Undetermined Month

What is Socialism? Three Lectures for Workers, by Albert Goldman [1938]  Large file. Graphic pdf of a pamphlet published by the publishing house of the Socialist Workers Party by prominent party lawyer Albert Goldman. Goldman first expounds upon what he calls the "trinity of evils afflicting the working masses" -- a low standard of living, economic insecurity, and war -- and submits that the only way to eliminate unemployment and imperialist conflict is to abolish capitalism itself. Goldman calls the perceived fundamental battle between fascism and democratic capitalism a "false premise" and explicitly rejects the Popular Front line then being advanced by the Communist Party. "Fascism and capitalist democracy have the identical purpose of guarding capitalist property," Goldman declares. Goldman then hedges his bets by asserting that the latter is preferable to the working class due to the rights of workers to organize economically and politically under capitalist democracy. He calls for a United Front of working class organizations rather than a Popular Front of workers and capitalists. In the second lecture Goldman deals with the transition to socialism, acknowledging while peaceful change is desirable to all, "the question, however, is not whether it is desirable but whether it is possible." Goldman asserts that based upon past history "we are justified in predicting that the capitalist class will not surrender power to the working class without a violent struggle."


"Duty of Social Democrats in the SDF and ALP: Resolution Passed at the New York City Convention, Jan. 29, 1938."  Historically, the Socialist Party of America cast itself as the "political wing" of the labor movement, leaving wage negotiations to its "economic wing," the trade union movement. By the middle 1920s the political success of the British Labour Party and failure of the SPA to achieve a foothold outside of a very few urban centers had forced a fundamental reevaluation of this notion -- a reevaluation particularly embraced by the party's Old Guard faction. The de facto role of the "political wing" was now seen as that of a pressure group allied with and influencing a union-dominated mass Labor Party. The Social Democratic Federation in New York, state affiliate of the national SDF, attempted to walk a fine line of maintaining an effective and useful existence as a socialist propaganda organization without alienating the labor union-directed American Labor Party to which it had pledged allegiance. This resolution of the 1938 New York City Convention attempts to specify the exact relationship between the SDF and the ALP for its members. SDF members are explicitly prohibited from forming organized factions in the ALP; beyond that proscription the SDF did not "lay down any code of rules to govern its members in their capacity as members in the American Labor Party," instead calling for them to "be guided by their Socialist knowledge and Socialist conscience in that capacity as in every other." Participation in meetings of the parallel ALP branch organizations and fulfillment of all duties of an ALP member are urged. As for the SDF, organization of mass meetings, at least once monthly, and leaflets and direct contact to build membership is seen as the way forward. Increased activity in the sale of pamphlets and subscriptions to the weekly New Leader is also specified. The ALP's opportunistic dual sponsorship of "old party" candidates rather than running a full independent slate -- essentially a new permutation of the historical AF of L political strategy of supporting friends and defeating enemies -- is explained away as a lack "in cohesion, in self-reliance, and in clearness of view as to its own future road" that was merely part of the organization's "formative stage."

"SDF Warns ALP of Dangerous Groups: Resolution Passed at the New York City Convention, Jan. 29, 1938."  So-called "Section 2" of the resolution of the 1938 New York City Convention of the Social Democratic Federation on the American Labor Party consisted of this warning to the ALP leadership against "Communist infiltration" of the group. "The aim of the Communists has been and is to undermine democracy, to breed dissension in the labor movement, and to destroy every organization that strives for the betterment of the condition of the workers through democratic and peaceful means," the declaration warns. Urging that the Communists' whole record rather than their present people's front phrases should be used to assess the Communists, the Social Democrats warn that "In all countries they have tried to destroy the labor unions and labor parties that they could not control." Their presence inside the ALP would lead to discredit in the eyes of the people and organized labor alike, the resolution cautions.

"An Invitation to Sincere Socialists: Resolution Adopted by the New York City SDF Convention, Jan. 29, 1938."   In the wake of a drive within the Socialist Party of America to expel the organized Trotskyist faction from the organization, the rival Social Democratic Federation of New York City issued the following resolution declaring its ideas victorious and urging "the many sincere and disillusioned members of the Socialist Party" to join SDF ranks to help build the American Labor Party. "A division among Socialists, always a tragedy, may be necessary when a deep cleavage exists in principles or policies. When, however, many members of the Socialist Party have come to accept our viewpoint, and only the existence of two organizations separates those who share our ideas from us, perpetuation of a division between democratic Socialists would become an unforgivable blunder." The appeal seems to have been more for propaganda effect as an attempt to scoop up loose members rather than refection of a serious effort to mend ideological and policy fences with a view to establishing organic unity.

