[Marxism] http://johnriddell.wordpress.com: Defying the democrats: Marxists and the lost labor party of 1923

Andrew Pollack acpollack2 at gmail.com
Thu Sep 11 08:53:39 MDT 2014

I look forward to Louis's rebuttal -- followed by my own to his.

A few months ago I had posted as a Facebook note a list of some of the
links which Eric uses, encouraging folks to read them for context on
present-day efforts to back middle-class reform candidates or parties. I'm
so glad he's put all the history and arguments together -- and I encourage
comrades to read the original documents he links to, and the Draper books.

On Thu, Sep 11, 2014 at 10:44 AM, Louis Proyect via Marxism <
marxism at lists.csbs.utah.edu> wrote:

> ======================================================================
> Rule #1: YOU MUST clip all extraneous text when replying to a message.
> ======================================================================
> On 9/11/14 10:09 AM, DW via Marxism wrote:
>> This article will chart the development of the movement for a Labor Party
>> from 1919 to 1924, discuss the strengths and weakness of the Communists’
>> orientation towards it, and conclude with an analysis of the dissolution
>> of
>> the Labor Party movement into the “Progressive Party” presidential
>> campaign
>> of Wisconsin Republican senator Robert La Follette.
>> FULL:
>> http://johnriddell.wordpress.com/2014/09/10/defying-the-
>> democrats-marxists-and-the-lost-labor-party-of-1923/
> I wonder if John Riddell has left the building--maybe because I have been
> pointing out the foolish pro-Putin politics of his long-time comrade Roger
> Annis, I hope not.
> In any case, I just took a quick look at this article by Eric Blanc, who
> wrote an excellent piece a while back on the Bolshevik's inadequate
> appreciation of the national question. Something tells me that Eric is a
> member of the small Lambertist propaganda group that David belongs to since
> much of the article relies on an analysis of 1920s CP electoral strategy
> written by one of their members. Much of the article is good but
> unfortunately repeats many of the dismissals of the La Follette campaign
> that are the accepted wisdom of the Trotskyist movement. If I find the time
> I will reply to this article, including my own assessment of La Follette. I
> will say now that we should only be so lucky as to have someone analogous
> to La Follette (Bernie Sanders?) running as an *independent* candidate in
> 2016.
> http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/american_left/Nader2000.htm
> The Communists had another opportunity before long in the form of the
> Robert La Follette third party campaign of 1924. They would screw this one
> up as well, and for the same sorts of reasons. Senator Robert La Follette
> was a Republican in the Progressivist tradition. For obvious reasons, the
> Nader campaign hearkens back to the 1924 effort. Nader, like La Follette,
> is running against corporate abuse but really lacks a systematic
> understanding of the cause of such abuse or how to end it. The
> anti-monopoly tradition is deeply engrained in the American consciousness
> and it is very likely that all mass movements in opposition to the
> two-party system will retain elements of this kind of thinking. Of course,
> one can always fantasize about an October 1917, keeping in mind that such
> fantasies miss the deeply populist cast of the Russian Revolution itself.
> At first the Communists looked favorably on the La Follette initiative,
> couching it in sectarian phraseology: "The creation of a Third Party is a
> revolutionary fact," John Pepper explained, "but it is a
> counter-revolutionary act to help such a Third Party to swallow a class
> Farmer-Labor party." Translated from jargon into English, this was Pepper's
> way of saying that the Communists favored La Follette's bid but only as a
> means to an end: their own victory at the head of the legions of the
> working class. La Follette was seen as a Kerensky-like figure, who would be
> supported against a Czarist two-party system in an interim step toward
> American Bolshevik victory.
> Despite the 1921 "united front" turn of the Comintern, a decision was made
> to instruct the Americans to break completely with La Follette. Not even
> critical support of the kind that Pepper put forward was allowed. It
> proposed that the CP run its own candidates or those of the rump
> Farmer-Labor party it now owned and controlled, lock, stock and barrel.
> Eight days after the CP opened up its guns on La Follette, he responded in
> kind and denounced Communism as "the mortal enemies of the progressive
> movement and democratic ideals."
