An article by x22063 describing a 1932 debate between Fred Thompson of the IWW and J. Cogan of the Communist Party USA-aligned Trade Union Unity League, in Duluth, Minnesota. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker, March 8, 1932 (Vol. 14, No. 60, Whole No. 793).
Thompson and Cogan debate opportunism
Instructor at Work Peoples College takes Communist advocacy of unemployment insurance to the cleaners in Duluth
DULUTH, Minn.—The question of unemployment insurance was debated for two and a half hours, Sunday afternoon, between J. Cogan, of the Trade Union Unity League and F. W. Thompson of the I.W.W. In order to have the debate it was necessary to accept the Communists' terms of meeting 'in their hall'; this was to be regretted as the interest in the question was such that there was not seating capacity for all who wished to attend. The question as stated was: "Resolved, That the workers should fight for unemployment insurance".
Cogan, in the opening speech for the affirmative, first of all pointed out the ravages of unemployment the world over. He argued that unemployment insurance was not a reform, but a means of focusing the struggle for revolution; that if provided action by which the working class could learn how to do things as they did them in Russia; that it brought about the solidarity of the workers on the job and off the job. He urged that it built up a revolutionary force by bringing in the little business men and the poor farmers. He argued the necessity for making a political struggle based on economic needs, asserting that in the good old days of the I.W.W, Bill Haywood had organized hunger demonstrations to parade to the seats of government!
In his opening speech for the negative .F.W. Thompson established four points. First, whatever degree of unemployment insurance is established by a capitalist state, will be done by and for the capitalist class. Second, the records necessary for any such system, must necessarily, especially in open shop America, constitute a 100% federal blacklist system. Third, the unemployment insurance, [WORD UNCLEAR] mischievously misleading to the working class. It is the view that the capitalists are responsible for the present 'depression and that the capitalists can fix it up; the view that out of the Soviet Business Men's Delegates in Washington and the state capitals can come relief from the ills of capitalism. Fourth, there are much better means for accomplishing the object of the proposal—security of livelihood for the working class. The only real security, he said, will come when the workers take the world and use it; meanwhile he urged the education of workers, as opposed to their mis-education with political opportunism, the industrial organization of those on the job, and the formation of a mighty picket line of the unemployed, to work jointly for shorter hours, higher pay, resistance to speed-up that our class may increase strength until it has the power to take the world and use it. Nowhere' in such a program does a demand for remedial legislation fit.
These opening statements were followed by questions from the audience ranging fronm what to do with policemen's clubs to why "Wicks" are ditched front Dakota freights. In his rebuttal. Thompson answered some thirty odd-such questions then dealt with the arguments of his opponent. He pointed out that in Russia, employment for all had been found under the Communist dictatorship, and that this had been established, not by demanding such sops as unemployment insurance, but to the tune of the slogan "All power to the workers". He ridiculed the notion that such a bill as the communist demanded, providing union rates for all unemployed, would ever be obtained from any capitalist legislature, and argued that this demand, stripped of its revolutionary trimmings,, amounted to the old opportunistic hog-wash.
In rebuttal. Cogan met the charge of reformism with the argument that they were not asking, they were demanding, and that they were not asking for sops, but for something that the capitalist class could not give them. He stated that it would be damaging to the workers on the job to form picket lines of the unemployed, for then the boss could figure out how to make more wage-cuts, and urged that hunger marches were very educational, for the workers who joined them found their real enemy somewhere en route, and lost their faith in him.
Whatever else may be said of the debate, it was conducted in an orderly fashion and a fairly hilarious time was had by all.
Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker March 8, 1932 (Vol. 14, No. 60, Whole No. 793)
Transcribed for libcom.org by Juan Conatz