‘The Work of Our Party in the Pittsburgh District’ by Jack Johnstone from The Communist. Vol. 13 No. 4. April, 1934.

Scottish-born Communist Party leader Jack Johnstone with a detailed pre-convention discussion article on the problems of Party work in one of its most important districts around the industrial center of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

‘The Work of Our Party in the Pittsburgh District’ by Jack Johnstone from The Communist. Vol. 13 No. 4. April, 1934.

IT would not be difficult to draw a very good picture of the situation in the Pittsburgh district in comparison to what it was, say a year ago. This, while it would be strictly correct, would leave an impression that everything is going along as it should and that there is nothing to worry about. Our Party has accomplished a great deal in that period and is quite enthusiastic about being able to accomplish a great deal more. However, to use only this yard stick, to draw conclusions only from this method of comparison, would be a serious error and would not contribute very much to the convention discussion. The critical approach must take note of the achievements, but the basic analysis should be: Have we carried out the six-month plan of work? To what extent have we fulfilled the tasks that we set for ourselves in this plan of work?

Such an analysis, made by the district committee, shows that the tasks set were not fulfilled; that the average fulfillment for the district as a whole was only 50 per cent. Some sections, such as the Hill section, show that the quota for Party recruitment was carried through 100 per cent. However, the recruitment of employed miners and steel workers is below the quota set. Every section is behind in the Daily Worker drive and in the circulation of party literature. The building of the Y.C.L. is still largely on paper. Only in one or two places, in the Hill, Turtle Creek Valley, and Yukon sections, are any improvements shown. While we have organized a branch of the L.S.N.R. and improved in the work among the Negro masses, the result is still inadequate and extremely unsatisfactory. Every control task set in the six-month plan of work has only been partly carried out. The modest task of recruiting 300 employed steel and mine workers has not been completed. In almost every phase of work there is some improvement; at the same time there are also tremendous weaknesses. The hiding of the Party face goes hand in hand with the weakness in building the Steel and Metal Workers Industrial Union, with the weakness in organizing united front struggles against Fascism and war, etc.

We cannot win leadership over the workers simply because we have a correct line, which is, of course, of basic importance; there are other requirements that are equally important—broad, well developed cadres, good organizers, functioning unit bureaus, section and district committees, a collective leadership with a strict enforcement of individual responsibility. Slogans and demands have only a paper, or at best, an abstract agitational value unless we develop corresponding organizations to carry these slogans and demands into concrete practice. Can the workers win unemployment insurance? Yes, but not if the Workers’ Unemployment Insurance Bill merely rests in Congress or if we merely mention it in speeches and resolutions. Unemployment insurance will be achieved only if we build organizations, a broad united front, and if we compel its enactment through organized strength. Can we defeat fascism in this country? Yes! Can we hinder the development of war? Yes, but only if we set up organizations that will draw into the struggle broad working masses. Can we win wage increases, better working conditions? Yes, but only if there are built strong fighting unions, strong rank-and-file groups in the A.F. of L., mill and mine grievance and shop committees.

In the Pittsburgh district, the main concentration is steel, mining and unemployed work. Here I want to deal with mining. In spite of the long fighting tradition of our Party and the National Miners’ Union in Western and Central Pennsylvania, the Lewis-Murray- Fagan machine was able to put over the wage-cutting program of the N.R.A. at the recent convention of the U.M.W.A. without any real opposition. Never in the history of the U.M.W.A. since Lewis became president, has the leadership met with so little organized opposition as in the last convention. The majority of the 1,500 delegates were rank-and-file members; the majority of them represented locals demanding struggles for higher wages and for many other demands; yet, the Lewis machine of about 300 to 400 full-time organizers and henchmen were able to steam-roller everything through that they wanted to in one of the shortest conventions ever held. With thousands of resolutions demanding higher wages, the six-hour day and five-day week, not one was brought even before the convention, and the wage-scale committee was given the power to get what wages they could. How was it possible that there was no organized opposition from the Pittsburgh district—from a district where a short time ago, during tremendous strike struggles, the leaders of the U.M.W.A. could not speak at a strike meeting; where in every mining camp large sections of the miners are against these leaders and their policy of surrender?

