Marxist Bulletin No. 4
Expulsion from the Socialist Workers Party
Report to New York Branch on suspensions
By Farrell Dobbs
Comrades, the purpose of my report tonight is to inform you of a disciplinary action taken by the Political Committee. On November 1, the Political Committee suspended from membership in the party comrades Robertson, Mage, White, Harper and Ireland. The action was taken after a report had been received from the Control Commission which the Political Committee had asked to conduct an investigation of the Robertson-Mage-White group. At the outset I want to remind you of the Constitutional provisions that specify the procedure to be followed in a matter of this kind. The Party Constitution invests the Control Commission with full authority to investigate any individual or circumstance within the Party as it may deem necessary. The Commission is authorized by the Constitution to designate representatives to participate in such matters if the Commission so chooses. The authority of the Control Commission supersedes any local investigation or trial. It applies even in strictly local branch matters where, in the judgment of the Control Commission, its investigation is needed.
In the case before us, we are dealing with a national problem and that is why action has been taken directly by the Control Commission rather than proceeding through a branch investigation. As the Constitution provides, the Control Commission presents its findings to the Political Committee for action. The decision of the Political Committee is binding upon the Party branch–upon all Party branches–and the branch has no authority in the matter. The comrades who have been suspended from membership by the Political Committee can appeal from that suspension to the plenum of the National Committee. Pending any action by the plenum on the matter, the decision of the Political Committee has full force and effect and the branch must by Constitutional mandate comply with the Political Committee directive on these suspensions. The report I am presenting tonight is therefore given for your information and not for any action by the branch.
As a further preface, I will undertake to present a brief sketch of the background factors involved in this case to help clear up some possible confusion concerning basic party procedures and principles and the enforcement of party discipline. For several years, as you’re all generally aware, we have been having a continuous literary discussion in the party, involving first the Chinese question, then later including the Negro struggle and then taking into its scope the question of the world movement. This process, as you know, culminated finally in a general pre-convention discussion that began last spring. Now this long period of literary discussion, on the questions I mentioned, was a special circumstance due to a series of unusual factors stemming from the peculiar nature of those three questions at that particular juncture. This circumstance could well have given newer members of the party an unclear picture of our basic procedure. It could seem from the nature of that discussion that internal discussion is always in order within the party. It could seem that party policy can be tossed up for grabs at any time by anybody who so chooses. That’s not the case. The party is not a perpetual discussion circle. The party discusses in order to decide and it decides in order to act. It simply took longer than usual on the three questions involved. But firm decisions on those and other disputed questions were made at the convention of the Party last July.
In addition to the circumstance of the long literary discussion, some confusion also resulted from the conduct of minority groups within the Party in the course of the discussion. What had been authorized as, a literary discussion was carried beyond the literary form. Not by chance, not by accident, not out of ignorance, but by deliberate act. Comrades, particularly young comrades, were invited into private séances for coffee and conversation to give them a one-sided view of the dispute within the party and warp their capacity for objective political judgment before they ever had a chance to participate in an open confrontation in the Party in a formal way. Spokesmen for minorities on the branch floor resorted to one and another ruse to shoot angles on various points on the agenda to introduce their political line and did so with the aim of trying to make it appear that the party has no set policy on anything. Branch procedures were disrupted, you may recall; majority rule flaunted; tendencies toward paralysis inflicted upon the branch by points of order, points of personal privilege, points of procedure, challenging the rule of the chair. In short, the party was subjected to a demonstration of factional hooliganism.
Let me touch on some provocative acts on the part of the Robertson-Mage-White group. Last winter, you will recall, they set up a so-called study group here in New York. It was supposed to be for minority supporters and what they called “sympathizers” of the minority. It was led by Comrade Mage, who was going to present his views which, as everybody in the branch knew, were in opposition to the majority views. And this so-called study group was organized behind the back of the party in violation of party procedures. The Robertson-Mage-White group was called to order by the Political Committee for this violation of procedure, after the correct procedure had been explained, as you will recall when Comrade Tom Kerry, as National Organization Secretary, appeared before the New York branch on the question.
