Marxist Bulletin No. 4
Expulsion from the Socialist Workers Party
For the Right of Organized Tendencies to Exist Within the Party!
— Statement on the Political Committee Motion “Party Discussion Procedure”
by Mage, Robertson and White for the Minority
(plus cover letter and appendices)
New York, N.Y.
24 April 1963
National Secretary, SWP
Dear comrade Dobbs,
The attached statement by the Minority on the Dobbs-Kerry motion ‘Party Discussion Procedure’ is for the information of the National Committee.
For the Right of Organized Tendencies to Exist Within the Party!
Statement on the Dobbs-Kerry motion ‘Party Discussion Procedure’
I. The background events
1. On the evening of January 28 of this year two young Majority supporters, new to party membership, thrust themselves uninvited into a Minority gathering in a private home. After some argument the intruders were prevailed upon to leave quietly, and the meeting then began.
2. The gathering in question was the second of two Minority study sessions devoted to analyzing recent international documents. The scope and purposes of the study were announced as follows in the introductory portion of the circulated reading list for the study group: ‘To Minority supporters and sympathizers: Dear comrade, With the publication in the party discussion bulletin of Trotskyism Betrayed, the SLL’s reply to the SWP Problems of the Fourth International, the international question has again become prominent within the party. This consideration together with the relative nearness of the opening of the convention discussion period has led the Minority to convene a study group. In order that Minority comrades be well informed and prepared to deal with the issues now being raised, at least two discussion sessions on the current documents have been set.’ (See appendix 1 for full text.)
3. It was apparent to the Minority from the shifting and finally police-like attitude of the young ‘raiders’ that their crashing of the meeting was not an innocent, if misguided, act. In any case they had no right to sit in on a political discussion of a grouping for which they had not shown sympathy or agreement such as would justify their participation to any extent in a display of differences within the Tendency in its grappling with questions from a common political basis. In short, the two young comrades lacked sufficient political credentials to attend. Moreover, the incident had the marks of a deliberate provocation and a factional excess by whoever had evidently deputized and sent the two youth. On the day following the ‘raid’, a comrade of the Minority brought the incident to the attention of the party National Organizational Secretary, comrade Kerry, with the request that it be informally looked into and that steps be taken to avoid repetitions.
4. The result of the Minority protest to comrade Kerry was the presentation by him of a report entitled ‘Party Practice and Procedure in Internal Disputes’ to the New York branch on February 7. In his report comrade Kerry stated that the Minority study group violated party procedure and warned the Minority against repetitions of such violations.
5. Under pressure from the floor during the discussion comrade Kerry admitted that the two young Majorityite raiders had indeed been sent by someone else into the Minority meeting. At the following branch meeting on February 14 at which the discussion was concluded, it was revealed that the New York party organizer and Political Committee member, Carl Feingold, was author of the provocation and had sent the two youth on their assignment.
6. At the February 14 meeting, comrade Myra Weiss introduced the following motion: ‘The branch disapproves of sending uninvited comrades to a meeting of the Minority tendency and assures the Minority that its gatherings in the future will not be interfered with in this manner.’ Comrade Kerry stated that adoption of this motion by the branch would result in his personally bringing formal charges against the Minority comrades. Comrade Weiss’ motion was overwhelmingly rejected by voice vote.
II. The Dobbs-Kerry motion
7. In the New York branch meeting of February 28 a motion from the Political Committee was read. This motion, entitled ‘Party Discussion Procedure’, was presented in the PC by comrades Dobbs and Kerry. It upheld comrade Kerry’s earlier report to the branch and stated in part: ‘The Political Committee concurs with comrade Kerry in characterizing the actions of the Mage-Robertson group as a violation of party procedure.’ (See appendix 2 for full text.)