There is not the slightest excuse for such a situation. Every criticism in the Open Letter is a challenge and a criticism of the district leadership. There has been hesitation in bringing forward the Party, in fighting for the Party line among the non-Party miners. There has been slowness in reacting to new conditions, in letting go of old methods and tactics when a change was obvious. There has been opportunist neglect of working in the U.M.W.A, and the necessity of organizing. There has been lack of understanding of the value of the Daily Worker and the spreading of Party literature. There has been weakness in the work of the units and unit bureaus, especially at the district point of concentration. There have been undeveloped section committees and section leadership, a concentration plan of work that did not get beyond a paper resolution. It is necessary to learn how to examine the work of the district committee as a whole; but this is inadequate unless the work of the District Organizer and every member of the district committee is examined to see how they carried out their individual responsibility, how they carried out their assigned task.

The preparations for the U.M.W.A. convention were not conducted according to the plan laid down by the district, but rather on the basis that there were so many miners opposed to the sell-out policy of the Lewis administration that all that one had to do was to fly around everywhere, tell the miners to pass resolutions for wage increases, etc., and to elect delegates to fight for them, and then to send someone to Indianapolis and organize this opposition. The optimistic reports that there would be an organized fighting group of delegates at the convention were taken for granted by the district without a proper check-up.

It was possible to have built around the four mines of concentration functioning Party mine units; to have issued a Party mine paper, to have increased the circulation of the Daily Worker, Party literature, including the language press; to have organized a delegation around a fighting program for wage increases, youth demands, un- employment insurance, demands against the discrimination of the Negroes, for winning the miners over for a fight against fascism and war, for strengthening the unemployment councils in the struggle for increased relief and for the unemployment insurance bill, for drawing in the wives and daughters of the miners into the struggle, and for winning many of the miners and their families for the line of the Party. This would have organized a strong delegation to the U.M.W.A. convention from the mines of concentration, and, with this basis, a different story could have been told about the result of the convention. This is what is meant by concentration and fighting for the line of the Party. This was not done in mining. It is just idle chatter to talk about building the Y.C.L., if we hesitate about building the Party; and we cannot build the Party if we hesitate in bringing forward the line of the Party and to fight for that line among the non-Party workers.

The task that confronts our Party in the mining field is to help and to lead the miners to solve all their problems, to convince the miners that only the Communist Party has the solution to all their problems and not to approach these problems with phrases that are not understood by the miners and often by those who use them. In every mining camp there is unemployment, hunger, misery of an appalling character. On April 1st, the present agreement with the U.M.W.A. and the coal codes expires. In every mining camp there are large sections, in some places a majority, of the miners that are not only against the sell-out program of Lewis and Company, but who are ready to organize and lead strike struggles for their demands on April 1st. Without organization, without leadership, this fighting sentiment is helpless before the well organized Lewis machine. Over a score of mine strikes have taken place in the past six weeks, involving the steel concerns of Bethlehem, Frick, Jones and Laughlin. The task of uniting the miners for struggle is the task of the Party and the quite large group of Party supporters who are not themselves yet organized. These strikes are immediately stifled by the stronger and stronger strangle-hold that the Lewis machine is getting over the local organizations. Yet, in spite of this, the fighting sentiment of the miners is so strong that every strike gains some concessions, even though they are only temporary; but the miners are never allowed to win what they could win if the rank-and-file were organized and put into the leadership of the strikes.

April 1st can become the starting point for tremendous, far- reaching mass strikes in mining, and at the same time the starting point for far-reaching victories for the miners. April 1st can also mark another great betrayal of the miners by Lewis. The sentiment for struggle against Lewis and his N.R.A. program is so great in the Pittsburgh district, that if the Opposition can organize a base in one or two locals, through organizing rank-and-file groups, it will give them leadership in the strike. The six-hour, $6.00-day, five-day week and many other demands can be won. A broad strike movement in Pittsburgh would have tremendous effect throughout the mining field everywhere and throughout the steel industry.