What you may not know is that not long thereafter comrades Robertson, Mage and White jointly submitted a statement to the National Committee in which they denounced the Political Committee for its intervention with respect to their so-called study group that was organized in violation of party procedure. They said that they will abide by what they termed “the democratic centralist practices discipline and responsibilities normal to the Trotskyist movement.” They declared that they will not surrender what they term “the necessary and essential attributes and functions of an organized and internally democratic tendency.” Now that’s a slick piece of double talk but it leaves some questions. What do the leaders of the Robertson-Mage-White group consider “normal” in Party procedures? What “attributes and functions” do they consider “necessary and essential” to their group? That they didn’t explain. But later on we were to get a plainer definition of what the leadership of the Robertson-Mage-White group considers “normal, necessary, and essential” practices.
You will recall that shortly before the convention serious charges were made concerning the conduct of the Robertson-Mage-White group by Comrade Wohlforth in an article that was published in Discussion Bulletin, Vol. 24, No. 27. The charges of Comrade Wohlforth involved the party loyalty of the Robertson-Mage-White group on three main counts: a hostile attitude toward the party, a practice of double recruiting–recruiting people into the group and then seeking to bring them into the party–and the projection of a split perspective. In his article Comrade Wohlforth quoted from a Robertson-Ireland document and a Harper statement. When the Wohlforth charges appeared, acting in my capacity as National Secretary, I asked Comrade Robertson for copies of the Robertson-Ireland and Harper documents. He rejected this request and said the proper procedure would be to convene a Control Commission inquiry. I then asked Comrade Wohlforth for copies of the documents he had quoted. He too rejected my request, saying the documents he quoted were “private political material.” That’s where matters stood shortly before the convention. The party leadership took no further action at that time and I want to touch briefly on the reasons why.
In a political dispute, particularly a serious political dispute of the kind we were engaged in before the convention, it is best generally to try to avoid organizational controversies. Warn those who are guilty of violations of correct procedure, explain correct procedures, explain the party principles, but try to avoid mixing up political and organizational issues. In general it is best first to resolve the political issues on a political basis and then deal with the organizational problems confronting the party. Another factor that should be kept in mind is that organizational violations, particularly when they assume an intensive character in the course of a deep political controversy, are very often simply an organizational form of expression of political differences, a form of expression that can involve very fundamental questions concerning the character of the party, as is true of the case now before us. It was for these reasons that the party leadership took no further action in the period prior to the convention. But the action on these organizational matters was only temporarily postponed; it was not cancelled, it was not relegated to the Greek kalends. In those circumstances, some comrades could get the mistaken impression that factionalists can get away with anything in the party. That’s not the case. First we reach a decision on the political issues in dispute, and then we proceed to deal with indiscipline and disloyalty.
In that connection the convention marked a definitive stage in the development of the internal party dispute. The political issues were firmly decided at the convention by an overwhelming majority. In the argument leading up to those decisions the minorities had received a full opportunity to present their views. Recall the huge volume of discussion bulletins that were published and recall the fact that the bulk of the material in those bulletins was submitted by minorities. Recall the generous time allotments that were given to minority reporters and minority speakers in the branches and in the convention. There was no suppression of their right to express their views. All that happened was that they lost the political argument in the party.
While they were waging that political argument they raised a great hue and cry, a great clamor, about the democratic rights of minorities. They tried to create an impression that democracy is a possession only of a minority, and that if you’re a majorityite, you’re automatically an anti-democratic hooligan who’s got no rights, but who is just abusing the rights of poor, innocent, victimized minorities. Well that’s not the case either. Party democracy involves more than the democratic rights of minorities, even though you wouldn’t think so from the attitude the minorities have manifested. They have claimed special license to defy majority rule. Why? Because, they argue, they constitute an organized group, because they’ve differentiated themselves in that organized way from the party as a whole. They act as though the majority had no authority whatever concerning their factional conduct in the party. They attempt to picture the majority of the party as simply a rival faction, and on that basis they claim equal factional rights with the majority of the party, contending that the majority can’t interfere in their internal factional affairs.
