American Reformists in Difficulties

The Socialist Party of America, among many similar organisations, has on numerous occasions acted in the capacity of a “case history” for the scientific Socialist. It has provided an abundance of evidence to support the Socialist contention that a membership which is ignorant of the basic principles of Socialism can never hope to build up an organisation which has as its object the capture of political power, and its use to abolish capitalism and establish Socialism. Such a membership can at best be used for the capture of political power in order to introduce certain reforms, which, in due course prove themselves futile to solve the basic problems which perpetually confront our class. Such an organisation, whilst it can be most active, cannot, because of its membership’s political ignorance, go any further in its objectives than the object of its members without undermining the loyalty of such members.

The above contentions are illustrated by an item which appeared in The New Leader, organ of the Socialist Party of America, of December 16th, 1933, under the caption “Party Standing Imperilled in California,” with also a sub-caption, “Desertion by Sinclair, and Communist Manoeuvres cause Confusion in Party.” The writer of this news item, a New Leader correspondent, opens his article as follows:—

“With the election of Hyman Sheanin as State Secretary of the Socialist Party to succeed Harold Ashe, removed by the State Executive Committee because of recently acquired Communist views, and the desertion of the Party by Upton Sinclair to seek the Democratic nomination for Governor, the Socialist Party in this State faces a new situation. Because of ‘united front’ manoeuvres by Communists and their sympathisers within the party, quite a number of party branches have been more or less divided, some verging on disruption.”

This situation is by no means a “new” one in the Socialist Party of America. On several occasions the organisation has been split from top to bottom. Evidence for this can be found in plenty by the student of that party’s history. One need only read the work of a Socialist Party member, Nathan Fine, entitled “The Labour and Farmer Parties in the United States, 1828-1928,” for such evidence.

The interesting part of the aforementioned article is the attempt to explain the cause of this new division in the ranks of the Socialist Party of America. From the sub-caption it would seem that only two factors, the desertion of Upton Sinclair and the Communist manoeuvres, were responsible. The writer even stresses the latter cause, the “Communist manoeuvres”:—

“ . . . This appears to be the result of plotting by Communists, and it has had its effect upon some members who joined the Party in the last several years. These unschooled members have fallen victims to certain fears which include apprehension that a complete collapse of capitalism is just around the corner, that the Fascists are going to get us soon, and that our only salvation is unity of action with the handful of Communists who are active in California. The psychology is for all the world like those party members who in 1919 flocked to the party faction that was coming under the control of Moscow and which was soon talking of ‘Johnny get your gun’. (Italics mine.)

These “unschooled members’’ are not altogether to be blamed for their muddled condition. For, in examining the files of the party organ, The New Leader, we find that influential members whom we are to assume are “schooled“ have subscribed to these self-same views. If “the “unschooled” and newer members were guilty of believing that capitalism is collapsing, so too, were much older members who have had plenty of “schooling.” An example of this belief by one of the older members is the following:

“Four years of industrial chaos, bottomless misery and general despair under Republican administration have amply demonstrated the pitiable incapacity of the ruling classes to prevent a catastrophic collapse of their much-boasted economic order.” (Italics mine.) Morris Hillquit, in the “New Deal,” November, 1933.

In the same paper, Norman Thomas, standard-bearer of the party for the office of President of the United States, says the following on the menace of Fascism in this country:—

“Moreover, a vote for Socialism this year is a vote against the danger of turning the opportunities which exist under the N.R.A. into a drift toward a Fascist society . . .” (Italics mine.)

Only a week or so back, this organisation called a mass meeting in New York’s famous Madison Square Garden, to demonstrate against Fascism in Austria, which ended in both the Socialist Party of America and the Communists demonstrating against each other, with the Secretary of the Communist Party having a chair broken over his head.

Is it to be wondered at, then, that members of this party, with their views on leadership and their hero worship for the two above-mentioned leaders, should take these leaders’ views seriously? To these misinformed workers the great stir and stew of the Communists over these questions passes as action, intelligent and revolutionary action, and attracts them.

