Notes on the “Marxian Trunk” and Primarily, on the Marxian Root of Our Party
Moissaye J. Olgin
It is easy to confess Marxism. But Marxism is not a confession of faith. Marxism is even more than a set of doctrines. Marxism is the only scientific method of investigating social matters. To be a Marxist means, not only to have read “Das Kapital” and a few other books, but to be able to apply the Marxian analysis to living and therefore continually changing social conditions. He who knows how to apply this analysis correctly, and whose correctness of analysis has been proven by subsequent events, is a true Marxist. He who only mimicks the methods of Marxism, he whose conclusions are being repudiated by the course of events, is a pseudo-Marxist.
This little essay wishes to suggest that the leader of the minority, John Pepper, is a pseudo-Marxist.
We have chosen John Pepper because it an open secret that he is still the moving spirit of the minority group. If the minority calls itself the Marxian trunk, then John Pepper is certainly the main Marxism root. If the root is hollow, then there is something the matter with the trunk.
How did John Pepper apply the Marxism analysis to conditions in the United States? It must be remarked that the application of Marxism to history in the making, is Leninism. “If we wish, comrades, to define what is Leninism,” said N.K. Kroupskaya, the widow of the late Lenin, in an address before the teachers of Leninism mobilized to instruct the “Lenin Enrollment,” “we must say that it is Marxism applied to contemporary realities.” How, then, did John Popper practice Leninism in this country?
Let us take only one or two instances. At the Chicago convention of July 3-5, 1923, the federated farmer-labor party was proclaimed as existing. Was it a real party? Did it have a solid foundation? Was it a logical outcome of ripening conditions among the working masses?
Subsequent events have proven that it had no solid foundation, that it was an artificial contrivance. A year after July 3-5, the F.F.L.P. was thoroly forgotten. Six months after its coming into nominal being, it was hardly more than a name and a wish. This proves beyond dispute that it was a still born organization. What was the duty of a Marxist after the formation of that so-called party? Plainly, it was incumbent upon him to give an adequate estimation of what had happened to analyze the forces that were operating around the party, to have a realistic understanding of the new organization, and thus to indicate a correct attitude for the Workers (Communist) Party.
Did John Pepper make such an analysis? True, he used, all the phraseology of Marxism. But this is what he found:
“Summed up in a single phrase, the historic significance of the July 3 convention is this: The first real mass party of American workers and farmers has been founded in Chicago.”
“The new F.F.L.P. is a mass party. It is the first mass party of workers and farmers in the United States.”
“The new F.F.L.P. is no artificial product of a mass doctrine, but is the result d a special American development.”
“It is a party of rank and file.”
This is how John Pepper estimated the new organization. That his estimation was entirely erroneous, entirely subjective, i.e. entirely nonMarxian, is evident from the total disappearance of the F.F.L.P., from its non-existing at the present time. A “real party,” a “mass party,” a “result of a special American development,” a “party of rank and file” does not disappear within six months. Plainly, John Pepper gave an expression of his ardent wish, not of the actualities of American political life. Plainly he did something entirely opposed to Marxism.
But maybe he only made propaganda among the members of the Workers Party? Maybe he personally knew the truth about the F.F.L.P. Maybe he wrote as he did only to fire the imagination of the Communists in this country in order that they might devote themselves the more diligently to the building of the new party? If this were the case, it would be worse than the grossest error of estimation, because nothing is more injurious to the cause of Communism than misleading the workers as to the character of the organization they have to deal with.
However, it appears that John Pepper actually believed the F.F.L.P. be “a real mass party of American workers and farmers.” This evident from the fact that he broadcasted his findings all over the C.I. thru the medium of the International Press Correspondence (Inprecor, July 26, 1923, article by John Pepper. “The First Party of American Workers and Farmers,”) Pepper thus proved that he either failed to understand America, or he failed to understand what is a real mass party. At any rate he proved to be less of a Marxist and more of the type that Lenin admonished in the following words:
“Less political clatter. Less intellectual reasoning. Nearer to life.” (Article “On the Character of our Papers.”)
John Pepper not only made the mistake of heralding the lifeless organization as the mass party of American workers and farmers, but persisted in his mistake. For months in succession, even as late as March, 1924, when the F.F.L.P. was no more than a shadow, he continued to view the future leadership of the Workers Party in the class struggle as based on the non-existent F.F. L.P. So strong is the influence John Pepper’s mistakes on the present minority of our C. E. C., that its latest thesis still invokes the ghost of the F.F.L.P. and it still asserts that the Workers Party could have made the F.F.L.P. a living thing if it wished to do so. Strange conception for Marxists. A small party, numbering a score of thousand members could have created a greater party numbering at least hundreds of thousands! And vice versa: A mass party, “a real mass party of workers and farmers,” springing from “special American development,” ceased to exist because a small party, avowedly not a mass party, failed to send out a few organizers and speakers to help it. If this be a Marxian conception, what, then, is the voluntaristic conception which was fought against by Marx-Lenin, and how far is it from the theory of “heroes and masses?”
But let us return to John Popper, John Pepper knew very well that it is the duty of the Communists to lead the workers. He knew it as a doctrine. He also realized that it is necessary for the American Communists to lead the American workers. Out of this theoretical realization sprang his conviction that the Workers Party is already leading the working masses. In numbers of articles and theses he stressed the idea that America had reached a stage where the workers were just looking for the Communists to lead them. This may seem preposterous after the experiences of June 17, July 4 and the election campaign of 1924, but this is what John Pepper told the Communist International in an article, “The Workers Party at a Turning Point!” (Inprecor, Sept. 27, 1923.):
“The laboring masses of the U. S. consider the Communists as their leaders, and they expect us to show them the best ways and means of fighting against the capitalists and the capitalist government.”