That’s a concept absolutely alien to the Socialist Workers Party. The minority has the right to present its views in internal discussion when issues are in dispute and a decision is being reached by the party. The majority has the right to enforce the party decisions, and the right and the duty to see that everybody in the party abides by the basic principles of the party. In the last analysis, comrades, the majority is the party. I’ll tell you why. The role of the majority as the decisive force in the party flows right straight from the principle of majority rule. The right of the majority to decide is just as fundamental as the democratic right of a minority to present its views. In fact it’s vital to the health and functioning of a revolutionary socialist combat party which we are working to organize.
The party has the right by majority decision to supervise the public activities of its members and to regulate all internal party affairs. For example: Minorities have the right to express their views internally when discussion has been formally authorized on an issue in dispute within the party. The party has the right by majority decision to regulate that internal discussion. Or again, minorities have the right within our party to form an organized group and nobody is challenging that right, nobody is seeking to impair that right. All that’s happening is that, because the party through its majority insists upon the organized groups of minorities within the party living up to the principles and policies of the party, a phony hue and cry has been raised that we’re trying to suppress factions. That’s not true at all. All that the majority of the party is insisting on is that organized minorities within the party live by, and within, the principles of the party and that they be loyal to the party. And the party has the right by majority decision to enforce disciplined and loyal conduct by organized minorities within its ranks.
Now the reality of a party majority does not necessarily infer the existence of a majority faction. Basically it means party action by majority decision. There may or may not be a majority faction, but the party majority has the right to organize itself as a faction, just as minorities are granted that right. The existence of organized minority groups within the party does not, as the minorities try to make it appear, automatically make the party majority simply a rival factional group. The fact is there is not a majority faction in the party today. The majority of the comrades in this party act simply as members who relate themselves to the party as a whole. A majority of the comrades in this party today function only through formally constituted party bodies. They do not differentiate themselves in perpetuity from the rest of the party on a special group basis. Theirs is a correct attitude.
It’s a big mistake, comrades, to think of the Socialist Workers Party as though it were simply a loose federation of factions. The party is not an all-inclusive political jungle that allows itself to be perpetually torn by factional warfare. That is not the nature of our party. Historically our party has striven to constitute itself as a politically homogeneous body. Membership in this party presupposes basic agreement on program and on party principles. It is that basic component in the party that cements us and permits political compatibility, even though we have differences of opinion from time to time over one or another issue. It is those basic factors that permit us to maintain objective conduct internally and to keep an equilibrium, and a dynamism and a stability in the party with respect to carrying forward the work of the party, even though we may be having differences of opinion about one or another point. Now the fact that historically we have striven to be a basically homogeneous party does not at all mean that we are a monolithic party. Not at all, not at all. The record is crystal clear. All down through the years of the existence of our party–and it certainly has been proven to the hilt in the most recent times–there has been ample room within the party for political differences, even major differences of serious import. The record is crystal clear that organized tendencies and factions are permitted to exist in our party, but there is something else that wants to be kept crystal clear as well. These organized tendencies and factions must abide by party principles and they must be wholly loyal to the party.
Some of these basic concepts got lost from view to a certain extent during the pre-convention period. But now the convention is over and these principles have to be emphasized and practiced and enforced. In that sense the democratic rights of the party majority come to the fore now with full force and effect. The political decisions have been made by the convention; the line for the party work has been set; the discussion is ended until it is again officially authorized. We proceed now to party-building work on the basis of the convention decisions and on no other basis. No minority will be permitted to run wild inside the party. No internal disruption will be allowed. Flaunting of party principles, violations of party loyalty will not be tolerated.
Now, at the convention, Comrade Robertson repeated his assertion that no information would be given concerning the Wohlforth charges unless a Control Commission inquiry was convened. Shortly after the convention, the Political Committee referred the matter to the Control Commission for investigation. Hearings were held by the Control Commission across a period of several weeks, and a report was submitted under date of October 24, 1963, to the Political Committee. In its report the Control Commission stated: (See text of C. C. report elsewhere in this bulletin).
The report of the Control Commission makes clear that the leadership of the Robertson-Mage-White group characterizes our party as a centrist party upon which they declare open season. It makes clear that they put group discipline before party discipline. It makes clear that they’re loyal only to the group and that they have no loyalty to the party. It’s a hostile attack on the party from within and illustrates what they consider “normal, necessary and essential” practices within our party. The party has the right to tell the engineers of that scheme, you’ll have to try it from outside the party, you can’t get away with it from within our ranks. And it’s the duty of the leadership of the party, before all others, to defend the integrity of the party against this attack. Otherwise the leadership would deserve to be tossed out of office and replaced by leaders who will meet their responsibilities to the party, and it’s with that consciousness that the Political Committee has acted in this matter.
