The short-lived Workers Party of the United States was formed in late 1934 by the fusion of A.J. Muste’s Workers Party of America and the Trotskyists organized in the Communist League of America, historically led by James P. Cannon. Both leaders immediately set out on a month-long trip to bolster the new party, spending most time in the Midwest. A.J. Muste wrote back these delightful and informative reports from the road to the New Militant, all of which are collected here. The Workers Party would split a number of ways in 1936 at the Trotskyists made the ‘French Turn’ into the leftward moving Socialist Party of the time.
‘Across the Country with Cannon and Muste’ from the The New Militant. January-February, 1935.
Muste, Cannon in Canada; Find Workers Party Active There. January 19, 1935
Making a couple of preliminary stops in Canada, A.J. Muste, national secretary of the Workers Party of the United States, and James P. Cannon, editor of the New Militant, have launched their tour to present the W.P. program to the workers of the country.
First reports from Comrades Muste and Cannon tell of a growing miltancy among Canadian workers, and of Tory Premier Bennett’s “new deal” gestures to try to halt this ferment.
In Toronto the Workers Party of Canada, sister organization to the W.P. of the U.S., has an important and widening influence. In Hamilton, Ont., where labor has long been conservative, and in Tonawanda, N.Y., where as recently as last year a Democratic politician dominated the unemployed organization, workers listened eagerly to the message of the Workers Party.
From week to week the New Militant will follow Comrades Muste and Cannon in their tour across the country.
TORONTO, Ont. – The first stop Comrade Cannon and I are making on our tour to present the Workers Party program to the workers of the United States is in Canada! This we may take as a symbol of international working class solidarity and a prophecy of an international Workers’ Republic.
Speak to 400
For our mass meeting here more than 400 workers crowded the Labor Lyceum, notwithstanding the fact that the Communist party staged a rival meeting. The worker’s stayed until almost midnight, asking questions. They showed intense interest in recent events in the Soviet Union; Comrade Cannon’s replies completely silenced the Communist party members of the audience.
The Canadian Worker admits that two Ukrainian workers who went to Russia, one deported from Canada for C.P. activities, were recently executed by the Communist party in the S.U.!
The Workers Party of Canada has a flourishing branch here, another in nearby Hamilton, and in Montreal, Winnipeg and Vancouver, with contacts in other towns. Its Program of Action includes: 1) a $1,500 fund to enable it to issue a weekly organ; 2) a tour by Secretary Jack MacDonald in the spring; 3) a national conference following the tour.
Here in Toronto, our WP comrades are the leading influence in a promising unemployed movement.
At the office of Vapaa Sana, a bi-weekly Finnish paper, we found Comrade Eero Boman of New York translating the Declaration of Principles of the W.P.U.S., which is running in the paper.
Canada’s “New Deal”
There is excitement here over radio broadcasts of the Tory premier, R.B. Bennett. This conservative politician is adopting Rooseveltian tactics, declaring “laissez-faire, old-style capitalism” is dead and advocating social insurance, “fairer distribution of income” (without very specific suggestions), control of stock speculation, etc. The fact that a Tory must come out for such a program is a measure of the revolt stirring among the masses.
In the United States we have seen what a “new deal” really means to workers. Here Bennett seems to be taking the wind out of the liberal party sails on the eve of election. Even the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, social-democratic farmer-labor party, finds it hard to criticize Bennett’s program; there is even talk of a “national” cabinet, with the possibility that the C.C.F. leader, J.S. Wood worth, and Bennett will yet do a Stanley Baldwin-Ramsay MacDonald brother act.
Opportunity for W.P.
All this means there is a real opportunity for the W.P. of Canada, as the Marxist party able to analyze these issues clearly and keep the workers from being misled by vague promises.
There is a splendid group of young comrades here. After our meeting, when we were having coffee and tea (yes, both!) in a restaurant, they sang labor and revolutionary songs. The branch has a chorus. New York and other districts take notice! – That’s an idea for us. And we should have a song book.
Off for Hamilton!
HAMILTON, Ont. – This is the most highly industrialized town, in proportion to the population, in Canada. But the labor and radical movement is weak. The discontent of the workers expresses itself in voting for “friends of labor” of the A.F. of L. stripe.