  MARCH 1938

"The Moscow Trials," by Norman Thomas [March 1938] Article by the leader of the Socialist Party attempting to make sense of the Great Show Trials in Moscow -- the third of which, featuring Bukharin in the dock, was held March 2-13, 1938. "These confessions, true, false, or partly true and partly false, are for us who have believed in socialism as the hope of the world the occasion of bitter tears and deep humiliation," states Thomas, who notes similar patently false confessions happened during the period of the Spanish Inquisition and the witchcraft trials. "I assume that in a regime which makes possible no legal or democratic opposition even within the Communist Party to the decisions of the bureaucracy there have been plots. This was probably especially true in the dark days of 1932-1933....The important thing is that there is no interpretation of these trials which does not bring shame upon the regime," writes Thomas. He adds that "Lenin was a great enough man to master the amoral tactics which he consciously used with some regard for proportion and achievement. None of his successors has that ability. Insofar as Lenin, yes, and Trotsky, were responsible for this exaltation of secular Jesuitism as a kind of working class virtue, they must share in the guilt of its complete degeneration under Stalin.... [Stalin's] supreme failure has been an exaltation of a regime which makes suspicion of one's closest comrades inevitable and plots and counterplots the only vehicle of effective political activity." Thomas calls the USSR "a totalitarian state under a monolithic party" and presciently notes the likelihood of a change of party line with some chance of "an alliance or understanding with Hitler."

"Thomasite Group Denied Affiliation with Labor Party: ALP State Executive Committee Votes 10 to 7 Against Accepting Offer of Socialist Party." (New Leader) [events of March 7-10, 1938]   In March 1938 politically astute New Yorkers were treated to the spectacle of the state Socialist Party attempting to follow the Social Democratic Federation which had split from it (because it saw the Socialists as Communist-dominated) into the American Labor Party -- which actually was dominated by Communists through their trade union leadership positions! Adding to the complexity or mirth of the situation, the Socialists were backed in their appeal to join the ALP by their erstwhile rivals of the SDF (Louis Waldman and Louis Hendin) and stymied by the organized opposition of the Communists (Mike Quill, Vito Marcantonio, Louis Weinstock). State Secretary of the ALP Alex Rose clarified that the Socialist Party of New York's application to join the ALP as a group was only temporarily deferred by the State Committee of that organization rather than rejected outright. In other news, the Democratic Party establishment began its red baiting of the ALP for having appointed the former head of the Socialist Party radio station WEVD as head of municipal radio station WNYC and for having broadcast a travelogue of the Soviet Union. This was dismissed by the SDF's official New York Leader as an election-driven attempt to "besmirch" the ALP.


"Where is Juliet Stuart Poyntz?" by Carlo Tresca [March 1938] Article by the well known syndicalist labor organizer Carlo Tresca in the pages of V.F. Calverton's Modern Monthly, charging foul play by the Soviet secret police in the mysterious May 1937 disappearance of the "personal friend of mine for twenty years," Juliet Stuart Poyntz. Poyntz (who in 1925 was formally rebuked for "Loreism" -- the American stalking horse for "Trotskyism") retired from public political work in 1934, Tresca states. Thereupon, "she became a GPU agent," being seen in Moscow in the company of know secret police employee George Mink as late as 1936. According to Tresca's testimony here: "In May 1937, I met her on the street and at that time she told me that she had become disgusted with the Soviet regime and the Communist Party in this country. Her attitude was known to the Stalinists. They had reason to fear her because she might break with them and disclose secret matter. About a year ago, Miss Poyntz took a room, in the American Women's Association headquarters. She was seen by friends as late as June 4 or 5, 1937. She has never been seen since." Tresca alludes to the complicity of "agent of the GPU" Shauchno Epstein in the Poyntz disappearance and states "I am convinced that an effort was made to recall or kidnap Miss Poyntz to Moscow, and that, if it wasn't found necessary to kill her during the efforts, she was, in fact, taken to Moscow." Carlo Tresca was assassinated in the United States in 1943, purportedly by agents of the Mussolini regime.


