Marxist Bulletin No. 3 – Part I
1962 Split in the SWP Revolutionary Tendency
In a dispute within the revolutionary movement, no serious revolutionist would take sides without recourse to the documents wherein both parties argue their positions. Nor, for a revolutionary, is it simply a question of who is right and who wrong. (For example, the political issue at dispute in the 1962 SWP Revolutionary Tendency split–the degeneration of the SWP as a revolutionary party–has been clearly resolved in our favor over the course of time.) Rather, it is also a question of knowing, in detail, the “how” and “why” on both sides in the dispute–the development of the struggle, why one side presumably was led to evolve an erroneous position, the methods by which the parties conducted their struggle–so that we may strengthen ourselves in the face of our vastly greater revolutionary tasks on the morrow. It is for this reason that the Spartacist League is publishing a series of Marxist Bulletins presenting the various documents and correspondence of both sides relating to the Revolutionary Tendency (RT) split. We believe the documents speak for themselves.
1962 Split Aided Rightwing
The unprincipled split in the SWP revolutionary minority tendency, conceived by Wohlforth and technically engineered by A. Philips–despite the fact that the latter’s own membership in the RT had never been formally resolved–with the aid of Gerry Healy of the British Socialist Labour League (SLL), had far-reaching consequences. First, a number of precious cadre were lost from the revolutionary wing of the party. These were mainly older comrades whose experience in many cases went back to the Communist Party of the 1920’and early 30’s. By and large these comrades held in the inner-tendency dispute the Wohlforth view that the SWP remained a revolutionary party; but they were disillusioned and demoralized to see once again a leader they had trusted resort to lies and the most unprincipled organizational methods–a repeat of their experiences in the Communist Party and, more recently, in the SWP. Given this final disillusionment they left the tendency and the party.
Secondly, the split, which was obviously politically unfounded, had the effect of making both wings appear unserious, and detracted from the consideration that rank-and-file party members might otherwise have given to the revolutionary viewpoints then being advanced by both sides of the now-split minority. This ultimately rendered those with revolutionary politics in the SWP far less effective than would otherwise have been the case in carrying through their task of polarizing the party membership around a revolutionary working-class perspective and exposing the revisionism of the central party leadership.
Finally, the breach in the revolutionary forces which was initiated within the SWP was perpetuated after the exclusion of both wings from the party, and led for a time to the grotesque and confusing spectacle of two hostile and competing public organizations (the Spartacist League and the American Committee for the Fourth International, “ACFI”) with similar political lines. This breach continued for several years until the organizational contradiction was eventually resolved politically when the ACFI (currently calling itself “Workers League”) assumed adaptationist positions not fundamentally different from those of the SWP. But, from the initial moment of the split and for as long as it was politically principled, Spartacist consistently attempted to heal the organizational breach in the revolutionary forces.
Nature of the SWP
Unity is one of the principal weapons of the working class in its struggles. Only the most fundamental and irreconcilable programmatic differences justify an organizational split in the revolutionary vanguard–or even the formation of an intra-party faction. Certainly an assessment of the political character and direction of the SWP was a necessary and important question for the minority tendency. But, given the overwhelming agreement within the minority that the road to Socialism can be opened only by workers’ revolution under the leadership of a revolutionary vanguard party, as opposed to the revisionist concept of the SWP leadership that vanguard leadership is nonessential and that the road to socialism can be opened by non working-class forces, the just-unfolding dispute within the minority primarily had tactical implications and was certainly not a legitimate split issue.
In any event, the contention of the wing around Shane Mage, James Robertson and Geoffrey White that the SWP majority had become centrist and had adopted the theoretical revisionism and political program of Pabloism, as opposed to Wohlforth’s position that the SWP remained revolutionary and would be “the main instrument for the realization of socialism in the U.S.” (see Document #10, point 3) was clearly evident by the 1963 SWP Convention to anyone claiming to stand on the basis of a Trotskyist world outlook. At the Convention the SWP majority voted to rejoin the Pabloist International Secretariat from which the party had split in 1953, and also accepted a resolution on the Negro struggle totally capitulating to Black Nationalism–for the first time applying the essentials of Pabloism to the class struggle in this country. Had the political nature of the SWP been the real issue in the RT split, it would have then been possible to effect a reconciliation between both wings of the tendency at this point. That this never was the real reason for the Wohlforth-Healy split from the RT majority was plain by Healy’s publication, prior to the split, of the document “Trotskyism Betrayed–The SWP Adopts the Political Method of Pabloite Revisionism” and by the 22 May 1963 statement of Healy: “By February 1962 it had become clear that to all intents and purposes the policies of the SWP were indistinguishable from those of Pablo and his group” (our emphasis). In fact, Wohlforth himself had declared verbally only a few weeks prior to launching his splitting attack within the tendency, “The SWP is centrist from top to toe.”