Yet there is some radical activity: A small but lively branch of the W.P. of Canada vigorously pushes its propaganda.
Our meeting here was not large, but the workers showed by their 25 questions after our speeches how eager they are for help in forming a revolutionary program.
TONAWANDA, N.Y. – Back to the United States! In a rather bleak hall in this industrial center hangs a charter of an A.F. of L. central trades council, and around it half a dozen local charters – of union locals long since defunct.
Here an unemployed organization met last year, under the influence of a Democratic politician. A couple of our comrades were expelled, for being too radical. It, too, is now dead.
In this hall, on Sunday afternoon, we talked to a group of deeply interested workers about what might be in the U.S. and of labor’s road to power.
When we had finished, one of these workers said, “Send a young comrade up here as an organizer, and I’ll see that he gets a bed and three squares a day.
Across the Country with Cannon and Muste. January 26, 1935.
From A.J. Muste, national secretary of the Workers Party, comes further word of the tour he and James P. Cannon, editor of the New Militant, are making to present the program of the W.P. to the workers of the country. Reports indicate that Comrades Muste and Cannon’s tour is a march of triumph.
NEW CASTLE, Pa. and YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio. – From the debacle which overcame the militant movement of the steel workers last spring when Bill Green and Mike Tighe sabotaged the general strike in the industry, the movement is slowly recovering.
The determination to build a union is not dead among the steel workers, though they are somewhat lost in the maze of Labor Board elections, injunctions by the steel companies against the union and by the union against the companies and what have you. A crisis breaking into a strike may develop in one of these mills where an election is denied.
W.P. Has Many Contacts
The militant leaders hope nothing too serious will break before they get their forces organized better than they were last year. Comrade Cannon and I were called into conference by some of them. We find the Party has many contacts in steel.
Comrades McKinney, Cooper, Sullivan and Herman from Pittsburgh popped into the New Castle meeting. They are hoping to tie in the unemployed movement here with the national movement.
The Party branches in New Castle and Youngstown have a good start and are thoroughly in earnest. The meetings for Comrade Cannon and me brought out most of the active spirits in the locality and made converts to the W.P. After the mass meetings, the branches kept the national officers up until four in the morning to discuss branch problems!
CLEVELAND, Ohio. – On the way up here we visited an old steel worker’s home. He still goes to work when there is work. “We are lucky if we make 10 dollars a week now, when we used to make, that in a day.”
The day before, one of his shopmates fainted on the job, narrowly escaping being burned to death. “He has a wife and three or four children. He just doesn’t get enough to eat to let him do a trick in a steel plant.”
Two Husky Sons
Two husky sons of our friend sat in the house – no jobs. The father put a question to us – really to the capitalist system: “Do you think they’ll fix it so there will be something for the young men to do?”
The answer of capitalism to that momentous question we got an hour later when we drove through McDonald, where Carnegie Steel was just breaking ground for a new strip mill. Referring to the labor to be displaced by the new process, the young steel worker riding with us said : “They won’t need anything in this damn industry pretty soon except a few button-pushers.”
Same Old Story
We had a well-attended meeting here. Same old story as to C.P. and S.P. They can’t meet us in an argument on our Declaration of Principles. The branch has good material, is working out a program of action. It will be felt in the labor struggle in Cleveland.
The branch conference in Cleveland was attended by party members from Akron. As dispatches to the New Militant have indicated, things may pop in rubber very soon, If so, Akron will be the first Toledo-Minneapolis of 1935. Our party members and sympathisers are the only advanced group having real access to the rubber workers. Would that Louis Budenz were well enough to take the field. What a chance his America of the Middle West would give him!
TOLEDO, Ohio. – If there was ever any doubt as to whether our Toledo comrades would be able to dig in and follow up (never mind if the metaphors are mixed, Comrade Editor) the work they did in the great Auto Lite strike, that day is past. The Central Labor Union supports the Unemployed Leagues openly. Our comrades are asked to write for the Central Labor Union paper.
