Marxist Bulletin No. 4
Expulsion from the Socialist Workers Party
Rescind the Suspensions!
Statement to the National Committee of the Socialist Workers Party by the five suspended supporters of the Revolutionary Tendency (Lynne Harper, Laurence Ireland, Shane Mage, James Robertson, and Geoffrey White)
10 December 1963
I. Introduction: the Political Committee Action Against Us
1. On August 2, 1963, the Political Committee adopted a motion which took up some old accusations of Wohlforth and Philips, paraphrasing them in summary form as (1) ‘Hostile Attitude toward the Party’, (2) ‘Double Recruiting’, and (3) ‘Split Perspective’. The PC motion concluded by instructing the Control Commission to look ‘into possible violations of the statutes of the party, especially involving Robertson, Ireland, and Harper’. On October 24 after some months of purported investigation the CC reported, exclusively on the basis of written opinions offered by Robertson, Ireland, and Harper internally within their own tendency, that: ‘In these statements by the Robertson-Mage-White minority their hostile and disloyal attitude toward the party is clearly manifested.’ The PC in its motion of November 1 found it necessary to expand on the CC’s sole conclusion by presenting lurid accusations created out of thin air and giving as sole source ‘as indicated by the Control Commission’s report’. The PC went on to suspend from party membership comrades Harper, Ireland, Mage, Robertson, and White. Moreover, the suspensions were without specified time limit and were to be with ‘the same force and effect’ as expulsion during the period of suspension.
2. Thus for the first time in the history of the SWP a leadership has taken the punitive action of exclusion from the party of minority supporters on the basis of opinions! This action is rendered even more grave and unprecedented by the fact that the views for which punishment was inflicted were themselves nothing more than personal contributions to a private discussion within a minority tendency!
II. Background: Recent Trends in the Party
3. Through the period of the last two party conventions (1961, 1963) the party has witnessed a systematic and general attrition of representation on the NC of all minority factions or tendencies, dissidents, and other critics. Thus, for example, Bert Deck, the then managing editor of the International Socialist Review and associate of Murry Weiss was removed from the NC after he offered a slight modification to the PC line on the Cuban Question for the 1961 convention. In the same period there has been a systematic denial, compounded by calculatedly hysterical Majority hostility, of the rights of the party membership in branches — above all in the largest branch, New York — to express opinions, offer recommendations to leading bodies, or even to discuss new developments or the actions and decisions of the party leadership.
4. A year ago the Majority made an assault on the very right of our minority, and by implication any minority, to exist within the party. A provocative attempt was made by Majority supporters to intrude into a private Minority gathering. As the upshot of our informal protest to party authorities, it was revealed that the incident had taken place at the instigation and under the direction of a Majority PC member. The leadership whitewashed this action by adopting a condemnatory motion which accused the Minority of being the guilty party for having held such a private tendency meeting. These events are fully detailed in our document ‘For the Right of Organized Tendencies to Exist within the Party!’
5. In connection with the last party convention, the Majority made severe incursions upon party democracy and upon our party rights:
a) The National Secretary, Dobbs, without offering any reason, refused to print in the bulletin material on the international question which we deemed important to present to the party. In the same pre-convention discussion period the National Secretary likewise deferred printing documentary material on the youth question. Later an opportune legal problem presented itself as an excuse for refusal. A key document in this collection has been kept from the movement since September 1961 by the PC.
b) At the convention itself the Majority refused to give any representation on the National Committee to our minority despite a sufficient numerical as well as clear cut political basis for such representation. Thus the Majority has not only deprived us of our proper voice within the party, but it has also put into question the legitimate authority of the leading party bodies, the NC and PC, by electing them on a restricted basis.
c) In reporting the convention to the public, the Militant article, after identifying James Robertson and Shane Mage among others by name, stated that ‘They charged that … the leadership of the SWP were in the process of abandoning Marxism.’ This cynical abuse of control of the public press by the Majority to identify and isolate inner-party opponents is indeed an abandonment of the method of controversy among Marxists.