Wohlforth’s Real Reason
The real reasons for the split were far less savory–the question purely of “regime”, in its most narrow and inadmissible sense. Basic was Wohlforth’s perception that because of his past mistakes (see Preface to MB #2), his de facto leadership of the RT was being challenged, and he went into an organizational frenzy when he realized that on the issue on which he had chosen to make a showdown, the nature of the SWP, he was about to receive a minority vote within “his” tendency. This led him to oppose democratic-centralism within the tendency such as was called for and justified by the tendency’s program and tasks. (See Document #9, “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…”).
In addition, the witch hunt atmosphere created by the SWP leadership against the minority was affecting Wohlforth, never noted for his resistance to pressure. By offering a conciliatory and non-struggle position (see Documents #3 and #6 of Marxist Bulletin #2, and especially Document #10 of this collection),” Wohlforth hoped to crawl back into the good graces of the Majority leadership and to retain his position as “party leader” (Wohlforth was the only minority member on the SWP leading body, the Political Committee). To this end he was prepared to sacrifice his political co-thinkers. This is the clear meaning of the statement “Call for the Reorganization of the Minority Tendency” presented to the party on 13 November 1962 and of his discussion with “Farrell” (Dobbs–National Secretary of the SWP) as described in the first two paragraphs of Document #9, “Of course I made it clear to Farrell…” Wohlforth desired and, through a series of provocations, prepared the expulsion from the SWP of the Mage-Robertson-White wing with which he was in fundamental political agreement, by the Majority with which he was in fundamental political disagreement, in order to end the challenge to his personal leadership both of the minority and within the SWP. This is the subject of MB #3, Part II.
Mechanics of the RT Split
Wohlforth’s desire for organizational control at no matter what cost meshed with Healy’s (then International Committee head) desire for puppet-like agents internationally rather than for vigorous, disciplined national sections. The manner in which the split was carried out is most instructive in itself. Philips, a co-thinker of Wohlforth on the SWP, was invited to England by Healy, allegedly to consult on trade union questions but in actuality to make final preparations for the split. The cover purpose for the trip was advanced in order to secure financing from the entire tendency, a bit of literally criminal financial fraud characteristic of the whole unsavory spirit of the split. The RT majority, while suspecting that something more than “trade union consultation” was afoot, nevertheless acted in good faith, raising most of the money for Philip’s trip but also sending along with him, by vote, a statement that his views on issues of controversy within the American group were not necessarily those of the majority.
Philips returned from England with the ultimatum to the tendency, presented in Healy’s name (Document #5), which contained an assessment of the political nature of the SWP contradictory to that held by the tendency majority. Had such an assessment been adopted by vote at a meeting of the proper international body to make such a decision at which a representative of the U.S. position had been present to argue its views, the RT would have accepted the decision. However, such was not the case. An ultimatum was disloyally cooked up and presented; signatures affirming the false position were demanded; no discussion or vote was permitted; and all not signing were automatically “expelled” from the tendency. Under such conditions to affirm to one’s comrades positions one considered false was tantamount to surrendering one’s revolutionary integrity; to so affirm would have forfeited one’s ability and right ever after to argue one’s real views within the organization–absolutely essential to a revolutionary organization and assured under genuine democratic-centralism. The overwhelming majority of the American section, whether agreeing with the analysis presented in the document or not, refused to go along with such tactics. Over two thirds of the tendency were thus “expelled,” with the remaining eleven going on to form “The Reorganized Minority Tendency.”