When a Communist makes such statements before the Communist International they can have only one meaning: that the popularity of the Communists and their party is widespread among the non-partisan workers, that the non-partisan workers have gropingly come to the realization of the necessity of combatting the capitalist government, and that it is up to the Communists to throw out slogans and take the lead. Tested by the situation of September, 1923, and by subsequent developments, such statements appear to be a bombastic phrase. It is against such statements that Stalin warns in his book “On Lenin and Leninism.”
“As against ‘revolutionary’ empty clangor,” he writes, “Lenin emphasized the simple everyday affairs, thus making it clear that ‘revolutionary’ fiction was contrary both to the spirit and the letter of true Leninism. Less luxurious phrases, says Lenin, more simple everyday work . . .
Less political clatter, more attention to the simplest but living facts of Communist contractive work’ (Article ‘Great Beginning’).”
But how is it that John Pepper could make such elementary errors in Marxian Judgment? It is because his entire conception of American life was as he wished to see it and not as it appeared in reality. John Pepper, the supposed Marxist, the man that still holds the C. E. C. minority under his sway, lived in a world of Illusions.
Wherein lies the strength of Marxism? In its adherence to reality of social life, in its ability to analyze the facts of social life so as to find the law of their development, so as to be able to forecast the main lines of the future. “Theory, does not form an independent kingdom,” says the Russian Marxian philosopher, Deborin, in his book, “Lenin as a Thinker.” “Theory that stands the test of practice is objective truth. We should not confine ourselves to objects that exist in our heads, Marx taught us, but we must deal with concrete objects.”
The following quotation should suffice to prove that John Popper confined himself to “objects that existed in his head” and that those objects he proclaimed to be the reality of American life. In his article “Facing the Third American Revolution” (in the Liberator of September, 1923) he speaks of the revolution as having become a stirring fact in the United States: “Never before in the world’s history” he writes, “not even in capitalist history, has it happened that such immense migrations, such deep changes in the manner of living of such great masses of people could take place in the short period of three years . . . It was a gigantic task to stir up the non-political conservative mass of American workers, farmers and colored slaves; but capitalism has succeeded in performing this miracle. Politics today has become a mass occupation. The basis of American conservative democracy was the inert mass of farmers. This basis is now collapsing. The last sure reverse of capitalism in America was the eight million Negroes in the south. This last reserve is in the act of deserting it . . . The workers are beginning to organize politically. The bankrupt farmers are overthrowing the most sacred fundamental law of capitalism, cash payments, and do not pay their debts. The Negroes in the south are making an unarmed Spartacus uprising.”
Does it not look like a veritable revolution? Indeed it does. So it was understood by John Pepper himself who in the October, 1923, Liberator, in an article “Shall we Assume Leadership?” speaks of the “more and more imminent revolutionary crisis looming up.” An imminent revolutionary crisis is understood in the Communist International in one way only; it means what the words imply: a great upheaval of large masses against the foundations of capitalism.
Now, we know that the minority will label an attack on such misleading declaration as “non-revolutionary,” as failure to see the deep changes wrought in American life by the war, as living in the pre-war mentality. To this we beg to reply that if there are in our party some members who see no changes in capitalism since 1914 and who do not realize the inevitable collapse of the capitalist system (such people represent the remnants of the S.P. psychology in our party), this does not justify blundering in the opposite direction. One is just as bad as the other. Neither is real Leninism.
“Vladimir Ilyitch,” says Kamenev, “may be called the profoundest realist, the man of the soil, i.e. a man who always knows how to reckon with real life, who knows how to combine theory with practice, a slogan with the modes of realizing it in life, who combines the greatest revolutionary passion with the greatest coolness in estimating the forces of the fighting parties and classes” (“Lenin and His Party,” p. 35)
If this to Leninism, then what are Pepper’s declamations? The generous reader may try and excuse him on the ground that even a Leninist may sometimes be mistaken. This is true. But John Pepper was too often mistaken, he was too deeply mistaken and he never acknowledged mistakes which is again contrary to true Leninism. The above article, “Facing the Third American Revolution,” which in America appeared in September, and was written in August, 1923, was in its main parts reprinted by Pepper in the Moscow “Pravda” at the time when the Fifth Congress of the C.I. was in session, that is to say, June, 1924, ten months after its first appearance. In the summer of 1924 John Pepper still saw the imminent revolution which he saw in the summer of 1923. Nothing had changed for Pepper, only this, that to the general analysis of American socio-political life he added in the “Pravda” the following paragraph:
“And last but not least, for the first time in the history of the United States there appears on the scene a Communist Party, which has its roots in the masses and is not a sect, A MASS COMMUNIST PARTY OF THE WORKING CLASS.”
He did not know we had already a mass Communist Party. He must be grateful to John Pepper for discovering it.
But while all these statements, only show how Marxism analysis should not be made, the last one throws a strange light on the slogan of a “class farmer-labor party” appearing in the minority thesis. If our goal of a mass Communist Party has already been achieved, why not utilize part of our spare energy to build a new “class farmer-labor party?”
Published in The Daily Worker, Thursday, January 8, 1925