Marxist Bulletin No. 4
Expulsion from the Socialist Workers Party
Minority Report to the Plenum on Internal Party Situation
By Myra Tanner Weiss
28 December 1963
Our session last night comrades, gave me little room to be optimistic about today’s proceedings. The fact that we could nominate a slate for President and Vice President and my name would not even be raised for consideration, after over a decade of training and campaigning to the best of my ability, as the second leading spokesman of the party, was a personal hurt. But more than that, you will have a problem which may not be too great, but it will exist, of explaining it to the members of the Socialist Workers Party who respected the work I have done, and you will have a problem explaining it to the many friends of the Trotskyist movement with whom I have dealt in the course of three national campaigns. This fact struck me particularly hard last night when a dear friend of mine called and said, “Do I have congratulations to offer again?” And I said nothing, because I didn’t know what to say. Should I say I am too old, that I am being demoted and tapped out of a major area of my activity because I am aged, after 46 years of life, or should I say that I have an organizational difference with Comrade Dobbs, and for this reason I am being punished?
No one has given me an explanation but we better find one that can be given without giving the impression that our organization is machine-ridden, unfair and bureaucratic. But, as I have said, that was just a personal hurt. The issues I am going to discuss with you today are far more important, they mean to me the very essence of Trotskyism — which was born in the struggle against Stalinist monolithism — which was the conscience of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, as Daniels calls it in his book on the Conscience of the Revolution. Trotskyism, which defied the notion perpetuated by the bourgeoisie and validated by Stalinism, that power meant bureaucracy, that power in all circumstances means abuse and that socialism and freedom are an anomaly. Trotskyism alone has defied that notion and by its living example has sought to refute the slanders of the bourgeoisie against Marxism and demonstrate that our socialist future will be a free one and not a vile, bureaucratic, tyrannical thing that Stalinism has made it appear to be. And because I regard this as the issue, I hope that no matter what you feel for me as an individual, you will listen carefully to what is to me the most important speech I have ever made in the Trotskyist movement.
Now a number of comrades have suggested that I have been doing some new thinking on the organization question. This sinister sounding phenomenon is false. 1 regret to say I have been working too hard and too many hours to do any new thinking. All I have been able to do is keep alive the thoughts that made a Trotskyist of me in 1935 and have kept me going at top speed ever since as a revolutionist in this country. Now I think there has been some new thinking going on. Precedent after precedent has been set in this conflict. Innovation after innovation, until I scarcely recognize our party as what it was as I knew it all my political life. I am going to say nothing in my contribution to this discussion that I have not said over and over again hundreds and even thousands of times as your three-time candidate for vice-president and as a spokesman for the party in Los Angeles for 19 years. If I was wrong then in my perceptions of the Bolshevik movement, you should have corrected me for I thought I was speaking for you as well as myself.
I said on many a public platform and on television and radio that the Socialist Workers Party was the most democratic organization in the United States and perhaps, because we were revolutionary and in addition lived here in the country of imperialist reaction under conditions where we were able to operate as a legal party, we were perhaps the most democratic organization in history. Now, organization by definition is a contradiction to democracy. Organization means the subordination of a minority to a majority and thereby a limitation of the freedom of a minority inevitably. Full freedom for the individual will be won only with our socialist victory. But for the present, understanding the contradiction in organization, with full consciousness as Marxists, of this contradiction, we made a conscious effort to overcome the difficulty with an absolute guarantee that minority rights will be protected, including — and no other organization can boast this — the right to organize to oppose an existing leadership, the right to form a faction, inherent in the very nature of the bolshevik conception of democratic centralism.
Only a year ago in the 1962 election, the N.Y. State election campaign, I debated the Presidential candidate of the Socialist Labor Party before a thousand students here in N.Y.C. And I won their warm approval when I pointed out this essential difference between a truly democratic movement and one that has the form of democracy but not its essence. Now, I have built this movement, and so have you, with the help of this concept of socialist theory. A man or woman can advocate whatever he pleases within our organization, whatever he pleases, as long as he abides by the discipline of the organization. We recruited people on this notion. We put it to them, “You’re not in full agreement with our program yet, you have some reservations on materialism, you have some reservations on the nature of the Russian state. Do not let that be an obstacle. If you agree with us in our struggle to educate the American working class to the class concepts of Marxism and socialism, join our ranks and fight with us. You will have all the room in the world to assimilate our other programmatic concepts or to teach us yours if we are wrong.”