Once again, too, is the theory of leadership, so dear to Socialist Party of America members, tried and found wanting. Once again after many years of activity in this party, during which time he has enjoyed the admiration and adulation of the membership, Upton Sinclair, the leader, deserts his admirers to join an avowedly capitalist party. His name is added to the already long list of “leaders” who have deserted the Socialist Party of America for more profitable fields of endeavour. Sinclair, in California, joins Paul Blanshard in New York. Both will do their best to put over Roosevelt’s “New Deal.” Once again, too, does the party cover its shame by a posthumous discovery that what they have lost is no loss at all. We are informed by the correspondent already quoted: —

“The treachery of Sinclair is quite as damaging, as he also has had an effect upon some unschooled members. Sinclair had formerly posed as a left winger, especially in matters relating to Stalin and his fellow commissars. His seeking of the Democratic nomination for Governor has revealed how shallow his political and economic thinking has always been.” (Italics mine.)

We are almost tempted to say “sour grapes” ! Not alone is it bad enough that this “comrade,” who was torn between Stalin, Norman Thomas and Roosevelt, should finally turn to the last-named leader, but what is much worse, he takes with him others of the Socialist Party, who are, in turn, torn between their devotion to that party and Upton Sinclair. For we are informed:—

“The result is that we lose some uninformed members who follow Sinclair, while others come under Communist influence.”

After the correspondent has stated what he thinks are the factors responsible for this split in the party’s ranks, he then gives the real due to understanding this condition:—

“Old time comrades who have watched this development have come to the conclusion that the Party has been too careless in admitting people to membership who know little or nothing of Socialist principles. The well-informed younger comrades agree with this point of view. The Party has also been too tolerant and has not exercised that discipline that is necessary to build a growing working-class party.”

Here, then, is the kernel and cause of this and past splits in all such organisations. The scientific Socialist and his party have not paid mere lip service to this view but have seen to it that all who apply for membership in their ranks shall understand and accept at least the Declaration of Principles of Socialism. As is so well stated in the Socialist Party of Great Britain’s little pamphlet, “Socialism and Religion” : —

“Hence the test of admission to the Socialist Patty must be neither more nor less than acceptance of the essential working principles and policy of Socialism as a class movement. To demand more is to degenerate into a sect; to require less is to invite anarchy and embark on the slippery incline of labourism and compromise. These essentials of Socialist principles and policy are outlined in the Declaration of Principles of the Socialist Party (of Great Britain). They can be easily understood by the average worker, and they comprise the irreducible minima of the principles and policy of Socialism; narrow enough to exclude all who are not Socialists, yet broad enough to embrace everyone who is. They form, in consequence, a reasonable and sufficient test. . .”

Because the Socialist Party of America, like its kindred parties the whole world over, ignored the above essentials for membership, its history is full of crises when ignorance and confusion have led—as is inevitable—to schism.

It is most doubtful if they have even learned from their recent experiences. For the correspondent whom we have quoted ends his article with the following:—

“The betrayal of the Party by Sinclair may prove a terrific blow. The Socialist Party vote may be such that it will lose its official standing. In that case the enormous number of signatures required to get on the ballot will make it almost impossible for the Party to nominate candidates. The peril the Party faces as a result of Sinclair’s action is recognised by every real Socialist, and the utmost will be done to avert it.”

Here is the usual plea of the vote-catcher for still more vote-catching when he sees that the votes are turning elsewhere.

Those who place an intelligent membership before a large but politically inexperienced one see in this further proof that the Socialist Party of America is not a Socialist party. For the workers who support it the future can hold nothing but disappointment, and often despair.

To those workers in the United States who seek the only solution to their problems, Socialism, we of the Workers’ Socialist Party open our ranks. We have the one thing worth having, an organisation devoted to the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of Socialism.

S. Felperin

(Socialist Standard, April 1934)

Leave a Reply