6. In a continuous series of incidents over the past two years, the Majority has abused its leading position in the party to hinder, harass, and immobilize supporters of our tendency. The evident general aim of the Majority has been to make as the penalty for individual comrades becoming oppositionists the paralysis of any political role, either within the party or in broader outside movements. Thus there has accumulated a seemingly endless list of all-too-legitimate grievances on this score. Perhaps the most outrageous and flagrant incident of harassment was that against comrade Shirley in removing her from Southern SNCC work. Most common has been the regular, rarely overridden refusal to accept into membership contacts brought to the party by the minority. Yet throughout the past several years, and whatever the provocation, our tendency has always counseled and insisted that its supporters abide in a disciplined way by the decisions the Majority imposed upon the party.
7. The foregoing sections are intended only to sketch the immediately relevant portion of the party’s organizational side in the past period. We do not suggest that these are the main characteristics of the party’s evolution, even of the organizational aspect. Rather what is described is that part of the party’s face shown to the party’s minorities, particularly to our own tendency. At the same time as the comrades of the Revolutionary Tendency have responded in a disciplined fashion to developments within the party, we have not failed to form and offer opinions among ourselves and to the whole party as to the meaning, implications, and direction of the course the party has been pursuing in regards to both political revisionism and organizational degeneration. The determination of the more general processes at work in shaping the party was exactly the subject under hot discussion in the tendency when the documents were drafted over which the Majority now raises a scandal in its desire to exclude us from the party. See for example Robertson and Ireland’s ‘The Centrism of the SWP and The Tasks of the Minority’ (September 6, 1962) and also the earlier basic tendency statement, ‘In Defense of a Revolutionary Perspective’ (in 1962 SWP Bulletin No. 4).
Suffice it to say that the most salient features of the party’s overall motion in the last period have been as follows:
a) In general political approach the party has sought after substitutes for a revolutionary working class perspective — notably the surrender of all Marxist responsibility toward the Cuban Revolution through abasement as an uncritical apologist for the Castro regime; repeating this process over Ben Bella’s Algeria; negotiating an alliance of convenience and mutual amnesty with fellow Pabloists internationally (‘reunification of the F.I.’); and most lately, within the United States, in a will-o’-the-wisp chase after Black Nationalism.
b) Yet while the party Majority has eagerly given itself over to enthusiasm for the goals of alien movements, it has resolutely avoided such opportunities as would further involvement and struggle in the party’s own right. Thus actual civil rights work, North or South; a serious approach to Progressive Labor or participation in the travel to Cuba committee and its trip; any modest effort at rebuilding the party’s contact with the workers, such as plant press sales or Hazard miners work, have all either come at the Minorities’ urgings but vastly too little and too late, or have been refused outright. The proper word for such conduct is abstentionism.
c) It was in the party leadership’s instant, instinctive responses in the moments of great crisis or apparent peril — the Cuban missile crisis last year and the Kennedy assassination this year — that the party’s utter loss of a revolutionary compass has been most decisively shown. (See our statement ‘Declaration on the Cuban Crisis’, later printed in 1963 Bulletin No. 18.)
d) Within the party the shift in equilibrium of forces in the central party leadership through the retirement of Cannon and the elimination of Weiss has intensified the drive by the Dobbs regime to solve all questions by brute organizational force.
As a result of the totality of these underlying considerations the Majority leadership has been driven now to seek the exclusion of our tendency from the party. In essence this is a ‘punishment’ of us for our very tenacity in remaining in the party despite its degeneration and for our intransigence in struggling against that degeneration.
III. The Accusations Against Us
8. In view of the material already written, listed below, there is by this time little that needs be added as regards the vacuity, irrelevance, or downright falseness of the accusations of statutary violations made against our tendency or its individual supporters.