Was I deceiving these people when I told them this? We built the youth movement in the first place, for the first time that the Trotskyists have had a youth movement since 1940, with this notion. Wohlforth had reservations on the nature of the Soviet State. That didn’t bar him from membership. You didn’t exclude him on that account. Shane Mage had reservations about our position on Yugoslavia. You didn’t bar him from membership on that basis, on the contrary, you welcomed him with open arms — youth at long last, who, together with the younger elements in the SWP, will be able to build up a youth movement. And they began that process. And how did we thank them for the work they did in a low period in our own history? With the expulsion for their political views.
Comrades is this our honesty, is this our conception of democracy? Democratic centralism, comrades, is not an obscure, esoteric theory. It is not difficult to understand. On the one hand it is not something that can cloak anarchy, the negation of organization, or something that can cloak all-inclusiveness; that is, like the social democratic movement where you are not only allowed to have your opinion, your dissident opinion, in the organization, but you can take it to the public and publish a paper on the basis of that dissident opinion; and that is what we have always meant when we spoke against all-inclusiveness. Nor is it an organizational form that can give us monolithism, or as you more carefully put it, homogeneity. It is simply this: the requirement that everyone acts as one in the public eye, that is all; that the minority abide by the discipline of the majority.
We must organize to enhance our strength, but we do not want to oppress anyone in our movement, or make that enhanced strength a burden to anyone. So we say, “Have your opinions, even if you must fight for your opinions within our organization, but join together with us when we campaign against the class enemy, when we battle the racists, when we struggle to get on the ballot, when we engage in all of our many activities. And you will be welcome to the full freedom that is offered within our movement.” Our uniqueness as a political phenomena is not our centralism. Centralism is something you can find all over the country, from the top of the ruling corporations, down to the lowest trade-union, bureaucratically-run organization. Our uniqueness as a political phenomenon is our democracy. These are my thoughts and as I know our history, that history bears out this conception of our movement: That our struggle is not over. We are in the process of making history. We are adding to the history that has been made, or we are going to destroy that history and begin a new pattern of internal relations and organizational conceptions.
Now, I want to begin with the Control Commission. I don’t see it as Comrade Dobbs put it, and this is something all of you can explain to me if his conception is correct. My conception, and I believe the history of our movement bears it out, is quite different. What is it? Why do we have it? You won’t find the answers to these questions in the constitution which merely sets procedures and authorizes power! But you will understand the reasons for this body in our literature and in the history of our movement. In a truly democratic organization, where important differences are resolved through struggle, passions become inflamed and objectivity obscured. Primarily to protect the democratic right of minorities, as well as the public safety of the party, a Control Commission is established. It is composed, not of leading political figures, as a matter of fact, the constitution permits only one member of the National Committee to function on the Control Commission. It is not composed of political leaders, not those involved in factional disputes in a central fashion, but comrades who stand out as being fair, capable of being objective in the heated atmosphere of factional alignment. Their function is not political, but simply that of ascertaining facts. We want to know what is, not what opinions one has.
This Control Commission, however, has violated this conception of the Control Commission, and I believe it is the first one that has done so. At the instigation of the ruling faction in this dispute, the Control Commission permitted itself to pry into the private thoughts, the preliminary working papers of a minority tendency. And — innovation number two — presumed to evaluate those opinions. There was apparently no attempt on the part of the Control Commission to find out if these thoughts had ever been carried into action, or even were the final thoughts of the individuals involved, let alone a tendency decision. But aside from that, in a manner far from impartial, the Control Commission submitted to the Political Committee two of these preliminary documents, preliminary to the factional conclusions of the Robertson-Mage group; and in a totally unfair phrase referred to these documents as “previously withheld from the party.”
