Marxist Bulletin No. 3 – Part I
1962 Split in the SWP Revolutionary Tendency
Letter from G. White to G. Healy
[San Francisco Bay Area]
November 14th, 1962
Dear Comrade Healy,
Since your letter to me of October 25th, Comrade [Philips] has returned with what he and you consider to be a solution to our internal difficulties. It is admittedly a drastic one, amounting as it does to the effective expulsion of the majority of the New York tendency.
The first question raised, therefore, is the desirability and necessity of disposing of these comrades. Comrade P. was extremely firm about this, and also quite definite that he was speaking in your name as well, which fact gave weight to his arguments that they would otherwise have lacked.
I am convinced, Comrade Healy, that on this question you are mistaken.
Comrade P., during the discussion here shifted his grounds for demanding this action. His initial position was that the New York comrades had characterized the Party as centrist, and therefore would, by a process of logical necessity, be led to an attitude of indiscipline, of split, and would in fact become destroyers of the Party. However, when it was pointed out to Comrade P. that Comrade J. and myself are also on record with the same characterization and that many of the comrades here support this view, and when he was asked if we too were to be “disengaged” from the tendency, he vehemently denied any such intention. We had not acted as wreckers, he said, but the New York comrades in question had.
The discussion on this point then shifted to a series of specific charges of misconduct brought against the leaders of the New York tendency majority. After an ample presentation, not a single one of the sixteen comrades present stated that he regarded these charges as proved and as the basis for disciplinary action. All but two, one of whom did not speak at all, expressed themselves as opposed to action on the basis of these charges. I think this response is eloquent testimony. No responsible organization would tolerate such drastic action on such a flimsy case and without the accused being granted the right to appear in their own defense. I am sure you would never permit such a procedure in the League.
Thus it seems to me that both bases for the removal of these comrades must fail—that based on political opinion because it is not to be applied uniformly, and that based on overt acts because, on the basis of the evidence presented, they must be regarded as unproved. I have always considered these comrades as key members of our tendency. Not only is my opinion in this respect unchanged, but my regard for these comrades has been increased by the manner in which they have responded to what I must consider an unprincipled attack accompanied by an abuse of command of the lines of communication to you.
Before leaving the question of New York, there is one other observation I would like to offer for whatever it may be worth. I have known Comrade R. [Robertson] since 1958, and worked with him in the Oakland-Berkeley branch in 1958 and 1959. We were then on opposite sides of most political issues, whose merits are irrelevant to the present case, and our relations were generally rather hostile. Therefore when I first heard, this summer, through Comrade W. [Wohlforth], of the open factionalism existing in the New York tendency, I was not predisposed to view R’s role favorably. Being sceptical and forewarned, I do not think I could have been easily bamboozled. Comrade R. hits hard in a fight, and I am sure he has in this one. However, after the most careful scrutiny of the situation, or such elements as were available to me here, I found that Comrade R.:
- gave no indication of attempting to spread and deepen the factionalism in the tendency
- at no time in his dealings with us advocated or carried out undisciplined acts or attitudes
- at no time advocated or sought to lay the groundwork for a split from the SWP
- in all cases where I could check made reports which were not only factually correct but what is more to the point, conveyed on accurate impression of the real situation, which same I cannot say in all cases for his opponents.
Parenthetically, let me say that the picture of R. the anarchist presented by Comrade P. is simply too absurd to be taken seriously, and was so received by the comrades in this area.
The avowed purpose of your statement, the separation of these comrades from our tendency, would be reason enough to oppose your proposition. But your blow goes beyond this and strikes where, according to Comrade P., no blow is intended. According to points four and five of your declaration, and as confirmed by Comrade P., the tendency will in the future consist only of those who actually sign this document. Obviously there are statements in it to which a large number here, perhaps a majority, cannot subscribe. Much has been said to the effect that you and the European comrades are serious people, and this is very clear to us. Apparently it is not also clear to you that we too are serious people. Very well, it is up to us to demonstrate to you by our actions that we are, and we shall try to do so. However, no serious political person will commit political perjury, and that is precisely what you are asking of us. I, like all the others who have any differences with points one to three of your document, declare unequivocally that I will abide by its line if it is democratically adopted by our tendency. I would go further and say that if it were officially adopted by the I.C., even over the protests of an American tendency majority, this too, though I would consider it a bad procedure, I would accept. What we will not do is to lie, to perjure ourselves before our tendency comrades and the Party. If we did, we could never raise our true views, and no comrade, knowing what we had done, would ever in the future be able to give us his trust and confidence.
Therefore, regardless of the merits or demerits of your case against the New York tendency majority, we regard this technique as absolutely impermissible. I know that these feelings are shared by many, if not all, of those who would fully subscribe to points one to three of your document.
I have just heard, unofficially, that Comrade P. has suggested a possible alternative solution: an immediate vote on all the documents and the election of a national steering committee on the basis of proportional representation. I would assume that such a proposition would have two corollaries:
- wiping the slate clean of past charges and counter-charges
- the establishment of discipline on the basis of the line of the tendency majority, whatever that may turn out to be.
If I understand this proposal correctly, it may be a solution which could leave us with a viable tendency, and I most strongly urge it upon you.
However, should you and the others follow your present course through to the end, you will force a split. For myself, regardless of what may be your attitude toward the non-signers, I would do all in my power to hold together an organization, to seek reunification of the tendency, and to attack loyally and energetically the tasks before us. I am sure that this attitude is shared by most and probably all the minority comrades here who under no conditions will sign this statement.
Finally, the sharp contradiction between your known aims and the actual effect of your last proposal I can only interpret to mean that you are deeply and seriously misinformed. In your last letter to me you called for moderation. I quite agree. Now I call for caution. How well informed are your sources? If they were well informed about the Bay Area would they have run head on into a 17-0 defeat?
It is my profound hope that the unanimity of our rejection of points four and five of your document will encourage on your part a reexamination of the situation in the American tendency, leading to a change in course which will make possible the most effective and rapid creation of a revolutionary tendency in America.