Wednesday, September 19, 2018

SLP versus the burlesque Bolsheviks

The full title of this publication is “The Socialist Labor Party and the Third International: Socio-Political Science vs. Revolutionary Romanticism”. Published in 1926, the pamphlet is anonymous. The SLP is (yes, the group still exists) one of the more peculiar leftist groups, being essentially a propaganda society for the homegrown political philosophy of American Marxist Daniel De Leon (who died in 1914). De Leon's ideas, often referred to as Socialist Industrial Unionism, sound like a curious hybrid of Social Democracy and revolutionary syndicalism. Under the leadership of De Leon's successor Arnold Petersen, the SLP evolved into a bizarre sect or cult. This is not yet fully discernible in this pamphlet, which sounds rather moderate and serious. Later, SLP became notorious for the ill-tempered and invective-ridden articles of said Petersen, not to mention his periodic purges of the rapidly dwindling and ageing party faithful.

The Russian Bolsheviks attempted to recruit the SLP to their Third or Communist International, but the pamphlet says almost nothing about these efforts. Instead, it contains a short criticism of the U.S. Communists (which the SLP believes are heavily infiltrated by government agents) and a call to disband the Comintern. The SLP evidently supported the New Economic Policy (NEP), and therefore believed that the Soviet Union should concentrate to establishing meaningful trade relations with the capitalist world, rather than foment “world revolution” through the Third International. The pamphlet attacks Russian Bolshevik leader Zinoviev, who was also chair of the Comintern, and express strong support for his removal from power. The SLP's criticism of the American Communists is a strange mix of criticism “from the left” (the Communists are really “reformists”, they support Senator La Follette, etc) and criticism “from the right” (a violent revolution isn't on the agenda, underground revolutionary work is absurd, etc). Lenin was rumored to have been interested in De Leon's thought, and the few quotations that suggest this are quote-mined by the anonymous authors, thereby lending the SLP some kind of imprimatur. One of the few invectives in this pamphlet is “burlesque Bolsheviki”, a reference to the American Communists.

In the end, absolutely nothing came out of any of this, since the SLP was too sectarian to actually *do* something. During the 1930's, Petersen became an ardent admirer of Stalin (while still condemning the Comintern!), but he swiftly changed tack during the Hitler-Stalin pact and Winter War, charging that Stalin had turned into an “international anarchist” and established a despotic regime in Russia. Wow, who knew? Today, SLP has changed its analysis once again, now instead expressing support for Alexandra Kollontai's 1921 Workers' Opposition, a position more in keeping with De Leon's “syndicalist” angle.

With that, I end my review.

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