Now, of course, that is a lie, just a plain lie. You are not required, any member of the party, to submit your working papers, your preliminary drafts, your preliminary thoughts to the party. You have a right to privacy in these matters. If not submitting these documents to the party constitutes withholding them from the party, then the majority is equally guilty. Do you think the majority faction documents and draft resolutions and correspondence, its preliminary proposals, and thoughts, are submitted to the party? They are not. They never have been. And nobody ever thought of suggesting that they ought to be. Although it might be, on occasion, interesting to learn the evolution of an opinion. However, comrade Dobbs, as he reported to you, on July 5, wrote to comrade Robertson saying that “I hereby formally request that you immediately provide me with copies of both these items” — which Farrell has explained to you. Now Robertson who in my opinion regarded too lightly the inherent right to keep personal possession of his preliminary papers, answered comrade Dobbs and submitted, if I am not mistaken, the document which he wrote.
As for the other documents, he referred comrade Dobbs to their authors, pointing out — I don’t know if he pointed it out or not, but I do — that he didn’t want to be compelled to be a stool pigeon. I don’t know if comrade Dobbs pursued the matter further, or with what result. But I do know that the Control Commission, which constitutionally can demand to see anything it pleases, unless it stole the documents, and I don’t think they did, asked for them and got them. So again, how are they being withheld from the party? The Control Commission has failed, in my opinion, to live up to the high standard of fairness and objectivity it has tried to set in the past. However, I do not feel harshly toward them, for they acted at the instigation of the Political Committee which must bear the prime responsibility for these organizational innovations. And so I come to the Political Committee and the majority motion which you have here.
I was going to say a word about the composition of the Political Committee, the fact that it is for the first time, under similar circumstances, a monolithic body, as far as political resolutions are concerned. Ordinarily, when we emerge from a convention, we have such a condition only after a split. But at this last convention, we had a number of minorities. Every single one of our resolutions was contested. Yet we emerged without minority representation for any of the groups. I don’t know if the Robertson group required, or if we were required to give the Robertson group minority representation — 7 out of 61 delegates — I’ve forgotten what the proportionality was. But I do know that I wasn’t told at the convention, and I have been told and you have, by comrade Dobbs, that the reason they weren’t given representation was because they were disloyal. Comrade Kerry said so on the floor of the Convention on the last day in the last hour of the convention. But that’s not a trial. That, comrades, was comrade Kerry’s opinion, to which he has a perfect right. But in my opinion, comrade Kerry does not have the right, and neither does anyone else, on the floor of a convention to charge others with disloyalty.
We have proper procedures for such vile accusations and we know them well. These comrades, or any comrades, deserve the right to answer such charges, outside of the heated atmosphere of a political struggle. Yet apparently they were tried, by the nominating commission, and in comrade Kerry’s own mind, and they were punished. Denied representation on the PC. All right, this is another innovation in party procedure. And now, comrade Dobbs comes before us today and submits as other evidence of their disloyalty, the fact that they were left off by the nominating commission and that the convention hereby decided that they were under suspicion of being disloyal. This is really compounding crimes of injustice.
In the PC of November 1st, I asked that we postpone consideration of the Control Commission report before we acted on it, until the comrades charged with disloyalty were present. I also asked that we postpone action until a member of the Control Commission was invited to be present to answer any factual questions we might have to ask. And there were factual matters in dispute in the PC discussion. The majority voted my opinion down and proceeded to suspend the 5 comrades of the minority, and in so doing the PC violated the constitution. Not only the tradition of our movement, not only the tradition of our revolutionary movement, but the letter of its law, the minimal guarantees that we try to provide in our constitution. Comrade Dobbs explained that Article VIII, Section 3, is superseded by the section on the Control Commission. It doesn’t say so. It doesn’t say in the constitution that this overrides another article of the constitution. In his opinion, it superseded a part of the constitution. That’s his opinion, it’s not mine. Now that Article VIII, Section 3, is designed, minimally, it is true, minimally, to guarantee that anyone who is charged with disloyalty or any other crime in our movement would get a fair hearing. And that is to be superseded by the fact that that doesn’t cut out a Control Commission designed to objectively verify facts? Not on your life, comrades.