The Auto Workers’ Union has kicked out Ramsey and Bossier and its present lenders make no secret of seeking the help of our comrades. The union is growing rapidly and despite the fact that the Auto-Lite plant itself is still half company union, thanks to Ramsey’s influence, the Mininger interests hesitate to provoke a quarrel. They’ve had a lesson!
Five members of an S.P. local drove 60 miles over roads that were a sheet of ice to our Toledo mass meeting. And they weren’t sorry!
Toledo branch is growing. Sam Pollock can’t be spared for Detroit just now. Ted Selander, however, is going to Columbus to hold down the office of the National Unemployed League of which he was elected treasurer last summer.
DETROIT, Mich. – There’s going to be big political news soon from Detroit. It will mean a substantial accession to the W.P. But we’ll have to keep the comrades guessing for a while.
Meantime we can report that the Detroit branch has a good start, has the respect and confidence of the best elements in the trade union movement, and with the forces that are being sent in will prove itself capable of handling even as big a situation as Detroit.
Reports on the interesting and complex industrial situation here, the New Militant is getting from other comrades. Capitalism is booming here. Ford working 24 hours a day.
So there’s no unemployment in Detroit?
Say, comrade, we said capitalism is booming.
CHICAGO, Ill. – A hall jammed with nearly 400 people. Spartacus Youth with their red sashes, the crowd so interested that we had to get the management of the hall to extend our time, the C.P. and S.P. attempts to answer us so weak that the workers present often roared their derision, the singing of the International and three mighty cheers for the Workers Party of the U.S. – that was the Chicago meeting.
A Hot Situation
It’s 10 below zero here meteorologically speaking, but it’s a “hot” situation as far as our branches, the Spartacus Youth League and prospects of growth are concerned.
The Chicago branches believe that a district comprising Illinois, southern Wisconsin, eastern Iowa and Missouri and northwestern Indiana, with headquarters in Chicago, ought to be set up soon. Comrade Cannon and I are convinced by their arguments and are recommending action to the Political Committee.
There are a million things to Write about Chicago, but here as elsewhere the time is all too short. Besides, I CAN hear the editor cussing now because this copy isn’t in. Better have mercy on us. As I said, it’s 10 below zero here, the weatherman says the cold wave is staying for a while, and we’re headed for Minneapolis and – the North Pole!
Across the Country with Cannon and Muste. February 2, 1935.
From A. J. Muste, national secretory of the Workers Party, comes further word of the tour he and James P. Cannon, editor of the New Militant, are making to present the program of the W.P. to the workers of the country. Reports indicate that Comrades Muste and Cannon’s tour is a march of triumph.
MADISON, Wis. – The University of Wisconsin is becoming more conservative. Phil LaFollette, of the new Progressive Party, is trying his hand at doing something for the masses with a reformist program. He has an alibi, however, since the Progressives do not control the legislature and so the moral may not be so obvious to the masses as it should be.
An old Brookwood graduate, though not a W.P. sympathizer, got up a meeting here at short notice. They planned to have it in a house but had to transfer to a hall because over fifty wanted to come. If the Chicago District got established, it ought to have little trouble in forming a branch here.
Here our first taste of northwestern cold begins. The train is due at 1 A.M. It crawls in about 3. We are due in Minneapolis at 8 A.M. and get there 5 hours late. Over 30 degrees below zero and a cutting wind. What a reception!
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – Those of us who have heard former C.L.A, comrades go into ecstasies over the Minneapolis strikes, Drivers Local 574 and the Minneapolis militants generally, have sometimes said to ourselves: “They may be good in Minneapolis, but they can’t be that good.” There must have been many, too, who have had a fleeting doubt as to whether Toledo and Minneapolis could live up to their reputations, whether the magnificent battles of 1934 had been a “flash in the pan” or were being followed up in a persistent and militant fashion.
Having now spent five days in Minneapolis, maybe I’ll be accused of “putting it on thick”. I must sing the praises of the movement here. Nothing is clearer than that both here and in Toledo our forces are stronger today, have a firmer hold in the unions, and are working harder than they were a year ago.
