Party building

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Wed Sep 24 07:08:23 MDT 2003

Tom O'Lincoln wrote:
> Similarly Louis keeps telling us how great the Cochrane group was, and
> that's fine, but didn't they go downhill and eventually fold up?

It was amazing that they continued for as long as they did. To start a 
new socialist group in 1954 in the USA was not just Quixotic, it was 
inviting real windmills to tilt at you.

I see the Socialist Union as the same kind of initiative I got involved 
with Camejo back in 1980. The North Star Network was seen as a modest 
step in the direction of regrouping the left.

The Socialist Union was fundamentally an experiment to see how much 
interest there was in a kind of new approach to revolutionary politics. 
It failed not only because the times were unfavorable for any such 
initiative, but because the USSR still existed. As long as the USSR 
existed, you would continue to have poles of attraction around Stalinism 
and its dialectical opposite Trotskyism. Now that those poles have 
disappeared, the potential for a new approach finally exists.

Here's something from the Cochranite archives that puts things into 

American Socialist, November 1956

[Louis Proyect: During the course of an exchange on the Marxism list 
with Ken Lawrence, Sol Dollinger mentioned that a key ‘regroupment’ 
meeting in Chicago in 1956 had been organized by members of the 
Socialist Union, the group that Sol belonged to and which put out the 
magazine American Socialist. The November 1956 issue contains the speech 
Bert Cochran made to that gathering of 800. Other keynote speakers 
included A.J. Muste of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and Sidney Lens, 
a writer and trade union official. Both Muste and Lens had been involved 
with the Trotskyist movement in the 1930s. Muste had merged his Workers 
Party with the Trotskyists, Lens was a militant of the Oehlerite sect 
that had broken with the SWP. Regroupment refers to the initiatives 
taken by the radicals of that time to pull together a new non-sectarian 
movement, a task that very much remains with us to this day. In a 
preface to Cochran’s article, the editors give their views on this process:

[’Practically since its inception, the American Socialist has declared 
that a regroupment was necessary on the American scene, that the old 
movements had knocked each other out, and what remained of them had 
either succumbed to the slough of sectarianism, or had outlived their 
usefulness as vehicles of American radicalism. At first we were a lone 
voice, but today this idea is accepted by many. Nevertheless, as a 
result of many private conferences and conversations that we have been 
engaged in over these past months, we are convinced that the regroupment 
and the setting up of something new will necessarily involve a more or 
less protracted process of discussion, debate, and re-examination of 
many of the Left’s premises and solutions, before the ground is 
sufficiently prepared for the next organizational ventures.

[’We intend to continue our active participation in this discussion. We 
intend to help in all practical measures so that the discussion may 
become as deep-going, and thorough as possible, and involve every 
important segment of Left opinion. Finally, we intend to keep pushing to 
the fore those proposals, political and organizational, which in our 
opinion, will lay the proper foundation for the new movement, and will 
hasten the realization of the political reassessment and the 
organizational regroupment which we believe necessary before American 
socialism can begin moving forward in a serious way.’]

Toward a New Movement of Democratic Socialism
by Bert Cochran

OUR symposium tonight occurs while the American Left is in the throes of 
soul-searching. And that is hardly surprising. American radicalism has 
practically hit rock bottom. In the era of the crumbling of capitalist 
power around the world, and the disintegration of imperial empires, the 
socialist movement in this country has never been weaker. One has to go 
back to the years immediately following the Civil War for any comparable 
period of socialist isolation.

People got into the habit of assigning the blame for this humiliating 
condition to inexorable forces outside our control and beyond our reach. 
There is this much truth to the proposition: It is no simple matter to 
build a socialist movement in a country that is rich, whose economy is 
booming, and whose rulers still have an enormous hold on the thinking of 
the people. But it is finally dawning on many of us that we can’t put 
all the blame on history, or sociology; that a good part of the fault 
lies right inside the Left, that the finger of guilt points to the 
Left’s own derelictions, its own mistakes, its stubborn blindness, and 
its colossal stupidities.

We cannot avoid an inquest into the past; not in order to rekindle old 
quarrels, but to clear the ground for the present and future.

For two decades, in the thirties and forties, American radicalism was 
dominated by the Communist Party. This movement possessed an 
incomparable asset: It had a membership that was fanatically devoted and 
extraordinarily energetic. They did a lot of worth-while things in their 
heyday. They were the first to organize the unemployed after the 1929 
crash, they pitched in on the early battles of the CIO, they fought 
against Negro discrimination at a time when the Negro did not command 
the wide support that he enjoys today.