Section 3 says charges against any member shall be made in writing and the accused member shall be furnished with a copy in advance of a trial. The trial — am I out of my mind? Doesn’t a trial mean the presence of the accused? Doesn’t it mean a defendant? Doesn’t it mean the presence of those who are charged for punishment so they can see who is accusing them and what they’re being accused of? And permit evidence to refute it? Comrades, that constitution is not superseded unless you are blinded by factional motivations. And if you are so blinded that you can destroy the constitution of the SWP, who will punish you? You have power. No rank and file group opposing you, no individual like myself opposing you, has power. You have power. Only you can save the constitution, I cannot do it and I beg you to think before you take such a drastic action.
We don’t even have as much protection of the right of a comrade, as comrade Robertson pointed out, as is guaranteed by bourgeois law. The right to attend one’s own trial before judgment is passed was not a right given us by a magnanimous ruling class, but a right, as all democratic liberties in bourgeois democracy, that was fought for by the oppressed through centuries of struggle. It was purchased at the great price of much blood of those who lacked all power except their poverty. I believe the battles they fought are our heritage and socialism does not destroy these freedoms, it guarantees them to all and extends those freedoms to the essential democracy of industrial socialism. If the constitution, as I have said, minimal as it is, cannot protect the members of the SWP, who will protect them?
Now, on the resolution passed by the PC, and here I’m going to have to skip a few points that I wanted to make, for lack of time. I wanted to read to you for example from the Struggle for a Proletarian Party, from other sections of the same resolution on which the PC is basing its suspension. For example, this paragraph: “Only a self-acting and critical-minded membership is capable of forging and consolidating such a party and of solving its problems by collective thought, discussion and experience. From this follows the need of assuring the widest party democracy in the ranks of the organization.” And many others. But most important, let me show you the action we took at the time of the split in 1940, to try to prevent that split.
The Shachtmanites announced before the whole convention that they intended to publish a document, a paper counterposed to that of the majority and take it to the public. We didn’t expel them for that. We did say that any who proceeded to carry out this threat would be immediately expelled from the party. And we said, on the other hand, to show you that we do not want to divide with you, we will guarantee that while the discussion stops in all branches, following the convention, all the important articles and theoretical documents will be published in our press as a symposium under the joint editorship of both sides. We said that if either side or both desired, there would be a continuation of the discussion in written form. And finally, we said, and here I quote, “No measures are to be taken against any party member because of the views expressed in the party discussion. Nobody is obliged to renounce his opinions, there is no prohibition of factions, the minority is to be given representation in the leading party committee and assured full opportunity to participate in all phases of party work.”
We were generous, we were democratic. They were offered a great deal, but that generosity is not apparent in our procedures with this present tiny opposition. Now, the resolution of the majority, after quoting this document on which it’s trying to base its action, begins by saying: “As indicated in the Control Commission’s report of October 24, 1963, the foregoing provisions of the 1938 resolution are violated by the leadership practices of the Robertson-Mage-White group.” Practices, group? Neither one is ever mentioned in the Control Commission report. All the Control Commission did was to obtain two documents that were the preliminary working papers of individuals in a pre-convention, inner-caucus discussion. Practices? Not a word. Thoughts? So what is meant in the majority resolution when it says: “… As indicated in the Control Commission’s report…?” Do you think we aren’t looking? But we are looking. Maybe not the majority members of the PC, but the rank and file will be looking. Those whom we hope to win to socialism will be looking. And will they see it there? They cannot, because it is not there.
Then, as if to demonstrate their own shaky feeling, those who composed the majority resolution, in the PC, concluded: “… because of their violations of party loyalty….” We’ve always spoken of violations of party discipline, and now we have to determine loyalty and that’s an idea. Don’t you know what an idea is? You can’t touch it. Turn and twist as you like, you will not be able to measure it, because it is a thought, a feeling, an emotion. Do I have to tell you that, comrades? And yet the majority of the PC voted to suspend comrades because of their violation of loyalty. Shame! Shame on you! And Dobbs can get away with it here? Maybe, and he did get away with it in the PC. But will you get away with it before the eyes of the radical public? I say you will not and you will have destroyed a great tradition fought for by Trotsky and all of us at one time, at least.
