Raya Dunayevskaya 1958

Unemployment and Organizations to Fight It

Source: News & Letters, March 1958. This piece appeared as Dunayevskaya’s regular column, “Two Worlds”;
Transcribed: by Kevin Michaels.

The present unemployment situation has everyone from Eisenhower to the Sunday preacher talking about it. But no one is doing anything about it. A look at the organizational forms which the last depression produced may have some value for us today, if only to reject the old forms and create entirely new ones. It is for this reason that I am turning the pages of history back to the 1930s.

The last depression gave rise to a number of small political parties, the chief of which was the American Workers Party (AWP), officially formed in 1933. Actually, it had existed from 1928 when it was called the Conference for Progressive Labor Action (CPLA). It was formed originally to defend Brookwood Labor College [1] from attacks by the AF of L that the college was harboring Communists. The actual reason for the attack was that the college taught industrial unionism. The chairman of the college, the CPLA, and the AWP was A.J. Muste.

In 1931, they launched the great organizing strike in Paterson, N.J. They were in the forefront of the campaign to organize the West Virginia Mine Workers Union as well as the Illinois miners in 1932. They soon found themselves at the head of some 10,000 unemployed in the Midwest. They organized Unemployed Leagues in opposition to the Unemployed Councils organized by the Communist Party.

In 1934 a strike against Auto-Lite broke out in Toledo, Ohio. An AF of L local called the strike, but it soon became obvious it was impossible for it alone to fight all the forces of capital and the police arrayed against it. The local called upon the Musteite Unemployed Leagues for help on the picket line. When the organizing talent of the Musteites was added to the tremendous activities of the workers, Toledo, Ohio became the birthplace of the auto workers union. Thus the Musteites were in the forefront of what became later the mighty upsurge of labor called the CIO.

The “American Orientation” and Political Action

But already in 1933 they had come to the conclusion that neither the struggles of the unemployed for relief nor those of the workers for industrial unionism would be sufficient to change the world crisis into a workers’ world. Political action was needed. At the AWP founding convention in Pittsburgh, resolution called for the formation of a genuine mass labor party, “an American orientation.”

Pulling in the opposite direction was Louis Budenz, who was looking at the Communist Party with its daily paper, posts and behind it a whole country – Russia. Before that force the “American orientation” crumbled.

What To Tell The Workers

There is no doubt that these intellectuals had turned to the working class because they believed that the capitalists had led the world from world war to world depression, and that only the workers could change society fundamentally. The difficulty was that the task for them as intellectuals did not end with their turning to the working class. It first began there.

What, between Fascists, Communism and the New Deal, would the intellectuals of the “American orientation” tell the workers?

The situation was a concrete one: in the unemployed leagues and in the strikes one strong force (the Communist Party) and one small force (the Trotskyists) were pulling at the Musteites. The ranks were hungry for ideas. They were attracted to the Trotskyists who seemed to have a body of ideas from plan to world revolution and who were saying to the Communists, “You went down before fascism without a fight. It is because your leader, Stalin, subordinates all struggles to the dictates of the usurping Russian bureaucracy. Only we stand for true workers interests on a world scale.”

After the merger with the Trotskists the ranks were the first to drop out. Trotskyism was completely isolated from the great upsurge that became the CIO.

Communism, Trotskyism, What Now

Part of the Musteite leadership, represented by Budenz, joined the Communist Party where he became the managing editor of the Daily Worker. He has now become a total stool pigeon.

Muste himself dropped out of the movement soon after the merger of his group with the Trotskyists. He now heads the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a pacifist grouping. Burnham [2] broke with Trotskyism during the war. He saw a new society emerging, not from the workers, but from the managers and planners. He is now the outspoken campaigner for “all-out Americanism.” Sidney Hook [3] is the advocate of “democracy” for all those who agree with him. It is hard to distinguish between him and Attorney General William P. Rogers.

The unemployment situation and the crisis it will bring will certainly throw up groups of radicals who more than ever will need a system of ideas which will enable them not merely to agitate for the unemployed and take part in the workers’ struggles, but will help them to meet the crisis. The time to do that is now. Every page of News & Letters is engaged in this task.

- R.D.

1. Brookwood Labor College, located in Katonah, New York, was a small but influential training institute for organizers. It was founded in 1921. [Transcriber]

2. James Burnham (1905-1987) was an intellectual and a participant in the U.S. Trotskyist movement until 1940. He went on to write The Managerial Revolution (1941) and was closely identified with William F. Buckley’s National Review. [Transcriber]

3. Sidney Hook (1902-1989) was a philosopher and advocate of John Dewey’s pragmatism. He moved from sympathizer to Trotskyism to Cold War liberalism. [Transcriber]