APRIL 1938

"The Moscow Trial: Its Meaning and Importance," by Joseph Starobin [April 1938] With the executions of Bukharin and his purported cohorts completed in the 3rd and most sensational of the 3 great show trials of the 1936-38 period, the CPUSA had a serious "educational opportunity" on its hands, as "there are many people who do not yet understand even the elementary facts about the trials. Some of these are liberals, who try hard to find new ways to maintain their persistent misunderstanding of the nature of the Soviet Union. And numbers of people, with whom we cooperate on many domestic issues, are still troubled." Starobin outlines the rationale for the trial in this April 1938 article from the monthly magazine of the Young Communist League. The trial shattered the "elaborate baloney" about torture, Starobin states as "the Bukharin-Trotsky conspirators had the full right to defend themselves." Second, Starobin writes, all the defendants had long-running programmatic differences with the Russian Communist Party; third, "Personal vanity, individual corruption, ambition, self-delusion, all played a part in motivating the conspiracy." But in the final analysis, he states, the defendants sold out the revolution because of their "opposition to the construction of Socialism." By eliminating this internal threat, the "agents of corruption and treachery," Starobin writes that "the trials have struck a blow for world peace." Parallels to American treason trials from the new pamphlet by Earl Browder are emphasized. Starobin concludes in the spirit of the day, "Of course, we are not idealists, and are working for Socialism, with and through, the human material at our disposal. In the struggle against actual and potential corruption within our own ranks, it is necessary to pay attention to personal habits and morals throughout the movement. We should begin today to build that new morality, that generous, intelligent, modest, new human being, that new humanity which we know will emerge with the destruction of capitalism and the birth of a Socialist world." Includes two pieces of stellar anti-Trotsky artwork and a contemporary photograph of Young Communist Review editor Joe Starobin.

"Social Democratic Federation Rejects SP May Day Bid." (New Leader) [April 16, 1938]   With war in Europe in the air and united action of "democratic nations" urged by them to stem the tide of fascism; with unity of the divided American labor movement in the face of renewed anti-union activity by employers groups demanded by them, this resolution of the New York affiliate of the Social Democratic Federation richly illustrates the way it approached calls for unity in its own house. Approached by the now Trotskyist-free Socialist Party of New York with an appeal for a joint organizational celebration of May Day, the SDF answers in the negative: "In the presence of a clear opposition between the stand of the Social Democratic Federation and that of the Socialist Party on the fundamental questions of democracy, international relations, and the role of the trade unions, a joint meeting could be held only on condition either that the spokesmen of the two organizations should freely combat each other’s views or that they should all refrain from any definite opinion on those subjects.... We feel that the proposed joint meeting would serve no good purpose and might do considerable harm by confusing or obscuring vital issues, and we accordingly decline the invitation."

"SP Reports Show Sharp Decline in Party Membership." (New Leader) [events of April 21-23, 1938]   Unsigned news account from the pages of the rival New Leader purporting to reveal details of a secret (executive session) report of Socialist Party National Secretary Roy Burt to the delegates of the 1938 party convention. According to this article, Burt revealed that membership of the SPA had plummeted to a mere 3,000 for the first quarter of 1938 and that finances were in a critical state. Factional activity conducted by the now-expelled Trotskyist wing had force the revocation of party charters for the state parties of Oklahoma, California, Minnesota, Indiana, and Ohio, according to this account, with the additional loss of Arkansas, Arizona, Montana, Washington, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming due to insufficient membership. A new declaration of principles dealing with war and fascism had been adopted by the convention, with the two phrases most objectionable to the Old Guard/SDF dissidents from the 1934 declaration eliminated, it is said.

MAY 1938

"Communist Rah-Rah Convention Hoaxes Country on 'Principles,'"by James Oneal [events of May 27-31, 1938]  New Leader editor and Social Democratic Federation factional warrior James Oneal takes aim at the Communist Party and its new "People's Front" line espoused by party General Secretary Earl Browder at its recently completed 10th National Convention in New York. Oneal calls Browder's claim of nearly doubling party membership to 75,000 members since 1936 to be "so much hooey" and part of the CPUSA's "biggest bluff since its members hurled leaflets from buildings in the larger cities, beginning in 1919, calling for 'armed insurrection to overthrow the bourgeois state.'" Oneal mocks Browder and the Communists for moving almost overnight from claims in a few short years that "there were millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions" of so-called "social fascists" to attempting to make common cause with them in order to "preserve democracy" in the USA. He cites an array of splits and factional disruptions caused by the Communists as evidence that they not only were not truly committed to democracy, but were in fact "not a part of the labor movement." Oneal charges that once in power the Communists would "establish a totalitarian regime like that in Russia, incorporate the unions and cooperatives as organs of the dictatorship, destroy all other political organizations, put all publications into the hands of agents of the dictatorship, deny public assemblage for all but Communists, exile or imprison dissenters, and shoot all who hat the courage to fight the despotism." Oneal concludes that "Communist totalitarianism differs little from its Nazi and Fascist offshoots."