I now want to read to you the full text of the Political Committee decision on this case: (See text of P.C. Motion of November 1 elsewhere in this bulletin).
A plenum has been scheduled for the last week-end in December. The National Committee at that time will make its own decisions concerning the question of further disciplinary action. But it is reasonable for the comrades to assume that the Plenum of the National Committee will affirm the following basic obligations as conditions for party membership: Members of the party must comply with convention decisions; members of the party must adhere to party principles; members of the party must have unconditional loyalty to the party. And no one will be allowed to stand immune from these basic obligations.
Comrades, as I have listened to the minority spokesmen in the discussion here tonight. I’ve been reminded more and more of summer TV schedules. The whole thing was a re-run. They don’t have any more sense of proportion on a fundamental question of this kind than they had in earlier times when they were maneuvering to get the floor to talk about a subject that wasn’t properly before the branch in the first place. They’ve got no sense of proportion at all in any way, shape or form.
We hear the same old argument: all the suspensions can mean is that the party is confronted with a crisis and why don’t you sneaky bureaucrats who are running the party with an iron hand tell what the crisis is, instead of frying to fog the comrades up with organizational measures. That’s the theme. There is a crisis, they say. Comrade Wohlforth adds to Comrade Steve’s remarks on that count that the crisis is one of growing minorities and the majority doesn’t know what to do about it except to take organizational action. Well I’ll let you in on a little secret. You’re going to find out there isn’t any crisis in the party. You’re going to find out just the opposite. This party is solid. This party knows the score. The party means business and it intends to enforce its principles. That was the meaning of the party convention. The convention not only decided on the political issues in dispute. The convention made itself crystal clear on its attitude toward the question of loyalty and discipline within the party, and that was a mandate from the democratically-elected delegates at the democratically-conducted convention of this party to the leadership. The leadership is duty bound to carry out that mandate.
Now all kinds of Philadelphia lawyer’s arguments, or sea lawyer’s argument, or whatever you want to call them, are brought in here. Did the Control Commission question Comrade White in connection with the suspension action? No, Comrade White was not here in New York, so he was not called before the Control Commission. It wasn’t necessary. Comrade White is a leader of record in the Robertson-Mage-White group, and when leaders stand up and proclaim themselves as leaders and take responsibility for a line, they’ve got to accept the consequences of that line. Comrade White falls in that category.
Why do we suspend now? Why don’t we wait for the plenum? Those questions are just an indirect way of asking why we are doing anything at all about disloyalty. We didn’t have any trial proceedings, one spokesman for the minority says. Another one complains that the Control Commission dragged their hearings out for weeks and weeks and weeks. They argue up one side of a question or down the other depending on what little axe they want to grind at the moment.
Why does the Political Committee suspend now? Because it’s confronted with a fact of disloyalty to the party. It’s the duty of the Political Committee to act and it acted. The Political Committee has referred the question of further disciplinary action to the plenum, not because there’s any doubt in the Political Committee’s mind about what’s got to be done, but because we’re confronted with so important a question of disloyalty and indiscipline that it must be brought to the attention of the plenum, and the plenum should bring it to the attention of the whole party.
Tim says the Control Commission report mentions not one single action by the Robertson-Mage-White minority, all it shows is that they stated a point of view. He says that point of view was stated over a year ago. Well, about a year ago, Tim Wohlforth disavowed that point of view. But not a single one of the leaders of the Robertson-Mage-White group has done so, and not a single person speaking in the name of that group here tonight did so. They wiggle like greased pigs and raise all kinds of diverting, distorting, vulgar arguments–from the point of view of “Bolshevik political concepts and organizational principles” if you please. They do everything but disavow their hostility to the party. They do everything but disavow their practices of double recruiting. They do everything but disavow their split perspective in the party. They do everything but disavow their intentions to conduct a raiding operation and a wrecking operation from inside the party. The whole intent, aim, line and practice of the group, as it is promulgated and taught by its leadership and carried out, is set forth in those documents, and that’s a declaration of war upon the party. If this party doesn’t know how to meet that kind of a declaration of war, we might just as well all put on our hats and coats, go out, lock the door, throw the key away and let the landlord worry about where he’s going to get next month’s rent because we’ll be out of business as a party.