More and more, the miners are becoming conscious that the New Deal and the N.R.A. are directed against them. Ideologically and politically, the miners are far ahead of their leaders. Many local officials are against the policy of the district and national officers. These local officials are not supported by an organized Lewis opposition group that would give added strength to the fighting local officials. An organized rank-and-file is necessary that would be ever on the alert against the encroachments of the coal operators in worsening the conditions in the mine, on the alert against the at- tempts of the district officials who are constantly trying to put in their own henchmen and to oust these local officials that want to fight in the interest of the miners. Ever on the alert, watching their leadership, weeding out the weak vacillating types and putting in fighting leaders. Not only exposing Lewis, Murray and Fagan as misleaders, as agents of the coal operators, but building a militant rank-and-file determined to take their union out of the control of the coal operators and the N.R.A., on the basis of a program of struggle and to give leadership to that struggle—this is the task. An organized rank-and-file must be developed that will come out fearlessly and openly with their program, to issue their own paper, to visit other locals and to win them over for such a struggle, to utilize the constitution of the U.M.W.A. as far as possible, but to remember that the constitution of the U.M.W.A. has been re-written since Lewis became president in the interests of the coal operators and not of the miners.

The building up of such a rank-and-file can only be done by really concentrating on those mines that the Party can give proper personal attention to and to stick to the task in these mines, until Lewis, Murray, Fagan and company have been isolated from the miners. It is vitally important to build a Party unit in these mines, hidden from the coal operators but not from the miners; a Party unit that the miners will look to for leadership, and which will defend the Communist program and organization. It is necessary to issue a Party mine paper that will deal with the problems in the mine, giving leadership for the correction of every grievance, and with this always as the starting point, to expose the New Deal and the N.R.A., to explain patiently and in the miners’ language, the danger of fascism and imperialist war; to explain that the struggles for reforms are of importance but that these struggles cannot eliminate unemployment, misery, hunger and war, because they are inherent in the capitalist system.

The basic preparations in the Pittsburgh district, for struggle at the expiration of the agreements in the mining field on April 1st, are the strengthening of the mine units, especially at the mines of concentration, with every member of the unit active in the U.M.W.A. local union responsible for the organizing of a strong rank-and-file group that will draw every member of the local union into active responsibility in preparations for strike struggle. The Lewis, Fagan, coal operators’ machine is working day and night trying to reach an agreement satisfactory to the coal operators and at the expense of the miners. A timid approach only works against the interest of the miners.

Mine units are not really functioning units until they learn how to give leadership to all the struggles of the miners and to link up immediate demands with winning the miners for the final struggle against the capitalist system. A unit fully developed has to be able to show the miners how the capitalist system can be defeated, that this is the task of the working class, that the miners play a very important role in this struggle, and to explain what a Soviet America would mean to the miners.

Social-reformism within the ranks of the miners cannot simply be judged by the organizational strength of the Socialist Party. The A.F. of L. is the main carrier in the mining field of this capitalist ideology; and Lewis, Murray and Fagan are the spokesmen and leaders who inject this poison into the ranks of the miners. Thousands of miners understand that to get more wages, more relief, better conditions means a fight, a bitter fight in which they will have to defeat the private gunmen (yellow dogs) of the coal operators, that the deputies, state troopers, national guard, the courts and all the forces of the government will be used against them if the N.R.A. is unable to defeat the miners with more promises that never actually aid them. We must point out and make clear to the miners that only through struggle can anything be won. We must expose those leaders who propose arbitration and who oppose strikes. We must explain to the miners that to give up the right of strike is to give up the most powerful weapon in the hands of the miners.

Just as these social-reformists advocate arbitration, which is a weapon of the coal operators, a weapon of the capitalist class used against the working class, so they advocate a “peaceful” solution for the transformation of capitalism to Socialism— ‘‘to educate the capitalist and for the workers to wait until capitalism falls of its own weight”, etc. This is the same poison that they carry into the workers’ ranks; when the latter are ready to struggle for immediate demands, they propose arbitration instead. We have to show the miners on the basis of the struggle for the smallest economic demands, which are always fought against viciously by the coal operators and by all capitalist groups, how suicidal it would be to expect them to give up their class rule, to give up their class privilege of private ownership without a struggle. The mine unit should persistently expose this reformist ideology as capitalist poison injected into the ranks of the workers for the defense of capitalism, to defeat the miners in their everyday demands, to link the miners through Lewis, Fagan and Co., up with the efficiency production apparatus of the coal operators and the war machinery of the government.