> Looking back in retrospect, there is powerful evidence suggesting that the
> La Follette campaign had more in common with the working-class based
> Farmer-Labor Party that John Fitzpatrick had initiated than the kind of
> middle-class third party campaign a Republic Senator would be expected to
> mount.
> La Follette first began to explore the possibility of running as an
> independent during the 1920 campaign, when a platform he submitted to
> Wisconsin delegates was reviled as "Bolshevik." It included repeal of the
> Espionage and Sedition Acts, restoration of civil liberties, and abolition
> of the draft. On economic policy, it promised nationalization of the
> railroads, a key populist demand, and of natural resources and agricultural
> processing facilities. It also urged government sponsorship of farmer and
> worker organizations to achieve "collective bargaining" to control the
> products of their work. (They don't make Republicans the way they used to.)
> In 1921 radical farmer and labor organizations launched a common lobbying
> front in the People's Legislative Service and La Follette became its most
> prominent leader. The PLS received most of its funds from the railway
> unions. La Follette was convinced that taxation was the best way to remedy
> social inequality and his PLS speeches hammered away at this theme, in
> somewhat of the same manner that Nader's stump speeches focus
> single-mindedly on corporate greed.
> La Follette threw his hat in the ring in 1924 and attracted support from
> the same constellation of forces that had rallied to the railway union
> initiated CPPA (Conference for Progressive Political Action). They strongly
> identified with the British Labor Party and hoped that the La Follette
> campaign could lead in the same direction. At the July 4, 1924 CPPA
> convention, the labor and farmers organizations were joined by significant
> representation from the rising civil rights movement, especially the NAACP.
> Soon afterwards, the Socialists formally endorsed the La Follette bid at
> their own convention on July 7. Intellectuals such as W.E.B. DuBois,
> Theodore Dreiser, Franz Boas, Thorstein Veblen, Margaret Sanger all
> endorsed La Follette. Unions supplied most of the organizational muscle for
> the campaign. Besides the rail unions, various Central Trades Councils
> threw themselves into the work. Charles Kutz, a machinists union official,
> became director of the La Follette campaign in Pennsylvania. NAACP support
> for La Follette was based on his opposition to "discrimination between
> races" and disavowal of the Ku Klux Klan that had been making inroads in
> the Democratic Party recently. His stance prompted the Grand Wizard of the
> KKK to declare La Follette as "the arch enemy of the nation."
> La Follette won 16.5 percent of the vote in 1924, as compared to 28.8 for
> the Democrat candidate John W. Davis and 54 percent for Coolidge. La
> Follette was old and sickly by the time the campaign began and its rigors
> took its toll. He died of a heart attack on June 18, 1925, four days after
> his seventieth birthday.
> The La Follette campaign was the last significant third party effort in
> the United States until the 1948 Henry Wallace Progressive Party campaign.
> It is difficult to say whether it would have evolved into a fighting labor
> party, especially in light of the sectarian hostility of the CP. When
> Eugene V. Debs came out in support of La Follette, William Z. Foster
> blasted him for his "complete capitulation". Debs fired back that he made
> his political decisions without having to rely on a "Vatican in Moscow."
> The stung Foster replied, "We make no apology for accepting the guidance of
> the Third International. On the contrary, we glory in it."
> Perhaps a glimmer of reality would eventually creep into the Comintern's
> thinking. The significant labor and black support for La Follette could not
> be ignored. In 1925, after taking a second look at the La Follette
> campaign, it decided that the 16.5 percent vote was "an important victory"
> for the American left, an implied rebuke to earlier sectarian attitudes.
> Obviously it is best to start off with fresh slate, without any sectarian
> attitudes, when confronted by phenomena such as the Farmer-Labor Party or
> the La Follette campaign. It is within that spirit that my final post on
> the Nader campaign will be presented in the next week or so. In it I want
> to closely examine the social and economic forces that have given birth to
> the most extraordinary electoral project of the left since the Henry
> Wallace campaign of 1948.
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