The party leadership has officially presented its case against our tendency in the following materials: a) letter of National Secretary Dobbs to James Robertson, July 5, 1963; b) PC motion of August 2, 1963, ‘On the Robertson-Ireland-Harper Case’; c) ‘Report of Control Commission on the Robertson Case’, October 24, 1963; d) PC motion of November 1, 1963. The following replies and refutations have been offered by individual tendency supporters: a) letter of Robertson to Dobbs, July 9, 1963; b) letter of Geoffrey White to the PC, November 5, 1963; c) letter of Laurence Ireland to Dobbs, November 8, 1963; d) letter of Shane Mage to the PC, November 10, 1963; and e) letter of Lynne Harper to the NC, November 18, 1963. We urge the National Committee members to familiarize themselves with this correspondence.
9. The accusations of our indiscipline were originally put before the party by the Wohlforth-Philips ‘Reorganized Minority Tendency’ in appendices to their document ‘Party and Class’ (1963 SWP Bulletin No. 27). We shortly replied with our ‘Discipline and Truth’ (in Bulletin No. 30). In our reply we stated that ‘Party and Class’ lied, and we sought to show why its authors had been led into such action. With documents written earlier within the tendency, which we appended to our reply, we proved that we had been the object of false accusations. Moreover, to even the most superficial observer there is an insoluble contradiction in Wohlforth and Philips’ accusations against us. If the charges were true that we were some kind of split-crazed wreckers, then Wohlforth-Philips should have taken far more decisive and prompt action than their act of waiting a year after first revealing within the then common tendency such heinous crimes, then simply repeating the revelations to the party as a whole. But if the charges were not true, they should never have been made in the first place. Instead they went ahead to publicize their accusations and then deprecated them by declaring them to be no valid basis for organizational action against us by the party leadership!
Nonetheless, it is to the credit of the Wohlforth-Philips group that they have now come forward, first, in disassociating themselves from their earlier accusation that we had a split orientation. This had been the key point in all of Wohlforth’s other charges. Secondly, it is to their credit that they oppose organizational action against us, thereby implicitly declaring that their own old accusations had been without real, actionable substance, but were rather their own interpretations.
10. It would be an enormous and pointless task to seek to pin down and dispose of very many of the irrelevancies or wild distortions in the charges which the PC and CC have levelled against us; e.g., the abusive nonsense about ‘double’ recruitment or the childishness of proposing to expel us because we are alleged to have a ‘split perspective’. Indeed the core of the case against us collapses immediately upon examination because it depends upon one false equation, to wit: party members, even if organizationally loyal and disciplined (as we are) can be ‘really’ loyal only if, in the course of carrying out party decisions, they agree with the leadership.
No matter from what side the Dobbsian interpretations given in the PC and CC material are approached, it always turns out that to the central leaders, ‘loyalty’ to the party means loyalty to the leaders. Because our acceptances of discipline justifies and is justified by our inner-party struggle against the leadership policies, our carrying out of party decisions is dismissed as ‘cynical’ and presumably then defective because it lacks sincerity. Thus, many of the ‘quotations’, even in their selected and trimmed form, offered of the views of tendency supporters can have as their only purpose making the point that we don’t believe in or agree with the party’s changing policies and direction of recent years, nor do we respect the initiators and directors of those changes, either. It is elementary, but no longer obvious in the SWP, to note that discipline has meaning especially when there is disagreement. Democratic-centralism is most fully called upon to regulate differences and mobilize the entire party for carrying out arrived-at decisions when there are sharp and deep-going divisions. To exclude from the party those who have sharp and deep differences, those who believe that the policies and course of the Majority leadership are part of a profound degeneration, is to amply prove the existence of that degeneration.