Did the suspended comrades really organize a study circle? I don’t know, nowhere does it say that they did. In the pre-convention discussion I heard it charged on the floor of the New York Local. And these comrades replied that they were having a faction meeting, which is their right. I have heard talk about dual recruiting. Who has been dual recruited? When? In which branch? What’s his name? These are facts, I don’t get them from the Control Commission report. And I don’t get them from the majority resolution. All I get is statements. As if that constituted a fact. But it hasn’t and doesn’t. I know that the majority invited non-party members in on its political and organizational disputes, as long as they belonged to the youth. Were these the people who were dual recruited? Then they were dual recruited at the invitation of the majority. Comrades, you say that they have violated party discipline — they value group discipline over party discipline. Where? When? On what points?
Dobbs gets up and says they want to split the party, that they believe in all of this — violation of discipline, they don’t want to remain in an empty shell. These comrades get up and say “We do want to remain in the party. We regard the SWP as being the basic revolutionary cadre in this country.” They say “We will abide by discipline.” How many times do they have to swear a loyalty oath in order to convince you? But we don’t ned to be convinced. We don’t know if it is Dobbs who is lying or it is they who are lying. I don’t know. We can know only by what they do. So stop talking about what they think. And have the patience and the democratic decency to see what they do.
Now, I know, or I suspect, that this isn’t really what’s bothering the majority comrades on the committee. They think they are dealing with a Healy tendency. But they didn’t charge that. And if they did, we would have a different discussion. An interesting discussion in my opinion. Not whether a group has the right to organize factions in the SWP, which I have always assumed it did, but whether or not a group has a right to organize an international faction. Now I think this is a horse of another color. And I am not so sure where I would stand on such a question. But that hasn’t been discussed. And if that’s in the back of your minds, you should discuss it. Let me point out comrades, that they are not in an international caucus with Healy. This is not so. If that is really what is motivating you I can prove that it’s not so. And I will take just a few minutes to prove it.
You wondered about this loyalty oath that was brought in by Wohlforth over a year ago. You’ve got to appraise it. Why wouldn’t Robertson or Mage sign it? Because they want to split with the party? Because they’re disloyal? Wohlforth is right? But that’s not so. That resolution presented to us by Wohlforth was written by comrade Healy. You didn’t know that perhaps, but it was — you bide your time comrades, I’m not on the witness stand — I didn’t know until very recently, but I know now. It was written by comrade Healy. But it wasn’t given to us as comrade Healy wrote it. There were certain deletions and it was those sections that were deleted from Healy’s draft against which Mage and Robertson voted, thereby being expelled from the attempt to organize an international faction.
One of the deleted sentences read: “All discussion and disagreement within the tendency is part of the discussion within the international tendency. Patience will have to be exercised so that while time is allowed for such differences to be adequately discussed internationally, the political aims and functioning of the tendency remain unimpaired. For this purpose there will be facilities available for all members of the tendency to express their opinions in a special international tendency bulletin to be published by the SLL. This bulletin will have a limited circulation — amongst the leaders of the international groups who will be invited to comment and participate in the discussion inside the tendency. All written discussion must be carried out within this bulletin.”
So Robertson and Mage said this was bureaucratic. It was bureaucratic on two counts: 1. that the document as a whole had been presented to them with a pistol at the head — vote for it or else – -they had not participated in its preparation; and 2. the development of a tendency would be completely smothered under Healy’s procedural tyranny and bureaucracy. Mage said: “I disagree with the proposal for centralized discussion among members of a tendency in the U.S. through a bulletin published in England. This proposal could only tend to obstruct the healthy political and organizational development of the tendency. Moreover, as far as I can see, it would be a direct violation of party discipline and certainly would be a disloyal act toward the party.” And this is the man you’re going to expel. While you grab Wohlforth around the shoulders, buddy-buddy. What a great guy he is. And you’re going to expel those who couldn’t stomach, in their first encounter with Healy, his bureaucratic, sectarian methods of organization.
