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Joseph Carter

Some Shortcomings of the Thesis

(September 1931)

From The Militant, Vol. IV No. 22, 5 September 1931, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The present pre-conference discussion will have to thoroughly evaluate the work of the period since our last convention, our accomplishments, shortcomings and mistakes, our past and present perspectives and tactics. In this way the second national conference of our League will be able to see clearly our possibilities and tasks.

This article will confine itself primarily to the thesis proposed by the National Committee for the present discussion.

The thesis marks a decided step forward from the platform accepted at our first conference (May 1929). At that time, the first cadres of the Opposition had been expelled from the party and League. Our leading comrades had not yet succeeded in separating themselves from former associations, views, tactics and perspectives which they had held as a group in the party (Cannon group). Our platform was therefore permeated, and understandingly so. with these “vestigials”. It was formulated with references to the former policies of “our group” (Cannon group), the “proletarian character” of the Foster group, etc.

On the important question of the perspective of a long and inevitable period of social reformism and the organization of a national labor party, the thesis states:

“The Left Opposition, at its formative stage, leaned in the direction of this reformist perspective which constituted to a certain extent an uncritical carry-over of the preceding group struggle in the party, prior to the time when the Left wing took shape and was established as a political grouping distinct from all the others in the movement.” (My emphasis – J.C.)

“Leaned in the direction of”? Is there any doubt as to our previous position? The importance of the question requires a more categorical statement of change.

Change on Labor Party

It will be recalled that during the first pre-conference discussion and at the conference itself, the leading comrades not only stressed the correctness of the slogan for a labor party, but offered as their strongest argument its so-called “inevitableness”. Our platform stated: “ – the propaganda slogan (of a labor party) must be really revived and as soon as it has found roots in the masses and their experiences in the struggle it must become an agitational and finally an action slogan”. Why is this slogan necessary? “It is not reasonable to expect that the masses of the American workers, who are still tied ideologically and politically to the bourgeois parties, will come over to the Communist Party politically at one step (!) in a period not immediately revolutionary” the platform replied. Wherein does this position of the inevitability of the labor party, and the need for Communist leadership of the movement in this direction, differ from the present Lovestone position? Not in a hair’s breath!

The change on the question of “radicalisation” is likewise a step forward.

Further. The present theses no longer speaks of “our group” position previous to the actual organization of the Left Opposition. That is, we are no longer the “Cannon group” (in the historical sense). In fact, the abandonment of the above position on the future of reformism in the United States marks an important departure from that group’s position.

The thesis states: “The unevenness of social development rendered particularly acute and jerky in the present epoch of imperialism, may easily advance the United States toward the head of the list.” The thesis in attempting to take sharp issue with the general conception of the American Communist movement that the revolution in the United States is a thing of the distant future, exaggerates the state of affairs. The essential truth of the statement lies in the fact that revolutionary upheavals in Europe which characterize post-war imperialism considerably hasten the forces making for revolution in this country. However, the probability of the situation, and that is precisely what we should base our perspectives on, is that the proletarian revolution will first come in Europe; a Soviet United States of Europe will be formed which will find itself in irreconcilable conflict with reactionary capitalist United States. This perspective outlined with such lucidity by comrade Trotsky in Europe and America (1926) still holds good today.

A few brief comments on some of the smaller shortcomings of the thesis.

The first section mentions in disconnected form the position of France in Europe today. Instead of showing the importance of this position (the last important capitalist country to enter the crisis, its immense stock of gold) the thesis rests satisfied with the mere statement of it. It should be clearly stated that France is becoming ever more nn outstanding creditor nation; that on the European continent it is more and more replacing England as a creditor; that this promises future serious conflict between France and the United States.

The section of the thesis which polemizes against the Stalinist conception of a narrowing of the “base for social reformism” should be strengthened along the following lines: The party leadership confuses the ground or base for the growth of social reformism with the “social basis” for it. The latter which rests on the ability of American capitalism to bribe sections of the working class is undoubtedly becoming even more limited. But the basis for the growth of social reformism is more than that. (We are speaking of its growth among the working class only.) It feeds on the first signs of the awakening of class consciousness of the workers as well as the blunders and mistakes of the Communists. The mechanical “economic determinist” interpretation of the Stalinists, of course, leads to serious tactical mistakes. The thesis, while essentially correct should include the above thought. The Economic Crisis

On the present economic crisis, the thesis states: “The present crisis is distinguished from many which preceded it in the history of capitalist production by its virtually planetary character” is this correct? No. This is not sufficient. The thesis should state clearly and with emphasis that the present economic crisis develops on the basis of the post-war crisis of imperialism. One can, of course, find the essential features of the latter mentioned in various sections of the thesis. But this is insufficient. They should be enumerated as part of a whole. At this time, I will not attempt to discuss the prospects of the American crisis.

Comrade Field in his article on The Meaning of the American Crisis (which we intend returning to at some other time) tells us that there is a contradiction in the thesis when it states: (1) that America will get itself out of the crisis, and (2) “the prospect of struggles ahead that will increase in breadth and depth and militancy”. Although there is absolutely no contradiction between the two statements, the thesis is undoubtedly incomplete on this important question.

The thesis correctly states that the American workers, because of the absence of struggles – and therefore defeats – in the previous period will have vitality for militant struggle. But – and this is unfortunately overlooked – these struggles are primarily defensive. Can we expect the present defensive struggles of the workers to be converted into the counter-offensive against the capitalists during the present crisis? It is hardly likely. Comrade Field implies that a liquidation of the crisis means a perspective of decreasing battles. On the contrary, the re-entrance of workers into industry – that is, the beginnings of economic revival – when they are materially more secure, morally stronger, a decreased unemployment, will mark the beginning of the counter-offensive of the workers. The thesis should contain this important thought.

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