Steve argues that we only brought up the question of a study group; that the comrades who were suspended were suspended for their political opinions. He says this is going to paralyze thought inside the party. All these arguments he raised in his best judicial manner, that is, before he got back to his seat and started to heckle other speakers like a hooligan. He leaves out, among other things, one little point–the matter of loyalty to the party. How can a person who takes this party seriously be neutral, Steve, when a question of loyalty to the party is involved?
Henry G. gets up here and calls the Centra1 Commission professiona1 cops, if you please. What a piece of uncomradely insolence that was. How do you feel about the question of loyalty to the party? Do you take it seriously or don’t you? You’ll find a big majority of this party does.
Doug makes reference to the Smith Act and the question of advocacy not acts–dragging in something that’s got nothing whatever to do with the case before us. Our fight against the Smith Act has to do with the right of the people of this country to organize politically on the basis of any program they choose, without governmental interference or reprisals, and having organized politically into a party, to express themselves freely, fight for their program. We defend these rights for our party and every other party. But we don’t invite opponent parties to enter the Socialist Workers Party to conduct an inside operation calculated to destroy the party. We say no, if you want to be an opponent of our party, if you want to be disloyal to our party, if you want to combat our party, do it from the outside, don’t try to do it on the inside. The same thing goes for those suspended by the Political Committee. They haven’t got a right to conduct a wrecking operation inside this party, but we’ll defend their democratic right to act as an opponent party apart from us and opposing us in the public arena. There’s a world of difference, Doug, and it’s got something to do with fundamental Bolshevik principles that you ought to refresh your recollection about.
Steve argues that the suspension of the leaders of the Robertson-Mage-White group means in practice the outlawing of factions in this party. He drags in, completely out of context, in a very learned, professorial way, of course, an action of the Bolsheviks under revolutionary conditions in temporarily suspending factions. He says now our party is expelling a faction and that means we will allow no more factions inside the party. Nothing could be further from the truth and you know it, or you ought to know it. You said you’ve been 25 years in the party. That would be since 1938. There has been quite a few factions, quite a few tendencies, there’s been quite a rich body of internal party experience in that time. What is being done now by the Political Committee, in these circumstances, is in direct accordance with what the policy of the party has been all down through the whole 25 years you’ve been in it. If you don’t remember it, go back and refresh your recollection.
Somebody argued we didn’t suspend the Marcyites. No, they walked out. They beat us to the draw. The Cochranites didn’t do that. They got suspended. And they, too, said that’s Stalinism, that’s the end of the right of factions inside the Socialist Workers Party. And do you know, we’ve had some factions since. And we’ve tolerated them, we’ve tolerated them. It’s a phony argument that we’re suppressing the right of organized dissent in the party, it’s a fake and a fraud from beginning to end. They’re not really arguing for the simple right to have a faction, they’re arguing for the right to do as they damn please as a faction, without the party being able to do anything about it. And that they can’t have, that they can’t have.
Harry T. says the minority has the right to fight for its ideas. Nobody denies that, and they sure were given a good chance, and they sure exercised the opportunity to the best of their ability, and nobody stopped them. They lost the argument as far as the political issues were concerned. Now they’ve got to face the question of their responsibility to the party in a very fundamental sense, the members of the Robertson-Mage-White group. Are you going to be loyal to the party? Are you going to be disciplined? Are you going to abide by the basic party principles? Or are you going to continue as the faction has been acting, and screaming, as you did tonight, that this party is descending into Stalinist monolithism. That can only be viewed by the party as an attempt to conceal the fact that the group intends to continue acting in an indisciplined and disloyal manner. That’s something to think about and think about very seriously.