Now, I only learned about this very recently. But I knew it long ago. I knew it when Wohlforth first presented his document to the PC. Not being a hostile, hateful, suspicious type, I went to comrade Mage and I said: “Look, we just got word of your split. Will you tell me what it’s all about?” I had no intention of taking Wohlforth’s word for this deed, this fact, as did the majority of the PC. And Mage discussed his verbal disagreements with Healy. He didn’t tell me the whole story and I didn’t ask to hear it, but I was thoroughly convinced that any collaboration between Healy and Mage and Robertson was out of the question.
Now I am for reunification. I have played as important a part in favor of reunification as any member in this leadership. Healy honors me by making me enemy No. 1 and Swabeck enemy No. 2. The hardened Pabloites in Healy’s opinion, in the SWP, those without hope for redemption, are Weiss, Swabeck, Joe Hansen, and William F. Warde. We are all hardened Pabloites. I presume he still has hope for Comrade Dobbs. And that, I think, is wrong. Because I think Dobbs is just as much for reunification as any of the rest of us.
But from the beginning I raised the question: What is going to happen with the British? Healy is a sectarian, he is going to split. Now, if he insists on it, there’s nothing that can be done about it. At least for a while. But if he makes that split, to the extent the movement can do so I think it would do well to leave a way so that Healy and the British comrades later on can find their way back within the reunification. That was my point of view, and I thought everyone agreed with it. I talked to Hansen about it, and I talked to others about it. Hansen’s subsequent conduct in the course of the reunification effort convinced me that he was working along that line, and I was glad.
But what you are doing here, comrade Dobbs, is not helping to reunify the splintered and isolated and fragmented and quarreling-interminably Trotskyist cadres throughout the world. You are trying to sharpen the split, and deepen the hostility. And I declare that that is out of keeping with our objectives in unifying the Trotskyist forces. I believe you are conducting a wrecking campaign on the SWP, not only on our reunification efforts, because you are running counter — with these bureaucratic and unprecedented procedures — not only toward this minority tendency, but to every minority tendency in the party, and not only to all the other minority tendencies in the party, but to many of us who belong to no tendency; but who happen to be not too tired to continue the battle for the kind of socialist freedom that has always been our objective. You are going to split us, and split us again, and split us again? When will you learn to get along with people who have differences? You’re always going to have them. If you do not, you will have an empty shell of an organization. A hollow mockery of a revolutionary party. When are you going to learn to get along despite differences, to tolerate them, to make it possible for some people to function?
Now comrade Dobbs says we are going to have a party based on discipline. I say, yes, I have never objected to that. I believe that if somebody takes their disputes outside our organization they should be expelled for doing so, and I have voted for such expulsions. I believe that if we tell a minority tendency we will not have any further discussion on this question, and they defy us and try to break up party meetings, they must be disciplined, and I will vote with you to do so. But you haven’t even accused these people, except in the abstract, of defying any party mandate. At which branch meeting? On which occasion?
Now, differences that are settled at conventions, arise in new forms. You cannot help that. But in the normal democratic process of discussion, these can be met, the discussion limited to the one interesting hour of the otherwise dull branch meeting, and the other hour can be devoted to planning our campaigns. But our rank and file have never been limited to those who’ll go out and sell subscriptions and raise money for the party. That was the CP’s concept of the rank and file. Our members think politically, speak politically, and will every day of the week. And when they cease to do that, you do not have a revolutionary party any longer.
In conclusion, comrades, let me say that if your sense of justice is somewhat warped, if you are weary, if you are too tired — resolve the problem in your own mind, by the constitution, at least. It wasn’t necessary in the past because it was presumed that the leadership, even more zealously than the members, even more zealously than a minority, would guard the rights of any individual or any minority in our party. But if you do not, you still must confront the fact of a constitution which at least guarantees a trial, and a hearing. So do not make innovation number 32. Do not make innovation number 32 a destruction of the constitution of the SWP.
28 December 1963