Marxist Bulletin No. 2
The Nature of the Socialist Workers Party—Revolutionary or Centrist
For a Fighting Perspective!
By Shirley Stoute
Tim correctly states in “Towards the Working Class” that our Statement of basic position “In Defense of a Revolutionary Perspective” was the collective work of the tendency as a whole and unanimously adopted by the tendency. We felt and still do feel that it is necessary to deal with the revisionism of the party as expressed over Cuba–the issue over which we were originally brought together–on the American scene. The statement of basic position is held to be our platform by all members of the tendency and there has been no question of its basic political line or any differences on it expressed by any member of the tendency.
Unfortunately the bulk of Tim’s “Towards …” makes it clear that it was not written for the comrades in the N.Y. tendency because it contains many obvious distortions of facts concerning our work. In this document Tim states “From the moment we began on this course of deepening our roots in the working class cadres of the party, there has been internal dissension and factional conflict within the tendency.” It would be helpful if this could be documented but, I’m sure it’s impossible to do so. I know of no factional conflict and dissension in the ranks to developing roots in the working class. About a year ago, comrade Robertson, one of the “petty bourgeois” authors of the Robertson-Ireland document proposed that comrades in the YSA with no perspective of further academic studies–campus work–should try to get jobs in important sections of industry affording us the possibility of being able to intervene in the on movement. We can develop roots in the working class by participating in the struggles of the working class through the trade union and civil rights movement. The working class cadres of the party must be won again to the Trotskyist program. We can do this only by fighting for our program as opposed to the centrist policies of the majority within the mass movement.
Tim continues “This resistance has come from a section of the tendency which finds itself completely isolated from the party ranks, is generally inactive in the party and isolated from mass work in any form.” I ask of comrade Wohlforth: has any member of our tendency, or of the party as a whole been consistently engaged in meaningful work in the mass movement in N.Y.? NO. Furthermore, has comrade Wohlforth ever touched the mass movement? NO. Tim has been more isolated from the party ranks, and generally inactive in the party than most members of the tendency. Because of this he has never been in a position to recruit anyone to the party or the tendency unlike other minority comrades.
Now let’s be more reasonable. We who have always been the most active members of our tendency and in general of the YSA-SWP as a whole are and always have been generally isolated from mass work in any form. The only thing approaching mass work that any of our comrades have done in N.Y. was in the CAMD. Because of the front group approach the party took towards this committee, we were restricted in attempts to involve people other than SWP sympathizers and a few Village radical types. Therefore our work was very frustrating and consisted mainly of working down at party headquarters which was the headquarters of the committee. This is one of the campaigns that the party latched onto but it has never consistently worked in the civil rights mass movement. Our comrades threw themselves into the Beth-El Strike, especially the “sick circle” wing of the tendency, not comrade Wohlforth.
In general the only type of work that we activists have participated in has been internal organizational assignments–organizing public YSA forums, participating in demonstrations here and there and sales at public meetings. Two or three comrades have been involved in campus work. The isolation of our comrades from mass work stems from the fact that the party as a whole is generally isolated from the mass movement and this is a defect that we must correct.
It is not simply a high number of man hours of work that is required of our comrades. Effective mass work puts us in a position to recruit to the party and build the tendency. The comrades in the minority (including myself) who have maintained a consistently high level of activity remain isolated from the mass movement because of the type of work we have been doing.
Tim continues “As long as we were faced with the resistance of a section of the tendency to a positive building attitude towards the party, we felt the best thing to do was to seek to encourage these comrades to be active through the example of the active comrades of the tendency. Only when this section of the tendency sought to impose its orientation upon the tendency as a whole did we face a serious situation within our tendency. This is the situation we now face with the presentation of the Robertson-Ireland document with the aim of having it adopted as the line of the tendency. It has now become clear that a section of our tendency is seeking to turn the tendency as a whole away from the proletarian elements in the SWP and turn us into essentially a little circle of revolutionary critics.” To my knowledge, no section of our tendency has ever expressed an attitude that we should not build the party. Of the least active comrades (including Tim), none of these comrades saw this as a part of their orientation and wished to impose it upon the tendency as a whole. The R-I document deals with how we should work in the SWP. It does not propose a course of inactivity, but one of fruitful revolutionary activity as opposed to shallow “party building.” If a positive building attitude towards the party consists of “going down to 116 and asking Carl Feingold for an assignment” as Tim suggested upon introducing his document “Proposed Statement on Orientation” last May, then I want no part of it. It is true that the party presents no obstacles to our comrades “rooting themselves in the party” to do meaningless work, but there are obstacles to our comrades functioning in positions of importance in relation to the mass movement.
