Marxist Bulletin No. 3 – Part II
Wohlforth Against the RT
Corrected Draft Reply to the Reorganized Minority Tendency by the Revolutionary Tendency
New York City
18 May 1963
Reorganised Minority Tendency
(1) We were happy to receive your communication of May 9 raising ‘the question of the relations between the former constituents of the minority tendency during the pre-convention period.’ We view your letter as a step away from your earlier position, as presented by comrade Wohlforth in his circular letter of last Nov. 14, that ‘Under no conditions, however, can we collaborate with the Robertson-Mage faction.’ We for our part have not become reconciled to the status quo, and our statement of last Nov. 4 remains in force. At that time we declared that we would persist in seeking reunification of the tendency as well as seek a common front and common work between us in the interim wherever possible. The fact is, of course, that in conflict with one interpretation and in accord with our declared intentions, we have and will remain within the SWP. Now that the convention period has arrived the reality of our presence cannot be ignored. It is our hope that additional recognition and understanding may also flow from this and related circumstances.
(2) We are readily willing to comply with your request for an exchange of convention discussion materials and of political views generally. We are prepared to do this formally or informally as you wish. We are puzzled, however, as to what concretely can be achieved just now by such a process. Prior to the issuance to the party of any of the various resolutions, a discussion would have served to test out the possibilities for our coming before the party in bloc with a common series of positions. And following the convention we will be in a position to draw up a balance sheet on the then concluded phase of inner-party struggle. Thus in the immediate post-convention period the issue of our re-unification would be posed for examination in the light of the whole interval since the split and culminating in the intense testing process of a party convention. However, for the present you by your prior independent publication of convention documents have committed us both to struggle openly in competition with one another during the convention process. Given what will be our differing and partly conflicting resolutions, private contact between us necessarily plays a distinctly secondary role right now. In any case, our mutual political appreciations will be presented through the medium of the party discussions. Nonetheless, we will give you copies prior to submission to the party of all our tendency pre-convention material, both formal resolutions and documents as well as personal contributions.
(3) You write of the desirability of reducing factional tensions. That, of course, is a complex question. Such tensions do not arise through mere spontaneous, subjective ill-will, and consequently are not to be disposed of by a wave of the hand. For example, much in those aspects of what your grouping is and does that engenders our hostility (above all what we necessarily see as your conciliationism toward the Majority) is, from your standpoint, perhaps utterly correct or even vital. Surely the reverse is also true–much that is to us essential you deem reprehensible. Moreover, the very lack of clear-cut political differentiation in the face of our organizational schism and competitiveness is a potent source of sharp antagonisms. What can and should be done in any case is to go about our differences and clashes in a way which maximizes political consciousness. Thus important qualities are precision in treatment of issues and emphasis on the political implications and relationships of organizational or personal incidents, rather than using such things as ‘atrocity stories’ about ‘the bad guys’. Above all, a verifiable, documentary approach is called for in treating with political, theoretical, or other matters in dispute.
(4) To summarize very briefly some of our views and intentions as well as the most essential objections to your convention documents and positions:
(a) We have formally arrived at the position that Cuba is a deformed workers state. This will be reflected in our Sino-Soviet resolution, ‘The Sino-Soviet Dispute: New Stage in the Mortal Crisis of Stalinism’, which we are introducing. We aim to answer the Majority’s draft which does not at any point differentiate Trotskyism politically from Fidelismo and thus necessarily glosses over our essential programmatic view–the political revolution–as against all shades of stalinist rule. Since your PC representative, comrade Wohlforth, voted (with reservations) for the Majority draft, you presumably will stand opposed to whatever we bring before the party.
(b) We intend to present a resolution on the question of the Fourth International, i.e., in opposition to unity with the Pabloites. At the same time we intend to make it clear that even if the unity is consummated, our duty is to remain in the American SWP. Moreover, in our opinion, on the international level there has as yet been insufficient political clarification and organizational preparation for the International Committee to proceed to transform itself into a competing, formal F.I. Rather if the SWP-Pabloite unity goes through, we conclude that the IC forces should go along. They should openly transform themselves within the ‘united’ F.I. into the nucleus of a Bolshevik (i.e., proletarian-revolutionary) international tendency struggling to lay the foundations for a real Fourth International at the next stage. The IC’s weak position in the present situation seems to us to be the reason why in recently published Healy-Hansen correspondence (Discussion Bulletin, Vol., 24, No. 12), Hansen was able to outflank Healy and place the SLL on the defensive in argument.