8. In an immediate sense the Dobbs-Kerry motion does two grave wrongs to the Minority and inner-party democracy — one wrong of omission, the other of commission. (a) The motion simply passes in silence over the now public fact of Feingold’s authorship of a provocative factional excess and his taking on the role of an intra-party police chief. Instead of disassociating themselves from Feingold’s abuses and adopting a motion akin to that offered by Myra Weiss in the NY branch, the PC condemns instead the object of the abuse — the Minority! (b) The second wrong done in the D-K motion is no less serious. In seeking to defend an evidently valued colleague, comrade Feingold, the motion’s authors have been led to a misrepresentation of the actions of the Minority in order to try to make the latter seem in violation of party procedure — thus justifying tacitly Feingold’s conduct.
9. Specifically the Minority is charged with holding oral discussions on questions for which such action is not authorized by the National Committee. Thus the Minority is accused of breaking in fact, if not in words, with the democratic-centralist right of the party ‘to organize the discussion and to determine its forms and limits.’ The discrepancy between the charge and the real Minority action lies in the following: the discussion properly controllable by the party NC is that in the branches, formally or informally, i.e., among the party membership as a whole. The discussion undertaken by the Minority was private, among its supporters and sympathizers. The distinction is no fine point, for the purposes of the two kinds of discussion are entirely different. An intra-Party discussion is for arriving at the position of the party. Intra-Minority discussion is, as the Minority announcement stated, in order ‘that Minority comrades be well informed and prepared to deal with the issues now being raised’ within the party because of, among other things, ‘the relative nearness of the opening of the convention discussion period’. Thus the Minority action was one of clarifying positions to be introduced into the party discussion, not of engaging in that party discussion.
10. The Dobbs-Kerry motion obliterated this distinction. In order to overcome the discrepancy between charge and action, the D-K motion in characterizing the study group omitted every reference to the simple fact that it was a Minority study group; the very word ‘Minority’ is not to be found in the quotation taken from the study group reading list and announcement. Instead, only a quotation was picked from it which suggests the opposite. Section 1. of the D-K motion even states that the discussions were ‘led by comrade Mage who opposes the [Party] resolutions on the world movement’. This would only be notable if the discussions were supposed to be intended for the general party membership. Further, the D-K motion opens by stating that the Minority announcement was mimeographed, thus implying a mass distribution among branch members since the size of the Minority is too small to reasonably require such a means of reproduction. Hence again, in another way, it is suggested that the study group was a way to get around a party ban on discussion in the branches, i.e., to violate party procedure. But it is untrue that the announcement was mimeographed. Typed carbons were made. Apparently one of these came into the hands of the party Majority, to be used both to make the ‘raid’ and to be quoted from in the D-K motion. Later several Xerox copies were also made from one of these typed copies. Finally, in verifying the real character of the study group as a Minority gathering it should be noted that when the young Majority supporters were sent into the study group, they were turned away by the Minority even though the two youth acted in an initially naive, interested, friendly manner.
III. Meaning of the Dobbs-Kerry motion
11. As soon as the reality of the situation is discerned it becomes apparent that not only is the D-K motion verdict against the Minority as guilty of indiscipline based upon factual misrepresentation, but that it is a long step toward the effective prohibition of organized groupings within the party. And it is this latter implication which is the most sinister side to the shameful situation in which the PC has landed itself.
12. The D-K motion by denying the propriety of the recent Minority study sessions has threatened the right of any tendency to function within the party except during the pre-convention discussion periods. The obvious exception to this threatened prohibition would be the Majority tendency whose role in higher party committees and the official apparatus generally automatically serves the double purpose of both giving leadership to the party as a whole and of imparting organization to the Majority itself. This difference in the vital requirements of a majority and a minority is the reason why ‘factionalism’ has historically been a charge usually levelled against minorities and why, for example, a majority is the last to organize as a formal caucus during a period of direct factional struggle.
13. To be denied organized existence at other times is to cripple opposition during the political struggles around the convention time to determine the political line and leadership of the party. Thus without the opportunity for trends with serious differences to prepare and organize in depth, let alone maintain continuity, the net effect would be to reduce the convention process itself to ritual having more the effect of a safety valve for ventilating grievances than of a real opportunity for a minority to seek to become a majority, since any challenging grouping would possess an ad hoc quality and be at a fundamental disadvantage.