Among the comrades on both sides in this discussion any honest comrade must admit that there can be found people who are active consistently, spurt activists and those generally inactive. Comrade Wohlforth fits into the last category but it never occurred to me to attribute his inactivity to a rotten orientation or political line.
Tim states: “For our part we favor the continuation and deepening of the political and tactical line that our tendency has been following for the past year.” Our political line has been the same since we began as a tendency. It has only been deepened and elaborated upon as our understanding of the fundamental crisis of the party deepened. What political differences do we have? Does Tim disagree with the characterization of the SWP as a centrist party? He does not treat this question in either of his two documents. What tactical line have we been following for the past year that is counterposed to the R-I document? The only thing consistent about our tactics for the past year is that after the party convention we transferred to and sought to continue functioning as a tendency rather than a faction in the party and Tim opposed this change from the beginning.
Tim continues: “In Defense of a Revolutionary Perspective”–our basic position, including the section “Theses on the American Revolution” and point 10 of the concluding section, states clearly our attitude toward the American working class. The entire document including the above-mentioned sections outlines the political line that we wish the party to adopt but because the party is drifting rightward away from Trotskyism–this movement is outlined in earlier sections of the statement–we are not a homogenous part of the party but the Trotskyist tendency within the party. The document is a public statement of our political position to the party ranks and does not outline the tactics of the revolutionary Marxist tendency in relation to the centrist SWP. Since every member of our tendency agrees with our statement of basic position it is dishonest to claim that the section of the tendency behind the R-I document wishes to dump a proletarian orientation. This is absolutely false and to impose this on the current discussion is merely to render a severe blow to the small forces of our tendency by whipping up unnecessary hysteria to discredit opponents on a false basis. If we had such grave political differences as Tim manufactures in his document “Towards…” it would be unprincipled for any true revolutionist not to split the tendency. I think however, that our forces and our cadre are precious and must not be carelessly destroyed by an unprincipled split since we have such strong, political-programmatic bonds.
Tim’s “Proposed Statement on Orientation” issued last spring was not a further elaboration of our basic platform and was rejected by a majority of the N.Y. tendency. The line in practice is one which I, one of the most active members had been trying to avoid following for the past several months i.e., shallow Stakhanovite “party building activity” devoid of contact with outside forces.
To build the tendency we must build the party and recruit to the tendency in the party. The best way we can do this, especially since we feel that the party lacks a proletarian orientation is through our involvement in the mass movement–trade union and civil rights movement. If the party had a proletarian core our task would be much easier. We would need only participate in the would-be existing trade union fractions and be active in the mass work in the civil rights movement which the party would be conducting. Witness the stand the party took on the trade-union situation of Judy, note the absence of interest in trade union work in the party branches including N.Y, and the stand the party is now supporting in the southern civil rights movement: partly a result of isolation and fear of the mass movement.
I feel that the incorrectness of Tim’s line was expressed clearly in the differences we had over the handling of the civil rights business. Tim opposed “waging a campaign and launching a many-pronged attack upon the leadership.” He put this on the level of “organizational faction fighting against the majority” and said he was opposed to this. Tim also said he was “opposed to using this or any other issue to hit the majority over the head with when they’ve obviously made a mistake.” I feel that Tim’s main line is the opposition to a fighting perspective within the party. No fighting perspective and “fusing” with the majority and trying to take the assignments and work that will win the good graces of Camejo and Feingold leads to only disintegration and liquidation. The recent southern civil rights case puts the lie to Tim’s claim that any comrade can easily do fruitful work in the party. Is it because Steve and Shirley are “petty-bourgeois” scum and are “isolated from the party and its ranks” that they find it difficult to do effective mass work in the southern civil rights movement?
