Marxist Bulletin No. 3 – Part I
1962 Split in the SWP Revolutionary Tendency
Letter from T Wohlforth to Bertha
Nov. 14, 1962
The enclosed statement was submitted last night to Farrell. It will be formally reported to the PC at its next meeting—probably this weekend.
Of course I made it clear to Farrell that the fact that the Bay Area comrades did not sign it did not necessarily mean that these comrades agreed with Jim and Shane and were now part of their group. Rather it meant that while a number of these comrades agreed with us in our assessment of the party, they did not feel that the differences with the Robertson-Mage faction necessitated an open break in the party.
The signers of this statement have broken irrevocably from Robertson-Mage and will not of course cooperate with them as there is no political basis upon which we can cooperate. We disagree on the most fundamental question of all—the party. However, we issue this statement not as an announcement of a newly formed tendency but rather as a call for the reorganization of the tendency along the lines of the statement. This means that we do not take the same attitude towards the Bay Area group as we do towards Robertson-Mage. We are of course willing to cooperate and work with the Bay Area comrades wherever possible and do not view the Bay Area group as part of the Robertson-Mage faction. We recognize that you will be watching the evolution of the two groups and working in your own principled political fashion according to your own assessment of the differences in our forces. We are convinced that you will soon see that this step was not only necessary but if anything should have been taken earlier. Should we prove incorrect and there is a real basis for unity of our forces then, since we are all members of the party, it should not be difficult to unite once more. But, quite frankly, we do not see this as a realistic alternative.
In fact Robertson does not either. He called me Monday night and gave me the following ‘unity’ pitch—he stated that he recognized that a split was inevitable between us but felt that the political basis was not clear for it now. Well, we are not interested in playing games with Robertson. We have no intention of going through a phony unity with people who make it clear that they have no faith in the viability of the unity anyway. It is best that our comrades devote their energies to constructive work in the party and the construction of a tendency rather than spending ourselves struggling in interminable internecine factional warfare until that moment when Robertson will feel that the split is properly prepared for him. From the very beginning the central characteristic of the Robertson group has been lack of seriousness. Well the games are over because we ain’t playing.
It is my opinion, judging from the pattern of events over the past week, that our step was taken not a moment too soon. The comrades must realize that factionalism has its own vicious logic. It is not something easily turned on or off like water from a faucet. At a certain point the spiral of action and counteraction reaches such a point that even if one side pulls back it may not be possible for the other side to pull back. It is my opinion that we came very, very close to that qualitative point, and only the drastic action we have taken has made it possible for us to pull partially back from a process whose logic was leading swiftly to a rift from the party.
You are of course aware that the factional tensions in your area are at an all time high because of the demonstration business. Of course it was correct for the comrades to protest and protest loudly over the betrayal of the majority to the pacifists. But at the same time caution must be used to avoid all organizational attacks and it must be understood that what is needed is a long term political struggle not a short term factional gang war. At the same time as things got very tense in your area, Shirley decides unilaterally to move to Philly despite the request of the New York organizer that she await a clearance for her transfer. Carl informed me that if she went through channels they would certainly let her go. I informed Shirley of this and she went anyway. As a result Shirley’s own relation to the party is endangered and the Philly branch has tightened up in a factional way which has seriously hindered the work of our fine comrades there.
To top it all off Ross is expected to return in a day or two and to give a report to the PC. We can fully expect, that in the normal course of things this would have led to a sharper attack on us as a reflex of an attack on the IC tendency. Thus the pattern—increasing factional conflicts within the party between majority and minority and increased steps towards a break internationally—the logical outcome would be a split if there were not steps taken to reverse the process.
Let there be no doubt about it—we do not want a split internationally or domestically. Such a development would only strengthen the grip of Pabloism on the American party. Our international tendency would gain nothing from it. We must not and will not hand over the American party to the Pabloites without a serious struggle. And that struggle necessitates an open clear break on our part from the spiral of increasingly severe factional conflict within our party. Those comrades who sit back and ‘predict’ a split are in reality contributing in their own way to the preparation for a split. It may very well be that our action at this time has saved for a while even the Robertson-Mage group.
The comrades must realize that we are a tendency. We do not seek to build a party within a party. Thus when the differences on our fundamental attitude towards the revolutionary party come up in our tendency they cannot be resolved by majority-minority vote and discipline without transforming the tendency into a party within a party— and furthermore a party which is hopelessly paralyzed by internal factionalism. The comrades must face the reality—neither the Bay Area nor New York group has had any substantial growth over the past year. The only serious additions to our cadres came in the period of the issuing of our basic statement with the pulling in of the old party cadre in SF, Detroit, Philly.
In any event we have taken this very necessary step. We will continue to work in collaboration with the Bay Area tendency despite our differences over evaluation of the necessity to break with Robertson-Mage. We are not declaring ourselves at this time to be the minority tendency but rather a group seeking to reorganize the minority tendency around this statement. Under no conditions, however, can we collaborate with the Robertson-Mage faction.
cc: Danny, Art, Philly, File