14. The ‘organizational question’, particularly the question of the right of tendencies or factions to exist within the party, is closely related to and merges with the other elements in the political program of a movement. Although the Dobbs-Kerry motion arose out of particular incidents and resulting challenges to the authority and prestige of leading members of the party Majority, it is insufficient to explain solely in such limited terms what amounts to a step by the SWP Majority towards emptying the content from the democratic component of a living democratic-centralism. In the view of the Minority this new position by the PC is related to the atrophying of a real perspective of building a mass Bolshevik party capable of leading the proletarian revolution in America. Thus the party likewise becomes insensitive to the vital need for maintaining those democratic internal qualities which are indispensable in mastering the sharp turns on the road to workers power. Rather, the SWP Majority, i.e., those sections of the Majority who set its tone, increasing looks to social forces or formations other than the industrial working class and its vanguard party as the harbingers of socialism internationally and nationally; and it sees itself tending to play another kind of auxiliary, advisory role to these various formations or bureaucracies whose own intolerance of internal opposition is well known.
15. The underlying political basis to this shift in organizational outlook by the Majority is clearly and correctly spelled out at length in two documents of recent years. One of these is ‘In Defense of a Revolutionary Perspective — A Statement of Basic Position’ (see Discussion Bulletin Vol. 23, No. 4, July 1962 which was presented to the SWP in March 1962 by several comrades including those of the present Minority. The other is the current international resolution of the International Committee of the Fourth International, ‘The World Prospect for Socialism’ (in Labour Review, Winter, 1961).
IV. Where we stand on the Dobbs-Kerry motion
16. The Minority declares:
1-that it has and will strictly abide by the democratic-centralist practices, discipline and responsibilities normal to the Trotskyist movement;
2-that it will not surrender the necessary and essential attributes and functions of an organized and internally democratic tendency;
3-that it recognizes the right of existence as an organized tendency is only justified by the most serious political differences such as all sides acknowledge exist within the party today.
for the Minority:
25 March 1963
15 January 1963
To Minority supporters and sympathizers:
With the publication in the party discussion bulletin of Trotskyism Betrayed, the SLL’s reply to the SWP Problems of the Fourth International, the international question has again become prominent within the party. This consideration together with the relative nearness of the opening of the convention discussion period has led the Minority to convene a study group. In order that Minority comrades be well informed and prepared to deal with the issues now being raised, at least two discussion sessions on the current documents have been set.
These sessions will be led by Shane Mage and will be held … at 8 to 10 pm., on Monday, 21 January, and Monday, 28, January.
Our intention is to subject all the material under discussion to a searching examination. Comrades should feel not only free, but under obligation, to take a most critical and challenging approach to the discussion material so that the discussion participants will gain the most thorough understanding and ability to handle the various positions.
The documentary material under discussion (which prior to the sessions you should have recently read or reviewed) includes:
1. Problems of the Fourth International — and the Next Steps adopted by the SWP-NC, June 1962 (in Discussion Bulletin Vol. 23, No. 4, July 1962)
2. Critical Notes on ‘Problems of the F.I.’ by Shane Mage, June 1962 (some copies now circulating, to appear in the Discussion Bulletin)
3. Trotskyism Betrayed critique of ‘Problems of the F.I.’ by SLL-NC, (in D.B. Vol. 24, No. 1, Jan. 1963)
4. Cuba — the Acid Test ‘A Reply to the Ultraleft Sectarians’ by Joseph Hansen, Nov. 1962 (in D.B. Vol. 24, No. 2, Jan. 1963)
The immediate background documents to the above include:
5. The World Struggle for Socialism adopted by SWP Nationa1 Convention, June 1961.
6. The World Prospect for Socialism adopted by SLL 1961 National Conference, subsequently amended and endorsed by the Internationa1 Committee (in Labour Review, Winter 1961)
7. In Defense of a Revolutionary Perspective presented to SWP by the Minority, March 1962 (in D.B. Vol. 23, No. 4, July 1962).
