Marxist Bulletin No. 2
The Nature of the Socialist Workers Party—Revolutionary or Centrist
Letter to Ed by Tim Wohlforth
Oct. 24, 1961
I just received a copy of Jim’s letter to you with his thoughts on perspectives. As you may gather from this letter, we have had some discussion here on general perspectives. My letter of October 9th to Jim P. was based on the complete agreement of all leading comrades here. There are however some differences on more long range perspectives and therefore Jim R.’s letter should not be interpreted as representing the collective thinking here.
I will briefly give you some of my tentative thoughts on Jim’s letter. However, I wish to emphasize at the beginning that I do not feel that a speculative discussion of long range perspectives is very meaningful to our tendency. We have been warned against speculation of the possible future course of the party leadership and urged rather to devote ourselves to constructive party building work.
As far as I can see Jim’s perspective is based on two things:
(a) a prediction that the party leadership will take one of several courses now open to it (that of imminent split with the IC) and: (b) an estimation as to the significance of certain internal differences within our tendency. As far as (a) is concerned I personally feel that an imminent split with the IC is highly unlikely. This would require too much political clarification on the part of the SWP leadership–something quite disastrous to it. A sharpening of relations is quite certain–but a full fledged split re: the break with Pablo quite unlikely in the near future. Should such a split take place no tactical moves on our part–such as making our internal differences public–would matter much. The only meaningful gesture would be political conciliationism, which of course we all oppose. However, while we all may have our own personal views as to what the party will or won’t do, it is politically incorrect for us to base any serious tactic on the shifting sands of such speculation. Further, as I said earlier, it is better for the health of the tendency to stay clear of controversy based on speculation.
(b) is a more serious defect in Jim’s letter. It is my conviction that Jim tends to overestimate the seriousness of the extremely minor differences that have so far come up in our tendency. We have had one preliminary discussion on Cuba recently and nothing in that discussion suggested to me any serious political difference. Rather what took place was a good theoretical exchange of views. Jim seems to think our tendency is somehow unprincipled and carries this so far as to suggest that a serious discussion would lead to defections. This is baseless in my opinion–and quite frankly a little hard to take after all these months of constant political discussion, letter writing, documents etc. No one to my knowledge in New York feels that a discussion will lead to defections nor has anyone opposed political discussions. Certainly it is wrong to feel that our tendency was ever held together by organizational maneuverings. I do not know of one comrade in New York or elsewhere who became involved in our tendency because of an organizational struggle. I do know of a few who have been critical of precisely the organizational struggle we have conducted.
The political basis of our tendency is clearly the general line of the SLL International Perspective Resolution–the central theme of which also has been the major point of our position on Cuba: that is the maintenance of a revolutionary perspective on a world wide level and the continued use of Marxist methodology. I do not know of a political tendency which has had such a solid basis for its principled existence. Certainly the volume [of] our discussion material plus the increasing volume of International discussion material has driven this point home and clarified it over and over again.
Certainly if Jim feels that the internal differences are important enough to require an adjustment of our functioning he is proceeding in the wrong way. Rather than presenting the tendency with an organizational solution to these differences in the form of a worked out perspective, he should first seek to clarify the nature of these differences through a political discussion process. Or to put it concretely before he works out a way as to how we are to handle our differences on Cuba in the YSA pre-convention discussion, it is proper to first discover the nature and extent of these differences. Only when we discover this will we be in a position to discuss meaningfully the best way to handle them.
In any event we have a way to clarify politically what the basis of our tendency is. We have been asked to consider the new draft of the SLL Resolution when it comes out and to declare ourselves as to our support to that document making clear of course any reservations we may have (as on Cuba). Therefore we plan to have such a discussion and certainly will not present our views on this to the party and the IC without a discussion in our ranks on the actual statement to be issued. I hope this process will clear up once and for all the nature of the political basis of our tendency. Then whatever minor differences remain (and these will remain for ours is not a personal grouping) can be handled responsibly within the framework of a clear understanding of the nature of the political ties that hold us together.
There is one point that I feel extremely strong on–we must avoid at all costs any tendency of our people becoming turned inward around such a speculative business as a discussion of perspectives. It seems that everything in the world, including unfortunately ourselves, are conspiring to obscure the importance of our proceeding on a straight line to doing positive party building work on the one hand and seeking clarification on International Perspectives on the other. This must not be allowed to continue. We have important internal educational and political tasks in our tendency. But these tasks, if they are to be fruitful, must be directly related to our external tasks–to especially the preparation of our tendency for participation in a discussion on the World Movement in the party.
I might mention one practical point on Jim’s suggestions as to how we handle ourselves in the Cuba discussion. Needless to say in the past party discussion, we did not require or urge the comrades to appear in the party as a monolithic group. I assume that comrade Danny and other comrades who felt Cuba was a deformed workers state made it clear in their locals that they supported the general approach of our Cuba line but felt that Cuba had already become a deformed workers state. Such an approach is not harmful to our tendency and certainly there is no call for any change in this way of functioning now. However I do feel strongly that it is politically irresponsible for separate drafts on Cuba to be presented in the YSA discussion by our people. Certainly such a drastic step, which simply would mean to the party that we were not in fact a principled political tendency, should not be taken unless a fundamental difference on this question comes up in our discussions–it should not be proposed before such differences do come up. As I said earlier there is no basis at all for feeling that anything but the most minor differences exist among us. Perhaps the hardest thing to learn in politics is to acquire a sense of perspective to differentiate between important and unimportant differences and not to let unimportant ones obscure essential agreement.
You may of course show this letter to any comrades in the area who may have seen Jim’s letter to you.