But the good work, the militancy in labor battles, the zeal on behalf of 
the oppressed, were all vitiated—worse than that, turned to 
ashes—because the Communist Party rested on a big lie. It pretended to 
be a party of the American working class, run by its own membership. 
But, as is now admitted, it was not run by the membership at all; and 
its policies were brazenly manipulated from the outside.

TWICE in its history, its national leaders were unceremoniously given 
the gate, like office boys. Jay Love. stone in 1929, Earl Browder in 
1946. Was the membership dissatisfied with their stewardship? Was that 
it? No, the membership had nothing to say about it. On both occasions, 
the dismissals were triggered by a signal from abroad.

This represented a startling innovation in the socialist movement. The 
history of socialism has recorded the existence of right-wing parties, 
left-wing parties, democratically run parties, bureaucratically run 
parties, but it had before given birth to a party that did not own its 
soul, and whose leaders could not tell you from day to what their 
program was going to be. For five years after 1929, the Communists 
proclaimed that Socialists were social fascists, that the AFL leaders 
were fascist; they went in for united fronts, but only from below, in 
order to blow up the other organization.

Then, Dimitrov made a speech in Moscow, and the Communist Party 
flip-flopped, and became the tail end of the Democratic Party, and 
former deep-dyed enemies of the working class were now transformed into 
progressive leaders of mankind.

Five more years went by, and they were defending the Stalin-Hitler Pact, 
Molotov informed us that fascism was a matter of taste, and ‘The Yanks 
Weren’t Coming.’

Two years later, Hitler attacked Russia, and like all converts, the 
Communists became holier than the Pope. They denounced Lewis for the 
war-time coal strikes designed to secure some justice for the miners, 
they attacked A. Philip Randolph’s March-On-Washington which aimed to 
get jobs for the Negro people, they advocated piece work and speed-up 
inside the unions.

WELL, the word finally got around that the Communist Party was just a 
big hoax. It wasn’t a matter of mistakes having been made, or mistakes 
being corrected. None of us are free of error. But how can you deal with 
leaders who aren’t really there, who are figments of somebody’s 
imagination? How can you deal with a party which doesn’t do its own 

When this fact sank in among a lot of American people, the Communist 
party was finished—and, I may add parenthetically, everybody else on the 
Left got dragged down in the process. The party leaders and members only 
woke up to this fact after the Twentieth Congress, and have been doing a 
lot of breast-beating since. But, as discussion shows, they can’t jump 
out of their political skins—and it’s awfully late now, anyhow. The 
party is too disgraced and tainted to make a comeback. Its future is 
strictly behind it.

I think the chap in the Nation who proposed to the Communist Party that 
it dissolve, and let its individual members—yes, and leaders—play a 
constructive role in a new radical movement, was giving them good 
advice. And from what I am told, a good many are taking that advice.

But the fact that the Communist Party is behind the eight-ball doesn’t 
solve the problem of the American Left We have to face up to the reality 
that the whole radical movement has disintegrated until only a number of 
splinters remain. The rock on which this radical movement split and 
split and split, and finally foundered— was Russia. This is a towering 
fact, which we have to digest, which we can’t simply deplore, or 
exorcise out of existence.

What we have to ask ourselves, I think, is this: Is it possible now in 
the light of the dolorous experience of American radicalism, and the 
greater knowledge we possess today of the Russian experiment, is it 
possible to look at Russia from higher vantage ground, and from the 
viewpoint of our own American needs even if we have some differences in 
our precise appreciations? Can the Left free itself from unthinking 
idolatry and the whitewashing of Russian crimes against socialism; and, 
on the other extreme, from the embittered hostility which misses the 
epic movement of historic progress, and can see in the Soviet bloc only 
the anti-Christ of our time.

IN other words, I am making a plea for sanity, for more mature 
judgement, for deeper historical insight, for an end to Left bigotry and 
Babbittry, for a cease-fire in our own cold war, for an effort at 
cooperation, and where possible, reconciliation.

If we do not regroup our effectives, if we cannot integrate our work, 
then it may be that the present radical movement in this country, from 
one end of the spectrum to the other, will go under in the flood, and a 
new generation will have to build a socialist organization from the 
ground up.

If we can find the inner resources to unravel this knotty riddle of our 
lifetime, then we have the chance to reconstruct the movement on 
sturdier foundations and along more mature lines, and the challenge of 
democratic socialism, compelling and clear, can again be flung into the 
market place—where it has unnecessarily been absent far too long.


The Marxism list:

PLEASE clip all extraneous text before replying to a message.

More information about the Marxism mailing list