JULY 1938

"Missing a Year! Where Is Julia Poyntz?" by Herbert Solow [July 2, 1938]  Delving into the "clouded background of intrigue," Herbert Solow outlines the mysterious case of Julia Stuart Poyntz, Nebraska-born radical educator turned Communist and recruiter of undercover operatives for Soviet intelligence. Disappeared from her room at the American Women’s Association Clubhouse, at 353 West 57th St., New York City without a trace in June 1937, friends such as Italian-American anarchist Carlo Tresca were increasingly concerned that she had been kidnapped and returned to the Soviet Union for execution. The most damning circumstantial evidence, Solow intimates, is the lack of the Communist Party to show concern about the whereabouts of its former leading member, best exemplified by one party official making the absurd claim in December 1937, "we have no record of the woman as a member of the Communist Party and no knowledge of her whereabouts for ten years." Tresca seems to have named Shauchno Epstein, known to have been in New York in May 1937, to a grand jury as having been connected with Poyntz's disappearance. Solow passes along unsubstantiated rumors that Poyntz had been directly to Leningrad as a secret prisoner aboard the Soviet freighter Chelyuskinets.

"The Case of Joseph Zack: An Editorial," by Max Shachtman [July 23, 1938]  Max Shachtman, editor of the Socialist Appeal, recounts the case of Joseph Zack Kornfeder, a founding member of the Communist Party of America who later evolved into a position of vocal anti-communism. At this juncture Zack was facing the prospect of deportation to Czechoslovakia by the United States government, "despite the fact that Zack was born in Scranton, Pa., and is therefore an American citizen." Shachtman notes that Zack-Kornfeder had broken with the Communist Party USA in 1935 and had begun to write to the US State Department in 1936 seeking action on behalf of his Russian-born wife and son, who were "held in Russia as virtual hostages." Instead, the American government, " far more interested in maintaining friendship with the Stalin bureaucracy than in 'helping an American citizen,'" had done nothing on their behalf, but had rather begun deportation proceedings against Zack. "Roosevelt today poses as the great friend of the political refugees," Shachtman declares. "At the same time, his Department of Labor deports, each year, more people than are admitted under all the immigration quotas! That is a statistical fact. More than that, it now proposes to deport a US citizen, solely because he is a revolutionary worker and does not suit the Stalinist machine in Moscow and on 13th Street."


"CP Turns Stool Pigeon to Get Zack: Tries to Force Deportation of Former High Communist Official Who Split with Them: GPU Holds Wife and Child as Hostage in Russia," by Joseph Zack [Aug. 20, 1938]   Communist Party founding member Joseph Zack Kornfeder relates his personal saga trying to gain the release of his wife and American-born son from Soviet exile or imprisonment. After going to the State Department for help, Zack found himself embroiled in an immigration dispute in which the claims of his own American birth were pointedly challenged by Labor Department officials. Zack charges that members of the Communist Party were working hand-in-glove with US government officials in an attempt to create a "frame up" leading to his deportation to Czechoslovakia, where his mother was currently residing and where he had spent his boyhood years. No effort at all had been made by American authorities to gain the release of his family, Zack charges. Rather the government merely sought to pump him for information about the identity of individuals in the United States covertly -- an appeal which Zack states he rejected. (Zack would ultimately testify as a friendly witness before the Dies Committee in Sept. 1939).


"Negro Author Sees Disaster if CP Gains Control of Colored Workers," by Claude McKay [Sept. 10, 1938]   Letter to the editor of The New Leader by Afro-Caribbean-American poet and writer Claude McKay responding to an imprecise summary of his beliefs made the previous July. After first giving credit to the Communists for having "more than any other group" engaged in "the effective organizing of the unemployed and relief workers" and acknowledging that the Communists will inevitably maintain a degree of influence in the trade union movement as did the Socialists before them, McKay states his own terms of opposition to the Communist movement. "I reject absolutely the idea of government by dictatorship, which is the pillar of political Communism," declares McKay. He also states his opposition to the "Jesuitical tactics of the Communists," including their "obviously fake" conversion to democracy while at the same time loudly lauding the "bloodiest acts" of the Soviet regime, their "skunking behind the smokescreen of People’s Front and Collective Security" while at the same time defending European imperialism, and their "criminal slandering and persecution of their opponents, who have remained faithful to the true traditions of radicalism and liberalism." McKay expresses fear of bloc support of the Communist Party by black Americans, observing that in such a case "in the eventuality of a crisis developing between the United States and Soviet Russia, the colored minority might find itself in a very vulnerable and unenviable position."


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