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Workers Socialist Party vs. Independent Communist Labour League (1938)

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From the January 1938 issue of The Socialist Standard

On Sunday, October 3rd, a debate was held with the Independent Communist Labor League, (formerly, the Communist Party Opposition or Lovestone Group). The debate took place at the headquarters of our Local Boston, 12 Hayward Place, Boston. The I.C.L.L. was represented by a Mr. Mautner, while the W.S.P. spokesman was Comrade I. Rab. The subject debated was “Whose Principles Are Correct: Workers Socialist Party or Independent Communist Labor League?”

Mr. Mautner, in his main talk laid down the major tenets of his organization. In doing so, he said that the I.C.L.L. was concerned with the tactics and strategy for setting the masses in motion. He quoted Frederick Engels to show that “a great national movement, no matter what its form, is the real starting point of working class development,” pointing to the 400,000 members of the Auto Workers Union as an example of such a movement, adding, “Some were formerly Ku Kluxers and members of the Black Legion, now they are good workers for the cause of labor.” This union activity, he continued, led to a formation of a Labor Party, “something totally new.” He further went on to say, “We expect to be in opposition to the Labor Party in the future, but now the problem is to break the workers from their old ideology.”

Mr. Mautner spoke of reforms, recognizing that such measures help bolster up the capitalist system, but claiming, however, that fighting for reforms has value in that it teaches the working class the need for political action.

In dealing with Russia, Mr. Mautner described the situation there as a “Proletarian State” where the Russians are engaged in “Socialist construction.” However, current history forces him to note “bureaucratic distortions existing there.” Despite this, he claimed the Soviet state is organized exclusively for the workers, pointing out, however, that the new socialist economy in Russia had not yet developed a new terminology, therefore, “wages” really means “certificates.” “The workers receive according to their deeds.”

Mr. Mautner concluded by maintaining that a Labor Party program in America would lead to a Marxist program.

Comrade Rab, in his main talk analyzed the differences in principles between the two organizations. He listed the four main differences as follows: (1) The value of parliamentary activity; (2) The question of reforms; (3) The question of trade unionism; (4) The analysis of Soviet Russia.

In dealing with the first, Comrade Rab stated briefly the Party’s position on parliamentary action, concluding this point by showing that the I.C.L.L. maintained that the revolutionary act comes about with the smashing of the existing state; that it must be an armed uprising led by a matured vanguard, a position contrary and opposed to that of the W.S.P. which defined the revolutionary act as the seizure of political power by a class conscious majority of the proletariat.

Discussing reforms, Comrade Rab maintained that the only way the workers can improve their lot is by the establishment of Socialism. He showed that the I.C.L.L., on the other hand, supports a “struggle for daily aims based on the existing stage of understanding.”

On the trade union question, he brought out that although economic organization of the workers is very necessary in order that they sell their labour-power to the best advantage, unions have many limitations and weaknesses. Unions must depend upon numbers rather than on understanding. They cannot, in the long run, alter the downward trend of working class conditions. They are concerned primarily with wages and hours problems rather than with overthrowing capitalism.

In dealing with the Russian question, Comrade Rab denied the existence of a Dictatorship of the Proletariat in Soviet Russia as accepted by the I.C.L.L. He pointed out, among other things, that the U.S.S.R. is going through a period of capitalist development and showed that the social relations of a capitalist economy exist there.

Mr. Mautner opened his rebuttal by asking Comrade Rab where there was surplus-value in Russia. Next, he denounced the use of the ballot saying, “When a Socialist Party advocates the ballot it breaks away from the principles of Socialism.” “Marx stood for the smashing of the state.” He insisted “what the workers need is a revolution based on soviets.”

Comrade Rab in his rebuttal answered the questions raised by Mr. Mautner. Dealing with the question of “surplus-value in Russia,” he defined surplus-value as the wealth that is extracted from the workers through the wages system. In Russia they have all the relationships of capital and wage labor and therefore, surplus-value. The existence of inheritance and income taxes, a banking system, laws pertaining to investments and interest, together with workers living on the barest of subsistence alongside of another group living in luxury—all go to describe surplus-value production or capitalism in Russia.

On the question of political action, Comrade Rab showed that the Socialist working class does not smash the state, pointing out also that Marx in no place advocated the smashing of the state, but on the contrary advocated its capture so that the workers could, “lop off its repressive features and transform it into an agent of emancipation.”

Dealing with the Labor Party he showed its many weaknesses, how it was used for class collaboration, reforming and administering capitalism, and therefore against Socialist principles.

In conclusion, he called for a united front for Socialism.

According to the arrangements for the debate, the question period took place between the main talks and the rebuttals. Most of the questions dealt with the experiences of the British Labor Party.