Arthur Phelps says we’re getting into the habit of dealing with political questions organizationally. Well you know, I think there’s quite a good many comrades in the party, who are fed up with the acts of indiscipline and disloyal conduct on the part of this group and who would say the opposite is true. We’ve let them get away with so much that some comrades are afraid we’re getting rusty organizationally. Comrade Phelps says the PC should present a political analysis of the Robertson-Mage-White group. Well–after all! — we’ve gone through several years’ discussion on an ascending scale, with the dispute reaching from one question to another to another, and finally culminating in a very intensive pre-convention discussion in which all questions were open for consideration. Still Comrade Phelps says we ought to present a political analysis of the minority! The Robertsonites have had a chance to pop off for a long time and everybody that knows the time of day knows what their line is and why they stand for. We’re not a perpetual talk shop and we’re not about to do a retake on that scene.
There’s another small factor involved. We’re dealing now with the question of basic principles of the party. We’re dealing with a question of protecting the integrity of this party, its inner vitality, its good and welfare, its whole future. And it so happens that this party has some well-defined principles that are to be enforced. It’s not a matter of starting a debate now as to whether or not we’ve got some principles and if so what we should do about them. The principles are established. They’re the fundamental concepts on which this party has been constructed and they’re going to be enforced.
Now, some sneering reference was made by one of the speakers, I forget who, to the fact that the Political Committee motion quotes the 1938 resolution. Well that 1938 resolution quoted in the P. C. motion just happens to be a basic organizational document, adopted at the founding convention of the party, and it sets forth the basic concepts and principles upon which the party is organized. Let me tell you something else that’s in that resolution. It describes the task before our party in this country as involving what can be expected to be one of the most ruthless and irreconcilable struggles for power in all of history. It states that an organization that is loosely knit, heterogeneous and undisciplined would be utterly incapable of accomplishing the revolutionary socialist tasks that the party sets for itself. That resolution states that the party must make an unconditional demand upon its membership for complete discipline and 100 per cent loyalty. Those are basic premises that are fundamental to the very existence of this party, and the party leadership is charged with the responsibility of scrupulously protecting not only the rights of minorities, but also the principle of majority rule in keeping with the concepts of democratic centralism. The party cannot tolerate indiscipline. The party cannot, and it will not, tolerate disloyalty. It is the duty of the leadership of this party to see that its principles are enforced and this leadership is going to see to it.
I come finally to the motion by Comrade Harry T. to demand that the Political Committee lift the suspensions; the statement by Comrade Edie that the members control this party and that the members have the right to reverse the Political Committee; and the ringing pronouncement by Comrade Al S. that the Dobbs regime is not the party. They turn everything upside down. They try to make the comrades forget how this party is constructed. Why, you wouldn’t think that this party just went through an actual experience in which there was a completely democratic discussion, during which the leadership bent over backwards to assure the fullest democratic rights to minority oppositions within the party. A discussion in which everyone who had a point of view on any question before the party had an opportunity to express that view, had an opportunity to put it in writing and have it published in the bulletin just as written. Discussion after discussion, debate after debate, with time allotted for reporters for each viewpoint, were carried on in the branches. The convention was organized through a democratic election of delegates on the basis of the branch votes on the resolutions before the party. And that convention decided the issues in dispute.
The convention selected a Nominating Commission. The Nominating Commission brought in a slate for the National Committee. Its slate was debated on the convention floor, other nominations were made, a secret ballot vote was taken and through that vote a National Committee was elected. The National Committee in turn designated a Political Committee and designated national officers, including a National Secretary who happens to be me. Now, Comrade Al, speaking for the Robertson-Mage-White faction, tries to make that whole democratic process appear a piece of bureaucracy by simply stating the Dobbs regime is not the party.
No, of course the Dobbs regime is not the party. What you call the Dobbs regime is just myself as National Secretary, constituting only one component part of the leadership. The national leadership — the regime — includes the Secretariat of the Political Committee, the members of the Political Committee and the members of the National Committee, all of whom were democratically elected by the party. To the best of its ability that national leadership is carrying out the program and principles on which this party was founded. It is insisting on the carrying out of the convention decisions. It is demanding disciplined conduct and loyalty from every member of the party. So long as the leadership does that there will be no crisis in the party. There would be a crisis only if the leadership defaulted on its responsibilities. The leadership is not going to default and the membership is going to back the leadership, because the action taken by the Political Committee to defend the fundamental integrity of this party is necessary to the good and welfare of the party and it will be welcomed by the party.
November 7, 1963