To strengthen the mine units and mining camp units, to develop leading unit bureaus raising the political level of the units, to increase the initiative of the units as the basic Party organizations is the main task of the Party especially at the mines of concentration. Without doing this, there is no solid Bolshevik foundation upon which to build. This is the task of the district and section leadership and the individual responsibility of those leading comrades assigned to the mines of concentration. Without organization, the tasks set cannot be fulfilled. Without organization, it is nonsense to talk about fighting for the line of the Party among the miners; without organization, the making of the turn in Party and trade union work, emphasized in the Open Letter and in the convention resolution, cannot be made; without organization, the miners will again be defeated by the N.R.A., the coal operators and their agents, Lewis and Co. The basic organization is the Party mine unit. Wherever there is a functioning Party unit, there is activity and concrete results. Wherever the Party unit does not function, or functions poorly, there is little or no activity, there is confusion and chaos, not only in the ranks of the Party but in the ranks of the workers as well. This we must always keep in mind. When tasks are not fulfilled and activities not developed, we must examine the mine unit and we will find that the weakness is in the unit, and the cause of the weakness will generally be found at the top, either in the section leadership or the district leadership or both.

The developing of the unit as a political leader can only be done in struggle. In preparing each mine for struggle on April 1st or before, the conditions for struggle are there. Again, this means organization, the strengthening of the Party fraction in the U.M.W.A. and the unemployed organizations in order to surround the fraction with those miners who are ready for a struggle around the April 1st demands and for inner union democracy; to win the locals in support of these demands and to get the locals to take the leadership in calling local wage scale conferences, either of the same company mines or territorial; to send out committees to other locals in support of their program; to present their demands to the scale committee and to prepare to strike in the mines on April 1st, to enforce these demands; to set up broad strike committees that will take leadership, laying the basis for the spreading of the strike to other localities and coal fields, doing this around the mines selected for concentration, and to stick at it until the tasks are accomplished.

Around these mines, especially the mines of concentration, it is essential that the unemployed councils organize the unemployed miners also for the struggle against the 59-cent dollar, for more relief, against the shutting down of the C.W.A. jobs; to fight for the right to a job at union wages; to mobilize mass support for the Workers’ Unemployment Insurance Bill, H.R. 7598; to demand that this Bill be passed in this session of Congress. Every local of the U.M.W.A. will endorse this Bill once they get an opportunity to read and discuss it. There is no better link between the employed and the unemployed miners than the struggle for the six-hour day, five-day week and unemployment insurance. While the U.M.W.A. is the main organization in the mining field, there are other A. F. of L. organizations and many central labor bodies which can be drawn into support of the Unemployment Insurance Bill, H.R. 7598, and in support of the April 1st struggles; in order to raise before the workers’ organizations the need for unity and mass pressure upon Congress so as to insure that the Bill will be taken out of committee and brought before Congress at the same time, demanding from every Congressman that he support the Bill, circulating petitions and referendums through the union and other mass organizations in support of the Bill, linking this up with the struggle against war, and pointing out where the money can be gotten for the Bill, especially from the war appropriations.

The carrying through of the tasks, especially the development of struggle, can only be accelerated by serious effort to spread the Daily Worker and increase the circulation of Party and trade union literature. Without systematic work in mass agitation, the building of mass organizations and developing of mass struggles are handicapped, poorly developed and poorly led. Such important united front organizations as the A.F. of L. Rank and File Committee for Unemployment Insurance are not known in the mining field of our district. Thousands of local unions and many central labor bodies in the A.F. of L. have endorsed the Unemployment Insurance Bill, H.R. 7598, through the activities of this committee, and in spite of the frantic effort of Bill Green to outlaw this committee. Many U.M.W.A. locals and central bodies in the mining field can very easily be drawn into this A.F. of L. rank and file committee and play an active part in the struggle for unemployment insurance. This would greatly strengthen the preparations for strike on April 1st, and draw the miners immediately into open conflict with their top leadership who like Green are opposed to unemployment insurance. The task of the Party units and fractions, as well as the opposition in the U.M.W.A. is to set up broader united front committees around these special demands and draw more and more miners into leadership and responsibility, developing a new and broader leadership.

