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The Split in the Socialist Party on Aid to Britain

(1 February 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 5, 1 February 1941, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A deep split in the ranks of the Socialist Party became public in connection with the appearance of Norman Thomas last week before the House committee hearings on the Lease-Lend bill.

Coincident with Thomas’ testimony, a group of leading figures in the Socialist Party issued a statement to the press, repudiating Thomas’ opinions on the bill and declaring that he did not represent the true sentiments of the majority of the Socialist Party members.

The press statement accompanied a petition to Representative Bloom, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, requesting that a spokesman of the petitioning group be afforded an opportunity to speak at the hearing in full support of the bill granting unlimited war powers to the president.

Thomas Loses His Chief Lieutenants

The extent of the cleavage in the Socialist Party and the strength of the opposition to the Thomas faction is indicated by the fact that the petition signers included Thomas’ chief lieutenants. Among them were Jack Altman, former secretary of the New York local; Professor Reinhold Neibuhr of Union Theological Seminary; Frank Crosswaith, general organizer of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union; Alfred Baker Lewis, former Massachusetts party secretary; Murray Gross, former chairman of the National Labor Committee of the Socialist Party; Lazar Becker, of the New York state committee; and Gus Tyler, former editor of the Call.

Those of us who were in the left wing of the Socialist Party in 1937 may be forgiven if we laugh in glee at the sight of this roster of denouncers of Thomas. For these were the gentlemen who upheld Thomas’ right arm as he smote the left wing of the party in 1937. With their backing Thomas resorted to the desperate venture of expelling the left wing, without daring to wait for the verdict of an honestly-elected party convention. The interested reader – particularly any worker of revolutionary spirit who may have wandered by accident into the Socialist Party since 1037 – should read the story of the 1937 split in the issues of the Socialist Appeal (now The Militant) of that period. He will find that we predicted the degeneration of the Socialist Party into a chauvinistic sect like the Social Democratic Federation, once the left wing was not there to prevent it. The left wing is now in the Socialist Workers Party.

Jack Altman, next to Thomas the most important figure in engineering the split in 1937, predicted in a press statement last week that the Norman Thomas group will be repudiated at the S.P. national meeting next mouth. Altman claimed – and the next issue of Thomas’ Call has not denied it – that the two largest units of the party, Illinois and Wisconsin, support the Altman group.

Although his name was not attached to this statement, Daniel Hoan, former mayor of Milwaukee, has already gone completely over to the pro-war Roosevelt camp. He is now a member of one of Roosevelt’s “national defense” boards.

What the Split Is About

The Altman group has adopted a completely pro-war position, indistinguishable from that of the Roosevelt administration, whose policies it now accords full support.

The split in the Socialist Party ranks is not a fight between an anti-war proletarian wing and petty-bourgeois capitulators. It merely mirrors faithfully the differences that exist within the capitalist camp, the “isolationists” versus the interventionists. At no point does the conflict in the Socialist Party take on the aspect of u struggle between two opposing class tendencies.

The basis of Thomas’ opposition to the Lease-Lend bill was identical with that of Hanford MacNider, former national commander of the American Legion, who spoke at the same session of the hearings as Thomas and represented that section of the Republican party and Wall Street who disagree with the administration only on the tactics to be pursued leading up to the war.

Thomas, like MacNider, based his principal objection to the bill as it now stands solely on the fact that it is “undemocratic” and gives the President too much individual power.

In the same breath that he condemned Churchill as “an imperialist to the core,” Thomas declared that he was for aid to Britain and a British victory. Even in his opposition to the powers given Roosevelt in the hill, he hastened to make clear that he recognized the “excellence” of Roosevelt’s “normal intentions.”

It is true that Thomas qualified his support of aid to imperialist Britain by stating that he is for only such aid as will help “to repel the Nazi invasion” but will not assist Churchill in his plans for a “reconquest of Europe.”

At what point aid to Britain ceases to be for the purpose of repulsing a Nazi invasion and become an aid to British imperialist ambitions, Thomas failed to make clear.

How little principled difference there is between the two Socialist Party factions is, indicated by Thomas’ recent endorsement of Mathew Woll’s committee to aid Britain. The program and sponsors of this committee are completely pro-war and in entire accord with Roosevelt’s foreign policies.

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