11. For our part, we have and do declare that our political loyalty lies exclusively with the Trotskyist program. It is as a derivative of this prime consideration that our tendency has always sought to abide fully by the discipline of the party, despite the rapidly advancing disease of degeneration in the party. It is in this sense and no other that the much-quoted phrase in the Robertson-Ireland document was advanced about avoiding ‘mistaken concepts of loyalty to a diseased shell’. We would be peculiar people indeed should we find our loyalty resting with the cancer growing within the party! This should have been evident to any honest reader of the materials in question, for otherwise many other statements in these inner-tendency documents would be in flat contradiction and would reduce the entire set of opinions to a meaningless jumble. Notable in this connection is the statement in comrade Harper’s draft ‘Orientation of the Party Minority in Youth Work’ that ‘we must act as disciplined SWP members at all times’. Again, in comrade Ireland’s ‘What the Discussion is Really About’, is found: “But since our perspective is one of remaining in the SWP, we can hardly afford to violate ‘party discipline or party statutes’.” (Incidentally, this latter document had been turned over to the Control Commission by comrade Ireland to remove any possible ambiguities about his opinions on actionable subjects. However, the CC in its ‘Report…’ gave no acknowledgement of the receipt or very existence of this document, much less any mention of its contents!) Finally to put this whole point another way, if the SWP has become centrist in character as we stated in our main resolution to the last party convention, ‘Toward Rebirth of the Fourth International’ (that ‘ … the centrist tendency is also prevalent among certain groups which originally opposed the Pablo faction’), then some organizational conclusions reasonably follow that justify our acting as disciplined party members despite the party’s centrist politics. Further, it necessarily follows that such a conclusion is no more or less incompatible with party membership than is holding the political analysis which led to it.
IV. What Our Expulsion Would Mean for the Party
12. It may be that sections of the National Committee have not thought through the international implications of expelling our tendency from the SWP. Within the limitations of the Voorhis Act, the American party has been a prime mover in the recent reunification with the Pabloist forces of the International Secretariat. In an effort to draw into the unity as many of the scattered and divided groupings as possible, big promises were made to those opposed to the basis of the unification to convince them to come along anyhow. For example Dobbs and Hansen wrote in the article ‘Reunification of the Fourth International’ (Fall, 1963, International Socialist Review) as follows:
‘Groupings with much deeper differences than opposing views over who was right in a past dispute can coexist and collaborate in the same revolutionary-socialist organization under the rules of democratic centralism.’
‘The course now being followed by Healy and Posadas and their followers is much to be regretted. Under the democratic centralism which governs the Fourth International, they could have maintained their political views within the organization and sought to win a majority.’
Even more recently the United Secretariat of the Fourth International itself declared in its statement of November 18, 1963, in reply to the Healy-Lambert grouping, that:
‘The fact remains, however, that they [British and French ‘International Committee’ sections] have demonstratively refused to unite in a common organization in which they would be in a minority. They demonstratively refused to accept the majority decision of the International Committee forces on reunification. They demonstratively refused in advance to abide by majority decision of the world Trotskyist movement on reunification.’
‘As for our position, we stand as before for reunification — on the basis of the principled program adopted at the Reunification Congress — of all forces that consider themselves to be revolutionary socialists.’
13. Our tendency opposed the projected unity move. Indeed the tendency itself was born in opposition to the political course which underlay the projected unification. We stated our opposition and proposed an entirely different political basis for reuniting the world movement in our 1963 draft international resolution, ‘Toward Rebirth of the Fourth International’. We also made it crystal clear in advance that should the pro-Pabloist unification win a majority and go into effect, then the dissident and opposing minority internationally who shared our general outlook should go through the experience of the falsely-based unity attempt. We stated our willingness ‘demonstratively’ to accept the reunification in the entire concluding section of our recent international resolution which states:
‘(19) “Reunification” of the Trotskyist movement on the centrist basis of Pabloism in any of its variants would be a step away from, not toward, the genuine rebirth of the Fourth International. If, however, the majority of the presently existing Trotskyist groups insists on going through with such “reunification”, the revolutionary tendency of the world movement should not turn its back on these cadres. On the contrary: it would be vitally necessary to go through this experience with them. The revolutionary tendency would enter a “reunified” movement as a minority faction, with a perspective of winning a majority to the program of workers” democracy. The Fourth International will not be reborn through adaptation to Pabloite revisionism: only by political and theoretical struggle against all forms of centrism can the world party of the socialist revolution finally be established.’