We tried to have a conference of the trade union members of our branch the other night and had to wait until nearly eleven because a class in Labor Dramatics, a conference of Bakery Workers and an organization committee meeting of Northern States Power employees were on, and our comrades and the 574 boys were taking leading parts in each. While waiting around, we had a session with a group of progressives from the railroad unions. The Northern States Power employees have a charter from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers under which they are building an industrial union of utility workers, including the office force. It looks like the next big achievement for Minneapolis.
A regular and a special meeting of the party branch, a party mass meeting well attended in spite of 30 below zero weather, a rousing banquet at which sympathizers contributed a substantial sum to the Party Foundation Fund, a meeting of several hundred students and faculty members of the University of Minnesota, a forum in St. Paul and another in Minneapolis, a meeting of the Northwest Unity Conference, the organization of militant unionists in these parts – these items contributed a part of the speaking schedule here! But as suggested above, the weather was cold and bracing, so we have survived.
In fact – we had better make it public lest the comrades conclude that Comrade Cannon and I have gone plutocratic or that the party has come into a fortune – we look like new men. Some of the trade unionists here clubbed together and fitted the two of us out with brand new suits, union label and all!
At the Branch E.C. meeting Sunday morning twelve new members were enrolled. It is expected that a party office will be opened soon.
Our stay here ended as might have been expected in this region where one strike follows on the heels of another. Eight or ten of the comrades were in my room at midnight for a last chat. The telephone rang. Miles Dunne was wanted. Fargo, N.D., was calling. Miles has organized the drivers there. They are on strike for union recognition. The call was from a newspaper man in Fargo and conveyed the news that a few hours before the police force, which has sworn in 300 special deputies in that town of about 25,000 inhabitants, had appeared at union headquarters with warrants for Miles Dunne and two local leaders. The union men refused to open the doors and give up their leaders. So the police shot tear gas bombs through the windows, rounded up 94 strikers and threw them into jail. They did not arrest any of the women and children of whom a considerable number were in the hall. The warrants against Miles Dunne and the other leaders charge rioting and inciting to riot. Thus our gathering was transformed into a council of war. Strike and defense plans were mapped out.
The Workers Party, Local 574 and the other unions in Minneapolis, the organized farmers around Fargo, will get those drivers out of jail and call the bluff of the Fargo reactionaries who think that terrorism can stop the militant labor movement of the northwest. The Non-Partisan Labor Defense may be called upon to help.
Across the Country with Cannon and Muste. February 16, 1935.
The tour is over! Comrade Muste reports herein on the final meetings and his impression of the whole tour. Comrade Cannon, during the tour, was called to California and is now in Sacramento.
DAVENPORT and MUSCATINE, Ia. – It, is when one meets a small branch such as the one at Davenport that, one sees most clearly, perhaps, how thorough training in revolutionary theory can hold a group together in the face of the greatest obstacles and discouragement. If other branches made a showing in proportion to their membership in mass meetings, Chicago and Minneapolis would get out a thousand and New York five thousand.
At the Davenport meeting we had our first open encounter with sin American Legion anti-Bolshevik propagandist, a gentleman who sought to pin “the destruction of the home” and “bloody revolution” on us and who did not consider it pertinent when we pointed out that capitalism had robbed the workers of their homes, had murdered millions in the World War, in White Guard and Fascist pogroms, etc.
At Muscatine the workers in an unemployed union seemed not a bit shocked when told that under the new Roosevelt bill project workers would get only eleven dollars per week. After the meeting I learned they were getting only five or six dollars and figured that eleven would represent a hundred percent increase in the wage standard. To this has the proud American working class been reduced!
Crowded Hours in St. Louis
ST. LOUIS, Mo. – The standard, not to say classic, Stalinist mimeographed leaflet distributed at our public meeting gives “the new line” of the C.P. on us, at least, for that day: the workers are warned to beware of “ultra-revolutionary parties” such as the W.P.
A conference with workers who want to discuss the details of the W.P. program, one with a group of progressive trade unionists, two meetings with middle class sympathizers, a business meeting of the branch, and a public mass meeting are crowded into 36 hours here.