No one has been “sneaking people into the party” and holding meetings at which internal party matters are discussed in front of non-party members. False writings along this line is irresponsible and harmful to the whole tendency.
Tim states: “Not one single person has been refused membership in the party solely because of suspected sympathy with the minority.” This is absolutely true, but even YSA comrades with suspected minority sympathies (on questions discussed formally in the YSA) must be perfect (no beards, no previous conservative political views or actions, etc.). Comrade Wohlforth himself recently advised a YSAer who is a supporter of the minority to conceal his convictions to get into the party in another area.
On the YSA in N.Y., Tim states:
“The results of the type of functioning Robertson-Ireland advocate have been clearly indicated by our work here in New York. While a rather large section of our local tendency here has been busy with this kind of circle building activity (or no activity) the majority comrades, who were until recently a minority in the local YSA, have been engaged in open YSA activity. The result was that they decisively defeated us with a landslide 2 to 1 vote in the recent YSA elections–and they did this because of the support they had won from the bulk of the new recruits in the local. The major responsibility for this important defeat lies with those tendency members in the youth who have utterly divorced themselves from the real life of the YSA local. Admittedly the majority comrades had the weight of the party leadership on their side and this was an important factor. But we had maintained control of the local despite this for a couple of years now. In any event the size of the defeat is a clear indication that at least some of the blame lies with our own comrades. That is unless one claims that our ideas cannot stand up in open conflict with the majority’s in a struggle for the allegiance of young people who wish to be revolutionaries.”
This entire paragraph consists of distortions of the truth. Minority comrades have been a minority in the N.Y. local since the loss of some of our older comrades at and shortly after the last YSA convention. The two to one majority now held by the Majority in the local is made up of the national leadership, hard majorityites from other locals, a few basically rotten lumpen elements and a few people we would like to recruit to the minority. There is a section of Feingold lackeys–a few opportunists whom we have no hope of recruiting. If all of our comrades had been twice as active in the period since the last convention, the votes at this election would have been the same, that is unless we had all been engaged in a different type of activity, putting us in a position to recruit to the YSA.
We won a majority of the exec in the February elections by a slim margin in spite of the tremendous campaign the majority waged against us and all the stops they pulled to insure themselves a victory in the elections. This included packing the local with new people who were not ready to join the YSA or were really not YSA material and intense colonization. A few weeks after the elections we no longer had a majority following the local not because we lost our supporters to the majority but by then the process of colonization etc. had reached the point of transforming the local.
In the next few months the national office successfully strangled the local to the extent that those who had previously been the most active members of the local did not know what was going on. We who wanted to act, in the majority, minority and new unaligned comrades were not permitted to take part in planning work of the local. The local chairman, Fred, became a figurehead and the exec a farce. Maybe if we were a little more experienced and competent we could have fought this successfully. We were not only fighting the youth leadership but they were puppets of Carl Feingold. A few of us, especially the “sick circle” wing of the tendency concentrated almost entirely on some outside activity, i.e., CAMD, Columbia Fair Play, and one comrade boycotted YSA business meetings to spend weekends on eastern shore freedom rides.
After a few months however, Camejo and Co. were tired out and were forced to spend more time in the N.O. thus making it possible for us to engage the YSA in activities to build the local. Unfortunately, however, our chairman was a plodding, lame duck do-nothing leadership. Most of the YSA membership was demoralized due to lack of activity. Only the chairman was satisfied. Camejo & Co. were able to channel all the gripes every comrade had, all the defects, including the stifling of the local by the N.O., against our leadership (or misleadership). We didn’t have a study circle either.
Just because we have the correct program does not mean that we will always have a majority following among a grouping of youth in any YSA local or the members of any party branch at any given time. We must fight for the correct program!
In conclusion I repeat. We must be for the R-I document because it correctly shows how we should work in the SWP. It stands neither for inactivity as comrade Wohlforth claims nor for shallow “party building” as comrade Wohlforth urges. Rather it opens the way to fruitful revolutionary activity.
October 24. 1962