And we ourselves have more than fully met the conditions set forth by Dobbs-Hansen and by the United Secretariat. On top of abiding by discipline and accepting decisions, we have resisted abuse, disloyalty, calculated incitement, and outright provocation by the American leadership to force us to leave ‘voluntarily’. Our tendency is therefore virtually unique in its ability to be the living test of the genuineness of the claimed democratic-centralist based and inclusive reunification. Several things will be clear should we be thrown out for holding opinions by no means more critical of the U.S. and international Pabloist leaderships than views held by others who have been publically and repeatedly invited to join in the unification. If we are excluded, then the true scope of the unity as an act of bad faith and deliberate fraud by its instigators will be definitely shown to all Trotskyists.
In a very practical and concrete way, the SWP-NC by its action towards us at its December 1963 Plenum will go far in making final for this period both the shape of its own relations with the world movement as well as those of its international allies.
14. Are all sections of the National Committee prepared to take responsibility for the kind of developing internal life which our exclusion would formalize? We are by no means the only people in the party who believe that the SWP is degenerating apace or that the Dobbs regime is a disaster for the party. If these views become proscribed through the awful example of our expulsion, then such opinions would be driven into a fetid underground existence. Inevitably there would be a multiplication of the symptoms of organizational degeneracy — the flaring up of intensely hate-filled quarrels on the permitted secondary questions, cliquist plots, hysterical reactions by a leadership fighting dimly seen enemies. Such an atmosphere could only accelerate the rightward motion of the party’s cadres and train the newer members in a caricature of Marxist party life.
These are some of the general considerations which have always kept the Trotskyists from proscribing opinions within the party, however obnoxious they may be to the leadership, or of expelling the holders of such views. Moreover, in the specific case before the NC action against our tendency will not achieve its desired aim of turning the party into a docile machine. Others will continue as oppositionists within the party, and we will press our struggle from outside for readmission and for acceptance of our political viewpoint. It is within the province of the NC to prevent the demoralization and splintering of the party being brought on by a bureaucratically heavy-handed leadership.
15. For the NC to intervene to return the party to the revolutionary organizational practices of the past is to hold open the possibility of a revolutionary future for the SWP. If the NC permits the destruction of our party membership, it thereby acquiesces to the destruction of any chance for a reversal of the rightward, revisionist course of the party because those who opposed it would be excluded. By eliminating the content of party democracy, the degeneration of the party becomes irreversible. This need not be!
The SWP Majority reflects no implacable bureaucratic social layer. Its loss of a proletarian, revolutionary perspective, its eager search for substitutes and short cuts — idealizing the radical petty bourgeois leaderships: the Castros, Ben Bellas, Malcolm X’s — is not some inevitable automatic reflex based upon a position of privilege. Rather despair and ensuing degeneration have come through prolonged isolation, persecution, weakness, and aging.
The NC stands now at a last crossroads, at which it yet has open a conscious choice. Sections of the party leadership may already have gone much further in political revision or bureaucratic organizational practice than they ever intended.
Although it would be idle to deny that it is very late, there is still a choice; the party does not have to, is not predestined to, continue down the road it is traveling at full speed. To repeat: to halt now is to leave open the way back so the party might again have a revolutionary future.
V. Conclusion: Rescind the Suspensions!
16. In the normal course of seeking to rectify a mistake or an injustice within the party, one would normally turn readily to the NC as a resort, but under the extraordinary circumstances in which the central party leadership has plunged the party with the NC’s acquiescence to date, we must offer a reservation. Presumably we are expected to appeal the disciplinary action of the PC against us. But how can we appeal against what has not been the finding of any trial; how can we appeal against accusations which have no relation to any alleged intended violation of the rules of democratic-centralism?
17. Despite the outrageous position in which we would be placed in appealing to the NC from a non-existent trial, we are prepared to send a representative to appear before the NC at its coming plenum to present our case and to answer questions the plenum may wish to put to us. Because of the grave defects in the present situation we do not turn to the NC with an appeal but with the demand: RESTORE PARTY DEMOCRACY! RESCIND OUR SUSPENSIONS!
18. Finally, we call upon all party members, branches, individual NC members, and political tendencies in the party to present letters and statements to the NC calling for the lifting of the suspensions and restoration of our party rights as a vital interest of the party itself!
December 10, 1963