Workers in St. Louis want to be organized, but the Federal Auto locals and others have lost membership. There is no one to give direction. A young officer in one of the new locals tells his experiences:
“An A.F. of L. representative was sent in to our Local. He made a speech. I thought it was a good one. Then I got home and my wife asked me what he had told us to do. I thought and thought, and then I woke up and realized he hadn’t told us a thing to do.”
St. Louis Branch W.P. has added some members and has some good prospects on the list.
ILLINOIS MINE FIELDS. – Shacks, dirt, poverty. Here one realizes again that Columbia has indeed fallen low. In one mining town P.M.A. members on strike over two years still believe in the Pearcy-Keck-Picek machine in the P.M.A. which supplies them with about fifty cents worth of relief a month, and regard Allard, Pat Ansbury and Jack Battuello as union-wreckers! But that will not last much longer. All the indications here confirm the reports which have been received in the National Office recently to the effect that the prestige of the militants in the P.M.A. is rising rapidly.
Meetings in Gillespie, Pana, Bullpitt which takes in Tovey and Kincaid also, and Springfield. The Gillespie meeting was held in the S.P. hall. Here for the first time on the trip the C.P. turned out in force. They should have spared their pains, for their record in the Illinois mine fields has thoroughly discredited them. In both Gillespie and Springfield the most serious and active workers turned out to our meeting, asked numerous questions and urged the Workers Party to send an organizer to Illinois. That call must be heeded.
“Best Political Meeting Yet”
COLUMBUS, Ohio. – The best political meeting yet held in Columbus from the standpoint both of numbers and of the level of questions and discussion. Dick Harrington was on hand. For months he posed as a non-partisan in the unemployed organizations and came to the N.U.L. convention at Columbus last summer supposedly as the representative of numerous unemployed bodies in several states of the Pacific Northwest. He has found it possible to leave the unemployed in that great area to their fate these many months and to busy himself in a vain effort to disrupt Unemployed Leagues in Ohio and turn them into Councils. He was given the floor and indicated that he was going to demolish “Trotskyism”. After one sentence he was off on a typical demagogic appeal for “united front in the struggle for bread” which netted him exactly nothing except applause from half a dozen “stooges” he has brought with him. And even these all gathered after the meeting around Sam Pollock of Toledo who happened to be present and listened for nearly an hour to his exposition of what a “united front” is and is not!
The mass meeting was followed by a three hour meeting of the Branch devoted to a serious discussion of how a revolutionary party functions in mass organizations.
An Old American Custom
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Here the revolutionary party holds its meeting in the Court of Common Pleas of Kanawha County! This is because the Unemployed Leagues have established the custom of holding workers’ mass meetings in public buildings. This was done on two grounds. First, the workers have a right to the use of buildings built and maintained by taxation; second, this differentiates the Leagues clearly from Ku Klux Klan and similar outfits which operate secretly and enables the Leagues to undermine their influence as organizations which do not operate in the open and consequently cannot lie for the interest of the masses. Despite winter weather and almost impassable roads party and mass work goes forward.
Pittsburgh – the Last Stop
PlTTSBURGH, Pa. – Last stop. Several hundred attended our mass meeting in Carnegie North Side Library. Rumors before the meeting that the police would break it up proved unfounded, though a few hung around the doors. A wave of repression and terrorism is sweeping Allegheny County, reflecting the nervousness of the authorities over the unrest among the unemployed, in the steel mills, etc. When committees protest to the mayor, a Single Taxer, he fretfully answers: “There isn’t anything I can do about it. Why, the police stopped one of my meetings once in North Side Park.”
The New Militant was the weekly paper of the Workers Party of the United States and replaced The Militant in 1934, The Militant was a weekly newspaper begun by supporters of the International Left Opposition recently expelled from the Communist Party in 1928 and published in New York City. Led by James P Cannon, Max Schacthman, Martin Abern, and others, the new organization called itself the Communist League of America (Opposition) and saw itself as an outside faction of both the Communist Party and the Comintern. After 1933, the group dropped ‘Opposition’ and advocated a new party and International. When the CLA fused with AJ Muste’s American Workers Party in late 1934, the paper became the New Militant as the organ of the newly formed Workers Party of the United States.