Gus Hall

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Wed Oct 18 12:20:11 MDT 2000

CB: What was Trotsky's position on the '36 American election ?

LP: I believe that Trotsky tended to favor critical support for the CP, but
ran into Stalinophobic resistance from the SWP leaders. The SWP had a
reflexive and sectarian attitude toward any electoral initiative of the CP,
including the 1948 Wallace campaign. I have looked at copies of the
Militant from WWII and they featured coverage of SWP candidates with the
headline "Vote Trotskyist", as if this call meant anything to the average
worker. Of course, the Militant was replete with icons of the martyred
revolutionary just to remind the radical movement who they really were.

At long last we can have a calm, dispassionate discussion of the Trotskyist
and Stalinist legacy now that the True Believers have gone their own way,
either to Jim Hillier's Marx-Lenin-Stalin mailing-list or to

In my own opinion, both movements have much too offer but only if
approached in a critical manner. From the Trotskyist movement you get a
commitment to class independence. That's the good part, the bad part is
that it approaches the mass movement in the manner of a sect as described
by Hal Draper:

The sect mentality sees its sanctification only in its Full Program, that
is, in what separates it from the working class. If, god forbid, some
slogan it puts forth bids fair to become to popular, it gets scared.
"Something must be the matter! We must have capitulated to somebody." (This
is not a caricature: it is drawn from life.) Marx's approach was exactly
the opposite. The job of the vanguard was to work out slogans that would be
popular in the given state of the class struggle, in the sense of being
able to get broadest possible masses of workers moving. That means: moving
on an issue, in a direction, in a way that would bring them into conflict
with the capitalist class and its state, and the agents of capitalists and
state, including the "labor lieutenants of capitalism" (its own leaders).

The sect is a miniaturized version of the revolutionary party-to-be, a
"small mass party," a microscopic edition or model of the mass party that
does not yet exist. Rather, it thinks of itself this way, or tries to be
such a miniature.

Its organizational method is the method of "as if": let us act as if we
were a mass party already (to a miniscular degree, naturally, in accordance
with our resources), and this is the road to becoming a mass party. Let us
publish a "workers' newspaper," just as if we were a workers' party; and if
we cannot publish a daily like a real mass party, at least we can publish a
weekly or bi-weekly by draining all our resources -- this makes us a small
(unreal) mass party. (But such a facade is only self-deluding, since if it
ever succeeds in deluding a single worker, he finds out soon enough that
there is little behind it.) Let us build a "Bolshevik" party be being
"disciplined" like good Bolsheviks. (So, on the basis of a false notion of
"Bolshevik" discipline absorbed from the enemies of Leninism, the sect is
"Bolshevized" into a contracting, petrifying coterie, which replaces the
bonds of a political cohesion by iron hoops such as are needed to hold
together the staves of a crumbling barrel.

There is a fundamental fallacy in the notion that the road of
miniaturization (aping a mass party in miniature) is the road to a mass
revolutionary party. Science proves that the scale on which a living
organism exists cannot be arbitrarily changed: human beings cannot exist
either on the scale of the Lilliputians or of the Brobdingagians; their
life mechanisms could not function on either scale. Ants can life 200 times
their own weight, but a six foot ant could not lift 20 tons even if it
could exist in some monstrous fashion. In organizational life too, this is
true: If you try to miniaturize a mass party, you do not get a mass party
in miniature, but only a monster.

>From the CPUSA you get an entirely different approach. Purged of the
needless alliance with FDR, the Popular Front era has much to teach us
today as this passage from an article I wrote some years ago would indicate:

We have to look at the CP dialectically. There was a whole other side to
the CP at the grass-roots level that we can characterize as dynamic,
militant and successful. People like Maurice Isserman and Mark Naison, part
of a new generation of historians, have begun to focus on this aspect of CP
history. Studying the writings of historians such as these is very
important to those of us who are trying to construct a new socialist
movement in the United States. More can be learned from their writings
about how socialists can reach the masses than all of the literature
generated by American Trotskyism.

In an essay "Remaking America: Communists and Liberals in the Popular
Front", Naison discusses how the CP made the decision to implement the
Popular Front in a very aggressive manner. Browder and the American
Communists made a big effort to stop speaking in "Marxist-Leninese" and
discovered many novel ways to reach the American people.

They concentrated in two important areas: building the CIO and fighting
racism. There is an abundance of information about its union activities,
but new research is bringing out important facts about its links to the
Black community.

A "Saturday Evening Post" writer observed in 1938 that CP headquarters "is
a place where every Negro with a grievance can be sure of prompt action. If
he has been fired, the Communists can be counted on to picket his employer.
If he has been evicted, the Communists will guard his furniture and take
his case to court. If his gas has been cut off, the Communists will take
his complaint, but not his unpaid bill to the nearest office... There is
never a labor parade, nor a mass meeting of any significance in the colored
community in which Communists do not get their banner in the front row and
their speakers on the platform."

On the cultural front, the CP dropped its traditional rigidity in the most
amazing fashion. In 1936, for example, the "Daily Worker" actually polled
its readers to see if they wanted a regular sports page. When they voted in
favor six to one, the paper hired Lester Rodney, who was not even a party
member. Rodney, largely on his own initiative, opened up a campaign to
integrate major league baseball.

John Hammond, a friend of the CP, put together a series of Carnegie Hall
concerts that brought the best jazz talent together in an interracial
setting. The success of these concerts inspired Hammond to such an extent
that he started a nightclub called Cafe Society that also invited a
racially mixed audience. On opening night, Teddy Wilson, Billie Holiday and
the comedian Jack Gilford performed.

The party also spawned a new folk music culture. On the west coast, Woody
Guthrie offered his services to California farm workers organizing under
party auspices. Eventually Guthrie wrote a column in the west coast CP
daily newspaper.

On the east coast, the party drew the black folksinger Huddie Ledbetter
(Leadbelly) close to its ranks. He was a fixture at parties and meetings.
Eventually Leadbelly made a disciple of a 21 year old journalist-musician
by the name of Pete Seeger. Naison observes, "Guthrie, Ledbetter and
Seeger, employing rhythms and harmonies harking back to 16th century
England and Africa, but writing of contemporary themes, created music that
both sentimentalized and affirmed the populist aspirations of US radicals,
enabling them to feel part of the country they were trying to change."

As the Popular Front deepened, party leader Earl Browder began to become
more and more infatuated with the idea of the CP functioning
semi-officially as part of the New Deal administration. When the Popular
Front period started, he advocated support of the petty-bourgeois
Farmer-Labor party. He soon came to realize that open support for FDR made
more sense. There was lingering support in the CPUSA for the Farmer-Labor
party when this overture was first presented to the party. Daily Worker
editor Clarence Hathaway was calling for an orientation to the Farmer-Labor
party as late as 1937.

Louis Proyect
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