[Marxism] My toes are spreading/Reinventing the wheel

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Nov 29 06:54:32 MST 2004

Concluding paragraphs of "Our Orientation"
The following article was first published in the May 1954 issue of The 
Educator, an internal organ of the Socialist Union of America, headed by 
Bert Cochran.

(Draft Resolution Adopted by National Board, April 27, 1954)

The very formulations of the International Resolution must lead us to 
the conclusion that the revolutionary parties of tomorrow will not be 
Trotskyist, in the sense of necessarily accepting the tradition of our 
movement, our estimation of Trotsky's place in the revolutionary 
hierarchy, or all of Trotsky's specific evaluations and slogans. We in 
the United States had precisely this experience where Trotskyists fused 
with the small Muste organization to form the Workers Party in 1935. The 
fusion occurred only after we had overcome considerable resistance in 
the Musteite ranks to accepting the special characteristics of 
Trotskyism by assuring them that we had no special sectarian axes to 
grind. How much more operative will this be when the left wing develops 
through its own specific experiences and the merging of different 
currents and groups inside the big centrist or reformist mass movements.

Our analysis and our tactical orientation would remain like a knife 
without a blade if we do not follow through with the necessary 
conclusion. And this conclusion is that in the present historical 
conditions, our cadres have to take the whole body of Marxist theory and 
struggle, including Trotsky's contributions to it and translate them 
into the language of our lifetime, and into the language of the existing 
movements of the various countries in which we are situated.

The worst error is to think this mainly a job of clearer language, or 
for our cadres to start masquerading as simple homespun mechanics who 
have none too secure a mastery of grammar or syntax. What is involved if 
we are to integrate ourselves in the mass movement and to begin 
functioning effectively as its Marxist wing, is that we have to rid 
ourselves of all faction spirit and too narrow understanding of the 
Marxist's role in the centrist and reformist milieus of our time.

Our purpose is to bring our ideas into the mass movement, and to 
gradually raise the consciousness of the ranks to the historic tasks. 
But the last thing in the world we should attempt is to inculcate the 
ranks with the necessity of adopting our specific tradition, and 
impressing upon them the truth of all the evaluations and proposals 
broached by Trotsky from 1923 on. The thought that in the coming period 
of our activity we have to go out of our way to mention the name and 
work of Leon Trotsky, and the name and the existence of the Fourth 
International, shows how far all of us have become infused with narrow 
group thinking, and organizational fetishism, how far we have traveled 
from the outlook of Frederick Engels, who warned the Socialists in 
America not to publish the Communist Manifesto, as it was based on 
old-world experiences, and that the American labor movement, developing 
under different conditions, would not understand it, and would not know 
what Marx and Engels were talking about. Why isn't it possible for us to 
take this simple thought of Engels and apply it to ourselves and our 
work? If Engels didn't think this was putting a question mark over his 
revolutionary integrity, why should we?

We said before that only by integrating ourselves within the existing 
movements could our cadres survive and fulfill their mission. We will 
now add to that proposition this corollary: Only by dropping all 
sectarian notions of imposing our specific tradition upon the mass 
movements which developed in different circumstances and under different 
influences, can our approach register successes and guarantee the future 
of our precious cadres. What is involved, it is dear, is not any 
modification of programmatic essence, but a sharp reversal of 
organizational concepts and perspectives on the nature of the 
development of the mass revolutionary parties of tomorrow.

There remains to say a word whether this course does not contain dangers 
that the cadre will get lost in the mass movement and therefore become 
liquidated as a specific revolutionary current Of course, the danger 
exists, just as there is danger every time a revolutionist takes a job 
as an official in a union, and begins to live in an opportunist 
environment Some succumb to material blandishments. But if the cadre is 
cohesive, and firm in its revolutionary convictions and aims, the losses 
are few and the gains are many. Events will justify the necessity for a 
Marxist policy and prove its effectiveness in action. The dangers will 
be counteracted by the struggle Itself. We have an additional guarantee, 
insofar as there are any guarantees in these things, in the clarity of 
our views, the devotion of our ranks who have been tested over a long 
period of time, in our ideological solidarity, and In the unifying 
element of an international center. If we try to impose additional 
guarantees by adopting narrow group viewpoints, and sporting narrow 
group ideologies in the mass movement, we will vitiate the whole 
concept, and defeat our common purposes.

Although in the United States the situation is unique as the working 
class is still not organized into its own political party, the 
orientation here discussed operates with full force. One has to dwell in 
the never-never land of a Cannon to seriously promulgate the theory that 
the American working class, which has not yet attained labor party 
consciousness, will pass, with the next struggle, to the banner of 
Cannonite revolutionism, or what amounts to approximately the same 
thing, will in rapid-fire fashion, plunge in and out of a labor party to 
join up with Cannon and his lieutenants to storm the barricades. We have 
correctly stated before that the American workers will move massively 
through their organizations, and not jump over the heads of their 
organizations. That implies that they will move in deliberate stages, 
not when the forward columns are ready, but only when sizable phalanxes 
of the class are prepared to move.

Basing ourselves on this analysis, we have oriented towards the 
organized labor movement, especially the mass production unions of the 
CIO, as the battleground of the big future class developments, and the 
repository of the forces that. will advance the working class to Its 
next political stage with the formation of a labor party. That does not 
mean that we are absolutely certain that a labor party will be formed. 
What the perspective does base itself on with certainty is that the 
inevitable political regroupment will pass through existing channels of 
the organized labor movement and have a political character capable of 
uniting masses at a minimum level. The broad character of this movement 
will provide room for the various existing political tendencies, 
Stalinists, Social Democrats, centrists and Marxists to operate within 
it That is why, whatever the vicissitudes of the struggle may bring, 
whatever forms it may assume, whatever channels it may take, the 
strategy of basing ourselves on the organized labor movement, and 
particularly its mass production sectors, and directing our main 
attention to it, is the correct one and will provide us with the 
necessary sustenance to carry on, and in due course, to establish 
ourselves in conjunction with allies as the left wing of a growing 
political movement.

Of course, as we tried to explain to the SWP, between the present and 
the next developments exists a more or less protracted period of time, 
and a political tendency cannot deduce its day-to-day tactics solely, 
directly and immediately from the grandiose strategy, but must seek out 
and find every possibility for advancement of its program and its 
influence, be It on the most limited basis, and from sources that by 
themselves will not necessarily be the main forces of the big labor 
advance. That is why in many localities, where trade union avenues are 
not open to us for one reason or another, we must seek out other 
milieus, whether of the Stalinist variety, or student circles, or 
various liberal or minority groups.

We approach all these strata, however, in the spirit of Marx's Communist 
Manifesto which proclaimed that the revolutionists had no interests 
separate and apart from the working class, that we are not a special 
sect, cult, or church, which seeks to draw people out of the broad 
currents into its backwater, but rather as American Marxists, we seek to 
join with others in advancing the existing struggles to a higher stage 
and on a broader front. We are convinced that out of these struggles and 
experiences, even before big mass forces take to the field, Left 
currents will arise with which we shall be able to cooperate and fuse; 
that the American Marxist tendency, as a stronger formation than at 
present, will thus be able to discharge its role as a left wing in the 
big movement—as part and parcel of the struggle to create the mass 
revolutionary party in the United States. That is our perspective.


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