Marxist Bulletin No. 3 – Part I
1962 Split in the SWP Revolutionary Tendency
Letter from G. Healy to J. Robertson
28 December, 1962
Dear Comrade Robertson,
In your letter of December 15, you refer to the experience of the British Trotskyist movement between 1943 and 1950, and you conclude: ‘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.’ (Your emphasis). Unfortunately, this is not the case.
By not accepting the proposals we presented to comrade Phillips you, in fact, split from us. If you cannot remain in our ranks and discuss with us, especially since you claim to be closer to us politically, we fail to see how it is going to be possible for you to remain in the SWP unless, of course, you consider yourself closer to them in matters of method. You refuse to discuss internally within the ranks of our international tendency. What is more, you justify this on the basis of the most dangerous arguments. ‘What we did dispute,’ you say, ‘was the advisability (your emphasis) 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.’
This is an argument straight from the revisionist baggage of the SWP.
We are concerned with the construction of an international revolutionary leadership under the banner of the Fourth International as founded by Trotsky in 1938. We are organized in an international tendency to fight for the principles upon which he founded this movement. By counterposing ‘healthy Americanism’ and the dangers of a factional conflict with the SWP majority to this great task you are reflecting symptoms of the reactionary nationalistic pressures which now exert themselves on the SWP.
The majority democratic opinion of our international tendency today resides in the British and French sections who are engaged in leading the fight against the revisionists. Your tendency apparently does not think it is worth its while to work within our ranks. The first time we ask you to consider seriously our proposals and accept them, you introduce all sorts of evasive measures to avoid accepting proposals which in fact represent the majority opinion of the movement. You counterpose your group as against the majority of our international tendency.
You inform us about the things you allege that comrade Wohlforth does, but please understand that you did not just split from him but from us. They were our proposals. In accepting them, comrades Wohlforth and Phillips have taken what in our opinion is the correct line. By rejecting them you have split and we again urge you, once more, to reconsider this split and the way it was carried out.
Classical centrist tendencies as we know them emerged in the 1930s in organizations such as the Independent Labour Party in Britain and the POUM in Spain. The SWP is not a party like these. Even if its leadership, and this is not in fact entirely the case, were to adopt centrist positions, surely our job is to clarify the ranks on these questions? If we say the whole party is centrist, then we fail to separate the rank and file from the leadership. We are convinced that the vast majority of these comrades want a Trotskyist party in the US and any premature characterization of the SWP as a centrist party will be used by the majority as a weapon to confuse the political issues in the struggle against us.
When we wrote the document ‘Trotskyism Betrayed’ we tried to place the political issues squarely in front of the SWP. As far as we know this document has not yet appeared within the SWP for the membership to study.
We are unconcerned about the factional heat which the leadership generated against this document. When we talk about reducing factionalism, we mean precisely dropping the struggle around organizational issues which can aggravate the day to day work of the party. The more this is done, the sharper should be the political struggle. We are unconcerned about the struggle as such and the protests that are made by the majority. Our aim is to develop the political struggle to the best advantage.
You try to convey the impression that we are responsible for factionalism in the SWP through our document ‘Trotskyism Betrayed’. For two years we have been waging a struggle against this leadership internationally and this can only become more aggravated in the period ahead. This was the case in our own experience of the previous struggle in Britain but at no time did it mean that we toned down our political criticism.
We ask you once more to reconsider your split and let us have your opinion as soon as possible. The condition for working and collaborating with us is that you accept the proposals presented by comrades Wohlforth and Phillips.
National Secretary, Socialist Labour League