Marxist Bulletin No. 3 – Part I
1962 Split in the SWP Revolutionary Tendency
Letter from G. Healy to NYC Tendency Majority
12th November, 1962
We have received a letter dated November 4 in the. names of L. Harper, L. Ireland, S. Mage, J. Robertson, S. Stoute written on behalf of a majority of the New York section of the Revolutionary Tendency of the SWP.
There appears to be some misunderstanding amongst you about the proposals which we submitted through comrade Philips. You appear, for example, to be labouring under a misapprehension that these proposals were drafted after we listened to an attack upon you by comrade Philips.
This, of course, was not the case. If we had any criticisms to make of your goodselves we would do so in writing. We would certainly not listen to any kind of gossip in relation to your activity. We start from the assumption that you want seriously to construct the revolutionary party in the US and we would like to assure you that we are only too happy to discuss with you about the best possible way to do this.
We ourselves have, as you know, a long experience of working as a minority faction inside the British Trotskyist movement. We began this work in 1943 and it lasted for seven years. We did not assume leadership rights in England until 1950.
The proposals are based upon experiences we had during that time and are certainly not dictated by comrades Wohlforth and Phillips. During this period we accepted on a number of occasions advice with which we ourselves disagreed, but which we operated in practice because we accepted the revolutionary integrity and rich experience of those comrades who gave it to us. In this way we began to understand the real value of international collaboration.
Between September 1943 and March 1944, we fought a sharp struggle for the unification of all the Trotskyist groups in Britain. At the conference of our organization the Workers International League in September 1943, I was in a minority of one supporting this proposal. Then advice came from comrades in New York which laid down the terms for unification. These terms were presented as final and could not be debated or discussed. They had to be accepted or rejected as they were by all the parties concerned, including our minority.
Since the unprincipled majority of our section wanted to deprive us of an opportunity to continue the struggle against them, they immediately opened up relations with the opportunist elements in the other groups and decided to accept the terms. Their reasoning was that by moving towards acceptance of such terms they could isolate us by an unprincipled combination. They did just that. When the unification congress took place in March 1944, we were deprived of minority rights on the National Committee of the fused organization, the Revolutionary Communist Party. Prior to this conference we raised the matter with the comrades responsible for the fusion terms but they told us that we could not insist on any rights and that we had also got to accept the terms as they were.
So reluctantly we accepted the terms and went ahead to make the fused organization work. History has since revealed that the fusion was in our favour and not on the side of those who were manoeuvring and intriguing. If we had not accepted the terms and split from the fused organization because we were not given any rights, then surely our tendency would have been destroyed.
I might add that we did not receive minority rights on the National Committee of the Revolutionary Communist Party until almost two years later. Everything was done to persecute us as a faction but we refused under any circumstances to split no matter what the differences or to be driven out of the party. Our people were the best workers and nothing could be done to take this right away from them.
Early in the fusion it became clear that the leadership of the Revolutionary Communist Party contained a mixture ultra-Lefts, opportunists and centrists, but we resisted all attempts to characterize them as a centrist tendency since a premature characterization of this description would have acted as a barrier between ourselves and the rank and file. Many comrades in our own tendency felt very strongly about the politics of the majority but they had to resist their feelings in order to undertake a long term perspective of work to equip them to become what they did at a later stage—the leadership of the party.
The international struggle against Pabloite revisionism which resulted in the split of 1953 has now taken on a new form. Due to the lack of political clarification about the nature of this revisionism, the leadership of the SWP are tending to succumb to it as an approach to world problems. But this is by no means a clear-cut development. We know from reading the documents and publications of the party that certain elements such as Weiss, Swabeck, Warde and Hansen have now developed a rounded out Pabloite approach. Others are, however, still very unclear and hesitant because amongst other things the SWP has a long record of fighting for a principled Trotskyist position, although it cannot, because of the Voorhis Act participate in international activity.
Unfortunately, the activity of the Pabloites has been to some extent successful in provoking a factional atmosphere between ourselves and the majority. A good percentage of the activity of people like Dowson during his visit here was taken up with misrepresenting small factional points which were then relayed to the US in order to sharpen up the differences. We know only too well the harm that this kind of thing can do. The longer we have to discuss with the SWP, the more opportunity we will have to expose the Pabloites and assist the party to clarify itself. Our policy is to speak up clearly and sharply on the political differences and maintain a collaboration with the SWP for as long as possible.
For this reason we have been opposed to any attempt to sharpen up the internal faction struggle inside the SWP no matter what the provocation. Our proposals are designed towards this end in line with our past experience. We do not want to impose them on you. If you do not like to accept them, then there is no need to accept them. All those comrades who do accept them will be considered as part of an international tendency, as we were in the early days of our movement here. Contrary to what comrade Mage said in his letter, it is perfectly permissible for this international tendency to discuss its affairs internally either in writing or oral discussion. We are part of a world party and not separate national groupings. The SLL as part of a world movement has every right to establish tendency relations when it feels these are necessary.
You can decide whether or not you want to be part of this international tendency. The SWP in the past has constantly spelled out its advice—and correctly so—not only to ourselves but to comrades in many parts of the world who have supported it in the various struggles. It is perfectly permissible for you to contribute to an internal tendency bulletin all the opinions which you have about the centrist nature of the SWP leadership and we will seriously discuss them with you.
We do want to bring to an end the internal struggle inside the minority so that comrades can bend their entire efforts towards clarifying the party and helping it in this struggle. We feel sure that if you can see your way to do this we shall make important gains in the future.
We would like to ask you to accept these terms and continue a written discussion with us here. If it were possible you may be able to arrange to visit us some time in the spring or earlier if it could be managed.
Acceptance of the terms does not mean you give up your political positions. We are asking you to do what we had to do in the past, that is to accept the lessons of international experience and work together with us as part of an international tendency fighting against Pabloite revisionism for revolutionary Marxism.
We are asking you to put the international movement and the building of the party first, before any factional considerations. No one amongst us wants to lose a single comrade as a result of a misunderstanding. What you do is being decided not by us but by yourselves.
The political differences which comrade Philips has are in some respects much more serious than yours, yet he has decided to accept these terms. We again urge you to do the same.
Awaiting your reply.
On behalf of the Organizing Committee