Workers Vanguard No. 1043
4 April 2014
On Stalinists and 1934 Strikes
I appreciated the excellent article on the port truckers in the WV 1038, “For a class struggle fight to organize port truckers.” Equally important was the drawing of parallels with the general strike of 1934 led by Local 574, and the Trotskyists of the Communist League of America. But what was left out was the role of the Communist Party which played a counter-revolutionary role at every turn.
The taxi drivers voted to go on strike and to join the Local 574. They won the strike, the CP which did not participate in the strike, attacked the settlement. As a “Trotskyite sellout” to the Citizen’s Alliance (this was the period of the CP’s left turn, which was a move away from what was previously a policy of reconciliation with the trade union bureaucracy and capitalist politicians.) The CP was isolated in Minnesota, and for not taking an active role in the class struggle, so they tried to muscle their way into the union by denouncing Carl Skoglund and the Dunne brothers as “traitors and agents of the bosses.[”] They demanded that members of a paper union (the Trade Union Unity League) be made members of the strike committee. When this was rejected they put out more flyers calling the strike leaders “undemocratic.” The CP’s members were almost physically attacked by members of 574.
As a result of this action the CP was losing support in Minnesota. On the day of Bloody Friday (July 19th) the CP tried to convince Harry Deboer [DeBoer] to seize the Court House, as opposed to stopping scab trucks. Deboer turned down this offer because he realized he would have been shot by the cops, since the workers were unarmed. The CP was also losing the little support they had among the unemployed in the Unemployed Councils that they had organized as a place to register picket credentials in Local 574.
Of course, this was turned down by 574, and the CP was told to go to the MCCW (Minnesota Central Council of Workers). The CP also attempted to force themselves on the ERA—Emergency Relief Administration’s Strike Committee. They were turned down as a result of a lack of credentials.
By now the Stalinists were completely isolated. They wrote and published articles in the Daily Worker and their magazine, the Communist, and a pamphlet called “The Permanent Counter-Revolution—Role of the Trotskyites in the Minnesota Strike.” For this the CP members were given a belt in the jaw—and rightly so!
The CP and Stalinism have destroyed many idealistic and serious youth and revolutionary workers. Having to apologize for every twist and turn of Uncle Joe Stalin, and wrapping themselves in the American flag during the Second World War, and denouncing striking miners and leftists who were supporting the miners’ strike as “social fascists,” and “German agents,” etc.
It’s no wonder that the CP was so hated by radical youth and workers. It was only the Trotskyists of the CLA/Socialist Workers Party that could lead and organize the masses in the Minneapolis general strike. And it is only Trotskyism that has the program to lead the masses now.
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Our article “For a Class Struggle Fight to Organize Port Truckers!” (WV No. 1038, 24 January) highlighted both the 1934 Trotskyist-led Minneapolis Teamsters strikes and the 1934 Stalinist-led West Coast maritime strike as examples of class-struggle union organizing that provide crucial lessons for today. The interested reader can find more on Minneapolis in other of our writings, such as the article “Lessons of the 1934 Minneapolis Teamsters Strikes” (WV No. 940, 31 July 2009).
Karl R. gives some details of the despicable role played by the Stalinists in the Minneapolis strikes, which deeply discredited the CP among militant workers there. But the Trotskyists in the forefront of those Teamsters organizing battles, while politically exposing the Stalinists, did not treat them as counterrevolutionaries. For example, after striking workers gave “a crack in the jaw” to the distributors of a CP leaflet slandering the union leadership, Local 574’s strike newspaper, The Organizer (7 August 1934), declared this response wrong, explaining: “They are not stool pigeons—at least not conscious ones; they are just a little bit nutty and what they need is a friendly boot in the posterior. Maybe the shock will bring them to their senses.”
The Stalinists at the time were near the end of their 1928-34 “Third Period” phase of bombast and adventurism in which proletarian revolution was fatuously declared to be imminent, more or less worldwide. The Stalinists in the U.S. denounced the established AFL trade unions as “social fascist” and abandoned them in the late ’20s to form marginal “revolutionary” unions. As a result, the CP was largely isolated from the strike waves that erupted in 1933 and ’34.
The significant exception was in San Francisco. District CP leader Sam Darcy was then no longer wedded to the CP’s Third Period “dual union” policy and in mid 1933 CP longshoremen followed the mass of Bay Area dock workers and joined the AFL-affiliated International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA). Harry Bridges and other CP supporters in the ILA, who at that time advocated class-struggle tactics and did not bow to the Democratic Roosevelt administration, went on to lead the 1934 West Coast maritime strike that forged a powerful longshore union and won a great deal of political authority for the CP.
The fact that the Stalinists in San Francisco were in a position to lead that strike and fight it out class against class was conjunctural. In 1935, the CP abandoned its Third Period policies for the openly class-collaborationist politics of the “People’s Front” adopted by the Communist International after Hitler came to power in Germany. Under this banner, the Stalinists sought to consummate a bloc with the bourgeois-democratic imperialists, which in the U.S. meant support to Roosevelt and his “New Deal.” The Stalinists’ lasting political crime in this country was to help channel the working-class radicalization of the mid to late 1930s into support for the Democratic Party as a supposed “progressive” wing of capitalism. Labor’s support to the capitalist Democrats is a shackle on working-class struggle to this day.