In the immediate task of preparing and developing the strike and unemployed struggles in the mining field on April 1st around the demands now being discussed by the miners, every problem that confronts the miners is on the order of the day, and miners are willing to discuss them and find a way to solve these problems. It is how we approach these problems that will determine how quickly the Party can win leadership in the mining field. The greatest weakness has been the timid right-opportunist hiding of the Party and hesitation in penetrating the A.F. of L. The Party’s position on the problems facing the Negro miners has not been brought forward very strongly. We cannot win the Negroes unless our white miners and first of all Party members lead the struggles against discrimination. The same thing applies to the young ‘miners; only in the loosest manner have the special demands of the young miners been raised.

The struggle against fascism and war has not yet found any organizational expression in the mining field. It has been limited to resolutions and a few speeches, while the women of the miners who have always played a splendid fighting role in all strikes, disappear immediately following the end of the strike. It is around the preparations for struggle for immediate demands that we must learn to bring forward the Party and explain the Party position toward all of these problems. It would be a “Left” sectarian approach if we explained the revolutionary way out of the crisis without basing it upon the immediate and burning needs of the miners. However, in raising the demand against discrimination against the Negro miners, in raising the demand for higher wages because of the inflation program and its 59-cent dollar, in raising the demand for unemployment insurance, or for struggle against fascism and war, etc., our Party as a whole has not yet sufficiently learned how to explain why there is discrimination practiced against the Negro, why the program of the capitalists leads towards fascism and war and why the imperialist nations tear at each others’ throats in the struggle for markets and unite in preparing for war against the Soviet Union, etc. It is also necessary to explain in the struggle for more relief and unemployment insurance why people are hungry while there is plenty to eat and why there are seventeen million unemployed while factories stand idle—to show the miners in presenting a program of struggle for immediate demands why all the wealth goes to the capitalist class, and hunger, unemployment, uncertainty and misery are the lot of the miners; and finally what has to be done to remove this cause and to bring forward our Party as the only Party that offers a solution.

The preparations for the Eighth Party Convention are part of the preparations for the development of the struggle in the mining field on April 1st. The fulfillment of the most modest tasks set by the Pittsburgh district can be accomplished; but the main task of the district is to overcome these weaknesses of leadership, to develop good organizers, a broad cadre of good Party functionaries, to develop unit bureaus and section committees that can give leadership without depending solely on the district. A leadership must be established that can draw around the Party every miner willing to struggle, by setting up organizations of rank-and-file groups in the U.M.W.A. strong enough to defeat the inner organized machinery that is being organized in every local by Lewis, Fagan and company, in the interest of the coal operators. In order to raise the slogan demanding the enactment of H.R. 7598, we must have organization. The struggle against fascism and war requires organization and only when we learn how to set up a united front organization of struggle around these special demands, will we be able to say that we are laying the basis for the building of the Party into a mass Party, a prerequisite for the winning of the majority of the American working class to the program and leadership of our Party, for the workers’ way out of the crisis, for a Soviet America.

There are a number of journals with this name in the history of the movement. This ‘Communist’ was the main theoretical journal of the Communist Party from 1927 until 1944. Its origins lie with the folding of The Liberator, Soviet Russia Pictorial, and Labor Herald together into Workers Monthly as the new unified Communist Party’s official cultural and discussion magazine in November, 1924. Workers Monthly became The Communist in March, 1927 and was also published monthly. The Communist contains the most thorough archive of the Communist Party’s positions and thinking during its run. The New Masses became the main cultural vehicle for the CP and the Communist, though it began with with more vibrancy and discussion, became increasingly an organ of Comintern and CP program. Over its run the tagline went from “A Theoretical Magazine for the Discussion of Revolutionary Problems” to “A Magazine of the Theory and Practice of Marxism-Leninism” to “A Marxist Magazine Devoted to Advancement of Democratic Thought and Action.” The aesthetic of the journal also changed dramatically over its years. Editors included Earl Browder, Alex Bittelman, Max Bedacht, and Bertram D. Wolfe.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/communist/v13n04-apr-1934-communist.pdf

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