‘The First Trotskyist Group in New England’ by Antoinette F. Konikow from Socialist Appeal. Vol. 2 No. 46. October 22, 1938.
Ten years ago in Boston in the first week of November, six of us decided to organize “The Independent Communist League.” A month later we published the first and only number of the Bulletin of the Independent Communist League. While the Bulletin was already in the hands of the printer, a mimeographed copy of a statement made by Comrades Cannon, Shachtman and Abern reached us. We succeeded in placing a part of this document in our own Bulletin. The joy of receiving this statement of our New York comrades is difficult now to describe.
We had no connections with other cities; we did not know if any one else had taken up this fight against Stalinism in the Communist Party. We felt absolutely alone, isolated and suddenly we found prominent, well known comrades with us. It seemed almost ridiculous that six rank and file workers should dare to throw down the gauntlet to the mighty organization – the Communist party.
The First Comrades
The most energetic among us was comrade L. Schlossberg. His optimism and energy, no doubt, helped us go forward. Schlossberg is an old Bolshevik. He had participated in the 1905 revolution in Russia and was so enthusiastic about Bolshevism that he had decided to return to Soviet Russia and remain there for good. He went to Soviet Russia in 1926, spent a year there and returned disillusioned and heartsick. The rulling bureaucracy and the corrupt leaders made work there impossible. He was not readmitted into the party, which probably had been notified about his activities in Soviet Russia.
Comrade Chiplovitz and Weiner, prominent members of the needle trades Union, had noticed the wrong trend of the party long before. They left it in company with comrade Cooperstein, a prominent worker in the shoe industry. Comrade Shechet became our first new convert and proved to be an energetic, conscientious worker in the league.
I was the only one who was still connected with the party. For years I had been under suspcion because of my frank criticism of Zinoviev. When I left for Russia at the same time as Schlossberg (1926) I had no sanction from the party, but got there through the personal influence of important comrades. This made it harder for me later to be too outspoken about my experiences in Soviet Russia because of the fear of exposing these comrades to persecution.
Trip to Russia
I would like to sketch a few pictures from Soviet life which impressed me deeply at the time and threw a shadow of coming events. Letters of introduction and old pre-revolutionary ties threw many doors open to me. To one of the prominent comrades I posed leading questions like this: “With Zinoviev gone will we have more democracy in Soviet Russia?” (We knew very little about Stalin then.) The comrade went on tip-toe to the door, opened it, looked right and left, then returned and with averted eyes said, “perhaps.” The running to the door was repeated several times but the answers I received were utterly non-committal. This gave me the first idea of the fear of being spied upon prevalent even among prominent officials. I soon caught the infection myself and learned to look around and speak in a low voice.
“How much do you earn in a week?” I asked a girl in a candy factory, which I was visiting with many other comrades. “Eighteen Roubles.” “Per week, naturally,” I inquired. “No, per month,” she replied.
Soon I learned that girls walked miles to work or to meetings, as they couldn’t afford carfare. Had wages increased since? Not real wages, for prices had gone way up.
“What shall I say to the delegates inspecting the factory?” asked the girl interpreter of the manager, in my presence. The manager looked angrily at her; he knew I was only a visitor, “Why, you know what to say.”
Workers in the factory spoke about the party-managers with distrust. “Who are these men going through the factory?” one asked. “They say they are workers.” “Oh, they are bluffing us; look how they are dressed. Workers could not dress like that.”
Russian is my native language, so I could learn much more than others. While many accomplishments impressed me, while the sincerity and self sacrifice of workers with whom I came in contact was inspiring – the above and other incidents made me leave Soviet Russia perturbed and depressed.
Prepares for Break
The struggle between Stalin and Trotsky was not clear to me but I felt something was deeply wrong. Did I report this when I returned? No. I tried to defend these conditions by the reasoning that Russia was still in the transition state; and I knew too I would be expelled at once, if I were frank. So, I kept officially quiet and tried to find more facts and explanations to strengthen myself for the final break. I am sure hundreds of visitors to Russia acted the same way as I did. But I came at last to the right conclusion.
It took me two years ’til I felt I could submit no longer. The occasion was the demand to vote for the expulsion of comrade Trotsky. Loveslone addressed our Boston membership of 200 or more, for one-and-a-half hours, trying to prove that comrade Trotsky had forfeited the rights of membership in the party.
Several comrades had told me before the meeting they would never vote for Trotsky’s expulsion. But I saw some of them grabbing hat and coat to leave the hall; one even spoke up against Lovestone but later voted with the crowd. In my ten-minute rebuttal, I pointed out that we never had a chance to read Trotsky’s speeches or documents; that we could not come to correct conclusions without hearing the other side. About Comrade Trotsky“s speech to the crowd going to the Red Square, which Lovestone stressed to be a special act of betrayal, I was glad I made the remark: “The speech of Comrade Trotsky, the man who was the right hand of Lenin, may well be considered by us as an S.O.S. to the comrades of the world warning of the great disaster Soviet Russia is facing.”
Expelled from C.P.
Soon I received a letter dictated by Lovestone ordering me to appear the next day in New York. I demanded that a local committee take up my case (later I found that the City Committee could not get a majority to expel me). I refused to appear before the political committee. In a few days I had my expulsion notice.
I review the story of my growing into Trotskyism in detail to acquaint the comrades of today with our experiences ten years ago.
Our Bulletin was widely distributed and aroused consternation and savage anger. Our comrades were insulted and threatened with actual physical violence. Looking back to the years of our first steps, I realize that we were not well supplied with information, our forces were weak, but with all that I think there is no need to be ashamed of our little Bulletin which we worked out without documents or even adequate knowledge of our theories. We were going in the right direction. All six comrades are still with us. A lively ‘crowd’ of young men and women joined us, so we kept up headquarters, ran successful lectures and a small school.
The Stalinists, the “Twentieth Century Americans,” had much larger meetings than we; so had the Democrats and Republicans.
We were not afraid to start our work when there were only six isolated from everybody (as we thought)! We still swim against the current, but so did Lenin. Such is the pioneer work of all revolutionary forces.
There have been a number of periodicals named Socialist Appeal in our history, this Socialist Appeal was edited in New York City by the “Left Wing Branches of the Socialist Party”. After the Workers Party (International Left Opposition) entered the Socialist Party in 1936, the Trotskyists did not have an independent publication. However, Albert Goldman began publishing a monthly Socialist Appeal in Chicago in February 1935 before the bulk of Trotskyist entered the SP. When there, they began publishing Socialist Appeal in August 1937 as the weekly paper of the “Left Wing Branches of the Socialist Party” but in reality edited by Cannon and other leaders. Goldman’s Chicago Socialist Appeal would fold into the New York paper and this Socialist Appeal would replace New Militant as the main voice of Fourth Internationalist in the US. After the expulsion of the Trotskyists from the the Socialist Party, Socialist Appeal became the weekly organ of the newly constituted Socialist Workers Party in early 1938. Edited by James Cannon and Max Shachtman, Felix Morrow, and Albert Goldman. In 1941 Socialist Appeal became The Militant again.
Link to PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/themilitant/socialist-appeal-1938/v2n46-sect-1-oct-22-1938-SA.pdf