Marxist Bulletin No. 4
Expulsion from the Socialist Workers Party
Oral Statement to the Plenum of the National Committee
By Laurence Ireland
28 December 1963
Comrades of the National Committee, I appear before you this morning to demand that you abrogate the suspensions against the five minority members. I also ask it of you. At the beginning, I’d like to make it plain that I’m speaking as an individual, I’m not an elected member of a tendency, I’ve not been designated to make any official statements. I’m speaking as somebody who does not want to be thrown out of the SWP. The immediate question I think is not one of agreement with or support of any particular views of the minority either as a tendency or of particular individuals in the minority. No, comrades, I think the question at hand is simply one of the right of a minority tendency to exist in and criticize policies of the Socialist Workers Party without the consent or approval of the leadership.
What are we charged with? What am I charged with? What in the hell did I do wrong? The Control Commission who investigated me concluded by a statement saying that a hostile and disloyal attitude toward the Party is clearly manifested. An incorrect attitude. Now this is not true in the first place. But think of it — a wrong attitude! Well, we’ll take a look in a minute to see what this attitude consists of. However, the PC motion of Nov. 3 goes beyond the findings of the Control Commission, the body appointed to investigate us, and charges us, me, with advocacy of these positions basically:
First, and now I quote from the PC motion: “Assuming the guise of a study circle, the group leadership projects a discussion policy that disregards convention decisions to close discussion on disputed issues and goes ahead factionally on a business-as-usual basis.” This is what the PC says. Now let’s be clear what we’re doing. Let’s be straight about what we think, what I think. Nobody assumed any ‘disguise’; what we did was out in the open. There was no policy projected or undertaken to disrupt branches, to continue a business-as-usual basis in the branches of the important questions before the Party. This was never done, comrades. And this was never projected. These are private documents that we voluntarily turned over to the Control Commission and appended to the PC motion which I assume you have. You’ll find no such content. But, comrades, there’s a profound, a fundamental, difference between reviving discussions on the floor of the branch after the convention is over and continuing to talk about these things among the various groups and individuals.
Do you stop thinking when the convention is over about the Negro question? Do you stop thinking about Cuba or Algeria? I mean, is there a time — now for two months we can think about it, maybe talk over with somebody over coffee — no. What does this mean? At least what does it mean to me, and correct me if I’m wrong. It means that an action line is taken by the party, that’s what we act on for the next year or two years, and it means that on the floor of the branches you don’t raise hell and raise havoc going over and over this line, you can’t do it that way. But do you stop talking about it? Do you stop thinking about it? No. Anybody who would just turn his mind off and on like that isn’t worth a hill of beans to me.
Now, in these documents we turned over — you remember that they’re intra-tendency documents submitted by individuals for discussion within the tendency, never voted upon, never projected as an action line of the tendency and were, in fact, preliminary views by the authors of the documents themselves. That’s why in part you’ll find this study circle thing.
This was an attack and an answer to Wohlforth and had reference to raising the intellectual, the theoretical, caliber of party members. What we were in effect saying, trying to say, was that the level of cadres in the SWP and in our tendency should be as high as possible.
If you expel us then, it won’t be for disrupting the branches on this point, it won’t be for raising havoc or trying to disrupt the SWP. Is this a crime to continue to think about these things and to discuss them — or is it a duty?
Secondly, the PC said that new people recruited into the group are considered ready to apply for party membership only after they have first been indoctrinated against the program, convention decisions and organizational principles of the party. This is a lie. I think anybody who operates like that ought to be thrown out of the party right away. How in the hell are you going to recruit people to a party by indoctrinating them against the program, against convention decisions, and against the organizational principles, the Leninist principles, of the party? How do you, well, I mean what do you think I am — some kind of monster?
Listen to Trotsky writing in In Defense of Marxism: “If the majority of party members are mistaken, the minority can by and by educate them. If not before the next convention then after it. The minority can attract new members to the party and transform itself into a majority.”
Double recruitment? Heaven forbid. You recruit members to the party and then you recruit into the tendency because you think you’ve got the best point of view within the party, a point of view you’re trying to project as the majority view of the party. What is wrong with this? What is disloyal with this? Is that a viewpoint you think the majority of the party should undertake to carry out? Of course you’re going to try to convince new members as well as old members, anybody in the party, but only people in the party.
Lastly, group discipline, I quote from the PC motion, is put before party discipline. Then let’s get this clear, because this is false. We put forward, I put forward, the proposition that discipline stems not from the organizational form of a party but from programmatic principles of the Fourth International. Again in Trotsky’s words, “The International is not at all a form as flows from the utterly false formulation of the Independent Labor Party. The International was first of all a program and a system of strategic, tactical, and organizational methods that flow from it.” Cannon said exactly the same thing. Discipline is a question of program. If you accept a program, then you’re bound to it.
Nobody’s got a gun at my back. I came into this voluntarily. I’m fighting it voluntarily because I want to stay in. My discipline is based upon the program of the Fourth International. It always has been and by Christ it always will be. No actions are charged against us — disloyal attitude. And yet, sections of the leadership or the whole leadership or I don’t know who, wants to expel us, me, from the party.
Now I — you don’t need me, but I need the party. I joined this party consciously. I’m 31 now. I’ve only been in a couple of years, but I knew what I was doing when I joined. I knew why I joined. I knew why I didn’t want the CP, and I tell you, as soon as I found out about Trotsky and Trotskyism, in other words Marxism, I joined. And now, now, you’re going to expel me or suspend me, I don’t know what, this is all kind of new to me. You’ll excuse me if I’m a little upset. Why? Because we didn’t agree on the need for political revolution in the Soviet Union, China, and other deformed workers states? We don’t disagree. Because we attack dialectical materialism? Is this Shachtman all over again or something as some people seem to think? We haven’t attacked it. Because we find fault with the concepts of democratic centralism? No. Because we denigrate Marxism, Leninism, Trotskyism? No. Because we disagree with the program of the Fourth International? No. Because we have broken discipline and gone outside the party? No, we haven’t. Because we refuse to accept the program and discipline of the Socialist Workers Party? No. Because we do not agree with every aspect of the majority line? That’s true. This is our crime.
We’ve had the audacity to declare and carry out a principled opposition to the leadership faction within the party. Again, I repeat, without the consent of the leadership. If they consent it’s OK. Is the chief merit, comrades, of a bolshevik now declared to be obedience to the leadership? Have capitalist pressures become so insidious in the party that the minority is exactly equal to menshevik in the SWP? Is it disloyal to be in a minority? Is it factional to be in a minority? Is it petty-bourgeois to try and formulate the differences as sharply as possible and to argue them out? Is this disruptive? Or is it a Bolshevik attempt to try to improve and strengthen and sharpen the majority line? The action line of the party? Is this a disloyal act, comrades, or is it one of the highest and most responsible duties of a Bolshevik, that is, the principled sharpening of the majority line?
The Socialist Workers Party is going to have an anniversary very soon. I think, comrades, there can be no more appropriate time for reviewing party history, recent as well as past, and party principles. I urge you in the strongest possible fashion to lift the suspensions of the minority members, to return this party to its democratic centralist course — and the two go together — democratic centralist course, before it’s too late. To demonstrate by your speeches and your votes that the Socialist Workers Party remains true to a Leninist heritage by loyally protecting the right of a disciplined minority tendency. Thank you.
28 December 1963