With Leninist greetings,
Party Discussion Procedure
Motion by Dobbs and Kerry:
1. In a mimeographed letter of Jan. 15 Comrade Robertson announced the convening of a ‘study group’ to discuss current documents on the world movement. His letter called for ‘a most critical and challenging approach to the discussion material so that discussion participants will gain the most thorough understanding and ability to handle the various positions.’ The ‘study group’ was led by Comrade Mage who opposes the 1961 convention and 1962 plenum resolutions on the world movement. In their action Comrades Mage and Robertson disregarded the 1962 plenum decision limiting discussion on the world movement to literary form until the preconvention discussion is officially opened. They bypassed required party procedures and acted without the knowledge or consent of the New York branch leadership or general membership.
2. At the request of the branch executive committee, Comrade Kerry as National Organization Secretary, led a branch educational on discussion procedure in internal party disputes. He explained why the Mage-Robertson actions violated party procedure, described the correct norms as they have been set down in party resolutions and cautioned the comrades against further violations of this kind.
3. During the discussion from the branch floor Comrade Myra stated that Comrade Kerry, in characterizing the actions of the Mage-Robertson group as a violation of party procedure, was presenting only his personal point of view and not that of the party. Later Comrade Myra notified the National Secretary that she wished to have her dispute with Comrade Kerry placed on the PC agenda.
4. The Political Committee concurs with Comrade Kerry in characterizing the actions of the Mage-Robertson group as a violation of party procedure. Attention is called to the discussion norms set forth in a resolution ‘On the Internal Situation and the Character of the Party,’ adopted by the 1938 founding convention of the party and subsequently reaffirmed by the 1940 party convention and the May 1953 plenum of the National Committee. Concerning discussion procedure the 1938 resolution states:
‘Party membership confers the fullest freedom of discussion, debate and criticism inside the ranks of the party, limited only by such decisions and provisions as are made by the party itself or by bodies to which it assigns this function. Affiliation to the party confers upon each member the right of being democratically represented at all policy-making assemblies of the party (from branch to national and international convention), and the right of the final and decisive vote in determining the program, policies and leadership of the party…
‘The rights of each individual member, as set forth above, do not imply that the membership as a whole, namely, the party itself, does not possess rights of its own. The party as a whole has the right to demand that its work be not disrupted and disorganized, and has the right to take all the measures which it finds necessary to assure its regular and normal functioning. The rights of any individual member are distinctly secondary to the rights of the party membership as a whole. Party democracy means not only the most scrupulous protection of the rights of a given minority, but also the protection of the rule of the majority. The party is therefore entitled to organize the discussion and to determine its forms and limits.
‘All inner-party discussion must be organized from the point of view that the party is not a discussion club, which debates interminably on any and all questions at any and all times, without arriving at a binding decision that enables the organization to act, but from the point of view that we are a disciplined party of revolutionary action. The party in general not only has the right, therefore, to organize the discussion in accordance with the requirements of the situation, but the lower units of the party must be given the right, in the interests of the struggle against the disruption and disorganization of the party’s work, to call irresponsible individuals to order, and, if need be, to eject them from the ranks.
‘The decisions of the national party convention are binding on all party members without exception and they conclude the discussion on all these disputed questions upon which a decision has been taken. Any party member violating the decisions of the convention, or attempting to revive discussion in regard to them without formal authorization of the party, puts himself thereby in opposition to the party and forfeits his right to membership. All party organizations are authorized and instructed to take any measures necessary to enforce this rule.’
5. A copy of this motion shall be provided to the New York branch for the information of the membership.
(adopted–Friday, February 22, 1963)
(read to NY branch–Thursday, February 28, 1963)