Marxist Bulletin No. 3 – Part I
1962 Split in the SWP Revolutionary Tendency
Letter from NCY Tendency Majority to the Socialist Labour League
15 December 1962
Socialist Labour League
We have given prolonged and thoughtful consideration to your letter of Nov. 12. We were particularly impressed by its comradely and serious tone. Unfortunately we are forced to recognize that in content it neither advances any solid arguments in reply to our original objections to the proposal conveyed to us by Philips, nor does it offer any constructive proposals toward the restoration of real collaboration between us. And in the meantime Wohlforth has politically as well as organizationally aggravated his split from the revolutionary tendency of the SWP.
The major part of your letter recounts your factional experience in the British Trotskyist movement between 1943 and 1950. We have always considered that experience a highly important one, and sought to learn from it. However the chief lesson you draw, that you “refused under any circumstances to split no matter what the differences or to be driven out of the party,” is precisely what is not in dispute within our tendency! We have said consistently, and repeat once again, we will not split, we cannot be driven, from the SWP.
The point really at issue is whether we should recognize that by its politics the leadership cadre of the SWP has shown itself to be an essentially centrist tendency, an analysis perfectly consistent with the presence of “unclear and hesitant” elements in that heterogeneous cadre. And on this point your reasoning is puzzling indeed.
The document presented by Philips states categorically, in regard to the SWP leadership, that “there are elements of centrism in its thinking and activity, but these do not predominate.” This sentence is the crux of the entire document: it directly repudiates our view of the SWP leadership as an essentially, though “unfinishedly”, centrist tendency, and thereby precludes our signing the document. But this statement is nowhere repeated, let alone defended, in your letter. On the contrary! You now refer by name to Warde and Hansen and state that they “have now developed a rounded out Pabloite approach.”
Warde and Hansen, however, are not second-rank figures. They are the established political and theoretical spokesmen, writers, and thinkers for the central party leadership! Their “Pabloite approach” was not developed as their individual viewpoints at variance with the viewpoint of the leadership—it was developed and expressed as the unanimous position of the SWP leadership on all major political questions. Considered together, how can these facts be taken otherwise than as prima facie proof that the predominant aspect in the “thinking and activity” of the SWP leadership is indeed a “Pabloite approach”?
The other points of difference are developed no more clearly in your letter. On tactical approach to the SWP you state opposition “to any attempt to sharpen up the internal faction struggle inside the SWP” while reaffirming that “Our policy is to speak up clearly and sharply on the political differences.” With these propositions we have not one iota of disagreement. We have scrupulously avoided organizational factionalism or a denunciatory tone in our polemics against the majority. Indeed the single act which has most contributed to sharpening the factional atmosphere and which was most keenly resented by the party leadership stemmed not from us but from you: the choice of title for your reply to the SWP draft on the world movement, “Trotskyism Betrayed.” In contrast, our reply to the same draft was simply entitled “Critical Notes.”
You seem to misunderstand our objections to the proposal for an American discussion bulletin to be edited in England. We in no way questioned the right of an international tendency “to discuss its affairs internally.” What we did dispute was the advisability of organizing the discussion in a way unconducive to the healthy development of the American section of the tendency and which, moreover, would certainly be regarded by the party leadership as a disloyal act (and thus would at the least enormously “sharpen up the internal struggle in the SWP”) and very possibly lead to our expulsion from the party.
Finally we again fail to follow your reasoning when you write that “acceptance of these terms does not mean you give up your political positions.” We were not asked to accept a democratically-decided line with which we disagree, but to sign to subscribe individually and personally, to statements contradicting our position. These are clearly two different things! Your statement that “The political differences which comrade Phillips has are in some respects much more serious than yours, yet he has decided to accept these terms” seems to us to stand the matter on its head. Philips completely agrees with the “terms”; would he have been so eager to sign if they had included a categorical disavowal of “state capitalism” and affirmation of the unconditional defense of the U.S.S.R.? The fundamental document of the tendency “In Defense of a Revolutionary Perspective,” took a stand on the nature of the U.S.S.R. only indirectly and in passing, yet Philips was willing to sign it only if he could add a reservation expressing his disappointment on this point. We of course granted him that right—yet when he presented your document to us he demanded our signatures unconditionally and without reservation!