After the refusal of the majority of RT comrades to sign the ultimatum, Wohlforth went to party National Secretary and Majority leader Dobbs with an edited version of the document, implying that the leadership of the RT were disloyal party members. His method in this business ironically anticipated that used a year later by the SWP leadership in expelling the RT leadership from the party. At the Tendency meeting of 3 November 1962, Wohlforth had to admit he knew of no actual acts by tendency majority members in violation of SWP discipline but that “disloyal” ideas were sufficient, and it was the duty of loyal party members to inform the party leadership of “disloyal” members. Immediately prior to the 1963 SWP Convention in a continuation of his unprincipled bloc with the revisionist party leadership, Wohlforth presented them with his document “Party and Class” (in MB #3, Part II) containing lying allegations against the Mage-Robertson-White tendency, including the charge that they had a “split perspective” towards the party–a contention proved patently false by a time 8 months later when M-R-W still remained in the party (see our reply then, “Discipline and Truth,” MB #3, Part II made as part of our struggle to stay in the SWP). On the basis of Wohlforth’s document as evidence, Harper, Ireland, Mage, Robertson and White were suspended, then expelled, subsequently forming the Spartacist League.
With the larger minority out of the party, the full pressure of the Majority fell upon the very small and pressure-prone Wohlforth grouping, doubly upset by the successes of Spartacist outside. Almost immediately Wohlforth became demoralized, and only four months later, in October 1963, was proposing within his own tendency that they leave the party. When this was opposed by Philips and other surprised tendency supporters, Wohlforth first broke with Philips then, with Healy’s aid, provoked his grouplet’s own exclusion from the SWP. Following their departure from the party they went on to form the ACFI.
Time has made clear who was right and who wrong on the nature of the SWP. The Wohlforthites now go so far as to claim the SWP never was revolutionary! (See, for example, Wohlforth’s “Struggle for Marxism in the U.S.” in which he proves the first genuine American Marxist is…Wohlforth!)
A far more important question than this, though, has since been resolved. The question of the ability of a leadership such as Gerry Healy’s to rebuild the world Trotskyist movement was raised by his methods towards the American section in 1962–methods which repeated the worst organizational practices of the Comintern during the late 20’s. In 1962 most comrades preferred to withhold judgment, hoping that Healy’s actions were a single incident undertaken through the mistaken advice and lies of Wohlforth and Philips that the tendency majority had given up a struggle perspective within the SWP and was preparing to split.
Healy on a number of occasions made it crystal clear that “the technique of the lie” was quite admissible, and even necessary for his purposes, for temporary tactical advantage or to break the authority of possible opponents in a factional dispute. Thus, in his letter of 12 November 1962 (Document #9), Healy argued that the American comrades should have agreed to the false statement just as in a similar situation his own grouping had done in 1944 within the British Revolutionary Communist Party. He described the leadership of the RCP at that time as “a mixture of ultra-Lefts, opportunists and centrists”–the classical definition of a centrist tendency. However, he goes on to state that to have characterized them in this fashion might have alienated the rank-and-file and therefore the politically correct characterization was withheld. At the London Conference in April 1966 (see Spartacist #6) Healy demanded the Spartacist delegation lie, confessing themselves to be petty-bourgeois American chauvinists, as a condition for IC membership. Again, in the interests of the revolutionary future of Spartacist, our delegation refused to do so and were once again “expelled” by this Healy.
Healy’s total inability as an international Trotskyist leader was finally established at the London Conference where Spartacist was expelled although willing to accept democratic-centralist discipline and although the political basis for inclusion within the IC had already been admitted, “Voix Ouvriere,” a large French Trotskyist group, was driven out; and practically all observers from other groupings were alienated (see Spartacist #6).
The political basis for these organizational methods had now become clear with the IC’s adoption of a line of critical support for Mao and the Red Guards and their embracing of “the Arab Revolution” being led by Nasser and Syria. Healy had but shortly before been deeply immersed in the Bevan wing of the Labor Party bureaucracy. Then for several years he carried on a correct political struggle against Pabloism. Now he moves at full speed towards this political revisionism mixed, however, in his case by a characteristic compounding of sectarian Stalinist “Third Period” tactics and violence against working class and socialist opponents. Our conclusion is that Healy is an opportunist in motion, periodically adopting whole new programs for a temporary organizational advantage. The IC cannot go forward towards the task of reconstructing the Fourth International without first understanding and ridding itself of such a leadership. In contrast stands our own revolutionary consistency, over the whole course of our development, in principles, programmatic development and practice.
Marxist Bulletin staff, April 1968