lnp3 at panix.com
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
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
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.
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