These, then, are the reasons why your letter has not led us to alter our decision not to sign the draft presented through Philips. There is, however, another factor to which you ought to give the most serious consideration in determining whether or not your original intervention was mistaken. We refer to the behavior of comrade Wohlforth during the past weeks.
In your letter dated Nov. 12 you asked us to “work together” with you “as part of an international tendency” — and we are fully determined to do so. But only two days later, on Nov. 14, Wohlforth wrote the circular letter that you have seen, beginning with the statement that he and his group “have broken irrevocably from Robertson-Mage and will not of course co-operate with them as there is no political basis on which we can co-operate,” and ending with “Under no conditions, however, can we collaborate with the Robertson-Mage faction.” At the same time he is willing, he states, to collaborate with other comrades who refused to sign the draft! Moreover, even though he and Philips told us in New York that the draft would have to be signed absolutely unchanged and that, even if there were only two signatures, its presentation to the party would signify that the “tendency” was now composed of those two comrades, he now presents a draft reduced to half its original length, and calls his group merely “a group seeking to reorganize the minority tendency around this statement.”
It is thus perfectly clear to us that in violation of your declared intentions, Wohlforth and Philips from the outset and in totally dishonest fashion have been using your intervention as a maneuver to split the majority of the tendency. Can you find a kinder interpretation of these actions?
Factional frenzy of the sort exhibited by Wohlforth usually has serious political causes. That this is the case was indicated by Wohlforth’s proud proclamation that he had discussed the internal situation of the tendency (in what terms we can imagine—he was careful not to invite or in any way inform us) with the National Secretary of the SWP. Leaving aside the descriptive phrases that naturally come to mind, how can we not conclude from this behavior that “Wohlforth feels politically closer to the SWP leadership than to us?
But much more significant was Wohlforth’s conduct in the discussion on Cuba in the N.Y. branch on Nov. 15. We intervened in the discussion to oppose the leadership’s absolutely uncritical support to Castro and Khrushchev (while making the poor U.S. CP the Militant’s scapegoat) and to support emphatically the line of the International Committee statement, which the Militant has refused even to print. Even though Wohlforth had before him at that moment the issue of the Militant reprinting and virtually endorsing the position of the Pabloite “International Secretariat,” Wohlforth’s intervention began with an attack on the tendency spokesman for failing to “appreciate” the need for military defense of Cuba (presumably because we had denied that missile bases in Cuba under Khrushchev’s control could help the defense of Cuba) and went on to praise the party leadership for its “excellent” stand on the Cuba crisis! Wohlforth seems to be well embarked on a course that you will not long find tolerable.
In sum, then, this is the situation as we see it: a small group has split from the revolutionary tendency and is moving toward political conciliation with the party leadership. The rest of the tendency remains firmly committed to its professed political principles and will continue to work together to advance those principles. The comrades who have not given their signatures to Wohlforth now constitute the revolutionary tendency in the SWP. This is an accomplished fact. Though we are hampered by the fact that the one person allowed to represent our entire tendency on the party’s leading committee has now led the split from us, this will not be permitted to prevent our continuous sharp and clear political intervention in the party.
Our solidarity with the IC is absolutely unimpaired. We are determined to take our rightful place in the international revolutionary tendency, to participate in its discussions and to implement all decisions democratically arrived at. We regard the present breach between ourselves and you as purely transitory and based on misunderstandings, not on fundamental differences. It can and should be healed in an instant. We remain prepared at a moment’s notice to discuss with you the establishment of a new and mutually satisfactory basis for future collaboration, and reiterate our commitment to send representation to Europe if you are willing to hold such discussions with us.