This welcome new departure proved that sufficient forces could be brought together to run a statewide ticket on an unambiguous socialist platform. It offered an alternative to all those opponents of capitalist politics who could not stomach the course of the labor officials, the Communist party and the Socialist Party-Social Democratic Federation in holding tightly to the tail of the Democratic donkey.

These electoral activities also showed that socialists of varying origins and views could work not only with one another but with the Socialist Workers party, those “terrible Trotskyists” whom many had been taught to regard as taboo or as hopelessly “sectarian” and “disruptive.” Whoever wanted to engage in serious socialist campaigning in 1958 had no other choice, since both the CP and the SP-SDF refused to participate. Not a few found their unexpected collaboration with the SWP instructive and gratifying.

Unfortunately this coalition was limited to New York and a couple of other states and has not been duplicated anywhere in the 1959 elections. Moreover, some of the elements that participated in the 1958 bloc have reversed their previous movement toward class-struggle politics and appear to be heading back to the burial ground of American radicalism – the liberal wing of the Democratic party. It remains up to those who agree on the need for class-struggle opposition to the capitalist parties to muster maximum support for a 1960 socialist presidential ticket.

* * *

Many unattached radicals who have been looking for a new political home are doubtless disappointed that no completely new party has been born out of the regroupment process. They tend to underestimate, we believe, the weight of some fundamental and, during the past period, insurmountable factors holding back the political progress of the labor movement and its socialist sector in this country.

However much radical circles were in ferment over the past three years, their activity took place in an extremely narrow, and steadily contracting, living space. The prolonged prosperity and political reaction throttled criticism and deterred the mass of Americans from moving to the left. The precipitous fall of the CP occurred amidst this continued immobilization. Consequently, radicalism as a whole kept on declining until today it has touched its lowest ebb in thirty years.

Under these conditions it is obligatory to stick firmly to the Marxist program and perspectives and conduct activities on a modest and realistic basis without becoming disoriented by illusory expectations or big and quick results.

The thousands who preceded or followed Daily Worker editor John Gates out of the CP had neither the understanding nor the determination to launch any organization. Most of them lapsed into inactivity, nursing their wounds and cultivating their neglected personal lives, or submerged themselves still deeper into the “community.” Gates’ slogan: “Rejoin the American people,” meant conformity to the standards and illusions of middle-class life, symbolized by work in the Democratic party, Parent-Teachers Associations, pacifist-religious groups and the YWCA. Of the hosts who quit the CP only the ultra-Stalinist Vanguard group could put out a paper and maintain, for a time, the nucleus of an organization.

The construction of a new socialist party would have required a worked-out program; united and devoted cadres; a clear conception of the kind of party that the American workers need and of the objectives it would serve. The ex-Stalinist leaders had none of these. Instead of a program, they had doubts about Marxism, Leninism, the role of the working class, and still more about the prospects of socialist revolution in the United States. At the same time they showed a marked disposition to discover the “virtues” of American capitalist democracy and to find hope for the future in the “progressive” wing of the imperialist-minded labor bureaucracy.

Instead of tested troops, these ex-CP functionaries could turn only to disillusioned and aging people who were looking for a rest-home rather than a Leninist-type combat party. Finally, they had the vaguest and most varying notions of the kind of movement they wanted.

Whatever miracles they expected – or others expected of them – did not materialize. And neither has any new party formation.

* * *

The Socialist Workers party had the distinct merit of knowing what it hoped to achieve in the regroupment. Its position was presented for public consideration at the outset of the shake-up in a statement of the SWP National Committee published in a pamphlet, Regroupment: A Programmatic Basis for Discussion of Socialist Unity.

The statement contained three main points.

  1. It emphasized the SWP’s willingness to engage in full and frank discussion on any questions of concern to the socialist movement with anyone interested in reorganizing the revolutionary socialist forces.
  2. It set forth a twelve-point program as its contribution to this discussion.
  3. It proposed that where agreement on specific issues could be reached, common actions should be taken as indispensable preparation for any more advanced organizational conclusions to the regroupment process.

The SWP viewed the regroupment developments as a hopeful new stage in the difficult task of constructing a party in the United States capable of guiding the struggle for socialism to success. In this arena three conflicting tendencies – Stalinism, Trotskyism and Social Democracy – were contending for influence and supremacy. The novel feature in the situation was the discreditment and enfeeble-ment of Stalinism. This had opened the eyes and minds of many radicals and young people. It permitted for the first time in thirty years the open confrontation and free circulation of other ideas and arguments, notably the ideas of Trotskyism championed by the SWP.

The SWP, we believe, worked persistently and cooperated loyally along these lines. While the results may not have been so spectacular as some anticipated, they were substantial.

The exchange of views in an atmosphere of uncensored discussion, previously prohibited by the Stalinists, re-established democratic practices within the radical movement. The united election campaigns and joint defense work in the civil-liberties field helped strengthen independent socialist political action and revive the traditions of solidarity against capitalist reaction.

A significant number of former members and sympathizers of the CP joined the SWP. The SWP itself has become more of an initiating center within socialist circles. It is of considerable symptomatic importance, for example, that the regroupment policy of the SWP played an important role in encouraging the formation of a national revolutionary socialist youth cadre for the first time in a generation.

Thus in the overall change in the relationship of forces within the radical movement over the past three years, the SWP emerges as the only political tendency that has gained new ground and strengthened its relative position. This fact, in our opinion, strengthens the prospect that the SWP will be in a strong position to gain broad support for a Marxist program in the next upsurge of American labor militancy.

* * *

All eyes are now being focused on the 1960 presidential elections. What are the prospects at this point for socialist political action?

If enough forces can be brought together to make a united socialist ticket feasible and agreement on program achieved, the SWP would favor it, according to its recent convention decision. But realistically appraised, this is a highly uncertain possibility.

The SWP has announced therefore that it is going ahead with all the preparations necessary for a 1960 campaign so that in any event the message of socialism can be brought to the American people. It has already started petition work in Michigan.

Meanwhile unattached radicals have five choices available. One is the unalluring prospect of returning to a CP which is committed to Khrushchev as blindly as it was to Stalin. Another is to follow the Shachtmanite Independent Socialist League into the decrepit SP-SDF which creeps toward the Democratic party and offers “socialist” amendments and advice to the State Department’s diplomacy.

A third alternative is to give up independent socialist politics altogether and become a liberal-labor Democrat without disguises or reservations. A fourth is to sit the period out, as the American Socialist and similar rationalizers for inertia and disorganization recommend.

Fortunately, radicals have a more effective and satisfying alternative. That is to work with or join the Socialist Workers party. The SWP has shown in action over the past three years its willingness to collaborate in any progressive cause. It has done this without hiding or yielding its own ideas. Many people who had been misled by the lies of the Stalinist slander machine now at least know and respect these positions, even if they do not yet agree with them.

Immediately, the SWP offers the best way to popularize socialist issues in the 1960 campaign, to propagandize for a labor party, and to promote independent socialist politics against Social-Democratic kowtowing to Washington’s foreign policy on the one hand and against Stalinist double-dealing on the other. For those militants who are not content to remain outside the organized movement for socialist objectives, it offers a principled vehicle for participating in the working class struggle for a socialist America.

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