Felix Morrow

The A.L.P. Fight –
Stalinists Won a Hollow Victory

(9 March 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 10, 9 March 1940, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The bitterest things said about Alex Rose were not said by the Stalinists, last Thursday night at the New York County convention of the American Labor Party. The Stalinists were, indeed, feeling rather amiable. Looking over the auditorium they saw predominate the familiar faces of their comrades.

The bitter souls in the place were the small band of members of the Social Democratic Federation. They had warned Alex Rose and the other big shots of the ALP, two years ago or more. He would not listen. He would not even consult with them. Because the Stalinists provided the necessary Jimmy Higgins crews for all the dreary detail work, he had welcomed them and let them take over club after club. He had told Louis Waldman it was all right, the Stalinists could be cleaned out any time it was necessary. Now his chickens were coming home to roost.

The final indignity that drove the Social Democrats into highly articulate fury – my seat at the press table was not too close to them but, stalking back and forth, they threw discretion to the winds – was Alex Rose’s choice of a standard-bearer for the evening. The test vote was to be that for chairman. Like principled politicians the Social Democrats wanted someone put up who would symbolize the rabid redbaiting and pro-Ally program of the anti-Communist bloc. But Alex Rose hadn’t even troubled to consult the Social Democrats. Instead he chose a man who, from the rigorous standards of the Social Democrats, was himself tainted with Stalinism – Sylvio Bottini, a minor building trades union official, the taint consisting of his friendship with Marcantonio, the friend of the Stalinists.

I confess that I got a good deal of pleasure, that evening, observing the infuriated but impotent discomfiture of the anti-Communist bloc.

* * *

The Stalinists, in capturing the New York County ALP, took over an empty shell. Their victory consisted in this: when they were still in a bloc with Alex Rose last August – before the Hitler-Stalin pact – the candidates for committeemen, who constitute the legally-recognized county organization of a party, were designated by the ALP district clubs, where the Stalinists had a majority, and ALP enrollees voted for these candidates at the September city primary. In other words, the Stalinists last Thursday captured nothing but the country machinery which the law requires every party on the ballot to establish through the primaries.

The Real ALP Beyond Their Reach

The real American Labor Party – the trade unions which constitute it – did not and of course could not pass into the hands of the Stalinists by counting noses of county committeemen. In the April 2 state primaries, at which state committeemen of the ALP are elected, if the Stalinists win, they again win an empty shell. The trade unions, other than the minority controlled by the Stalinists, will scarcely remain in the ALP if the Stalinists capture the legal machinery. The backbone of the ALP would be removed forthwith – the Amalagamated Clothing Workers, the Ladies Garment Workers, the millinery union, etc.

A Labor Party without unions is an absurdity. Why, then, have not Alex Rose and his cohorts not emphasized in their public statements, the absurdity of the Stalinist campaign to capture the legal machinery of the ALP? The trade union bureaucrats have a crushing argument against the Stalinists: why don’t the Stalinists demonstrate what their strength is, not in the primaries dictated by the bourgeois parliamentary system in which a dentist’s vote weighs as much as a trade unionist’s, but in the trade unions which constitute the ALP?

The fact is that the ALP bureaucrats have never referred to this fundamental difference between a Labor Party and the capitalist parties. They have been too desirous of winning to the ALP the professional and middle-class flotsam and jetsam, taking the workers’ votes for granted. Instead of sharply emphasizing that the unions have the right and duty of running their own party, the Alex Roses have wooed the elements outside the unions. The result: clubs full of lawyers, doctors and dentists, small businessmen – and Stalinists working in them by party assignment. In other words, easy picking for the Stalinists.

The workers in the unions affiliated to the ALP have never been made to feel that they are active members of the ALP through their unions. Around election-time a few speeches in the unions, and payment of ALP dues – this is all that the ALP has been to the union members.

If a union member wanted to be active in the ALP, he could not do so through his union, but only by joining a club in his neighborhood dominated by lawyers and dentists. The result: the unionists didn’t trouble to go to the primaries and left the field to the Stalinists.

That the unions have not constituted the basic active units of the ALP is not an oversight. If the trade union bureaucrats paid by a Stalinist victory in the primaries for their failure to activize the trade union members, they prefer that to the alternative: steeping the unions in the basic political problems facing the working class.

The trade union as the workers’ organization dealing with private employers in a specific industry is a difficult enough organism to keep under the control of bureaucrats committed down to their bones to the capitalist order. In the union as an economic organism, consideration of the basic problems of unemployment and insecurity are limited to what can be done to alleviate hunger and want and poverty within the specific industry – and this at a time when every thoughtful worker understands that these problems cannot be solved on a trade union level. To limit the union to this trade union level serves the capitalist order and the labor bureaucrats faithful to it.

Remove that narrow limitation from the workers’ discussions of their life-and-death problems, turn the union floor over to the political level – to the question of the relation of the working class as a whole to the capitalist class as a whole – and, my God, think the bureaucrats, there is no limit to what the workers may try to do.

Alex Rose can make a militant in his millinery union look like an impractical fool for proposing to wipe out unemployment in the industry. But Rose would be in a fundamentally different situation if he tried to make fun of a militant on the union floor who demanded that the union’s delegates to a national Labor Party insist on a program guaranteeing a decent living to every worker. That’s why Rose prefers to keep the unions out of direct participation in the ALP even if that means that the Stalinists capture the legal machinery. The Stalinist victory is an empty one, Rose thinks, and that is true. Whereas a militant program that would sweep the unions would sweep Rose right out of the unions.

Last updated on 1 February 2019