(c) We see one central defect in your convention material. It is common and basic to both your American and International resolutions, i.e., ‘The Decline of American Imperialism and the Task of the SWP’ and ‘The Rebuilding of the Fourth International’. This erroneous outlook is expressed clearly and briefly in two places. It is found in section 8 of your International draft and in point 1 of the Philips’ amendment at the last plenum.
This amendment was endorsed and appended to your American resolution. We do not believe that the way to combat the revisionists’ surrender of a strategic perspective of proletarian revolution is by counterposing a demand for the Trotskyists to undertake (everywhere and with forces no matter how small!) immediate agitational struggles of the working masses. This is a call which perhaps corresponds to felt inner-factional needs but which lacks reality. Your posing of our immediate task in every country as ‘the conquest of the masses’ creates an enormous discrepancy between this declared task and our means. This call is a slide into a sectarianism which tends to cut the movement off from opportunities as they are–witness your indifference bordering on hostility toward developing an approach to the ‘Progressive Labor’ left breakaway from the American CP. Thus you did not support our memorandum on the ‘PL’ group. The general, but not sole or universal, perspective which the present world juncture demands, in our opinion, is one which places major emphasis on propagandistic work toward the crystallization of Trotskyist cadres. Today in most parts of the world our task is to lay down the foundations for revolutionary parties, not to pretend they already exist and declare ‘they’ should struggle for hegemony over the mass movement.
(d) We are seriously disturbed by your treatment of the PC Majority draft on the Negro question. In many respects this is the worst document the Majority has presented for the coming convention. It constitutes a denial of a decisive role in the victory of the Negro struggle by both the working class and its revolutionary party. The document treats with Negroes as a class-undifferentiated people and places the ‘white’ Trotskyist party in a necessarily peripheral role. Your PC representative only abstained (!) on this miserable betrayal of Marxism and the class struggle! Your reporter to the NY branch, comrade Mazelis, speaking on the basis of not yet written nor even specific amendments, did not challenge the denial of the vanguard role of the party. Comrades of the Revolutionary Tendency intend to write on this subject in the present discussion.
(e) Throughout your recent writings there runs a tendency to counterpose ‘proletarian’ agitational struggle amongst the masses as against ‘petty-bourgeois’ party-centered propaganda work. There are several things wrong with this. There is a deep-seated need for the American movement to recreate ties with the working class. Some examples of indicated means are: through regular, sustained press sales at selected factory gates and union meetings; through seeking to create in the next period a couple of small union fractions in whatever spots nationally are (i) important parts of the working class; (ii) accessible to entry; and (iii) where the comrades involved can have a viable long-term perspective.
Whatever contact and recruitment will be forthcoming in the shortrun from such work will be in good measure a response to the ideas of socialism — unfortunately not to our leadership in mass struggles and certainly not as a result of sterile, empty agitation about Building a Labor Party Now. It would be patronizing to write off workers as unresponsive to properly presented propaganda. Moreover, to slight the Leninist party ‘in favor of’ the working class carries a faint but perceptible flavor of a syndicalist tendency such as eventually came to full flower in sections of the old state-capitalist Johnson-Forrest Tendency.
(f) We present views to the party on questions in which you appear to be largely uninterested or which you consider harmful to raise. Thus we have dealt with the issue of inner-party democracy in our statement to the National Committee, “For the Right of Organised Tendencies to Exist Within the Party!–statement on the Dobbs-Kerry motion ‘Party Discussion Procedure’”. Your position on the Dobbs-Kerry motion is not known to us. Additionally, our comrades are challenging the Majority’s line on party-youth relations as in the document collection recently submitted for bulletin publication by comrade Rose J. In your American resolution, you on the other hand endorse the party treatment of the youth when you state as your entire contribution therein on the subject: ‘The party must continue to expand its policy of actively assisting and supporting the work of the YSA.’ While it is true that issues such as these are not the most crucial to the movement, they are important and relevant to the totality of the Majority’s departure from Marxism-Leninism. Further, in actual application these are matters of evident importance to our own existence and struggle within the SWP. Moreover, raising the questions of party democracy, autonomy of the youth organization, and the likes, are excellent ways to initially reach those party comrades such as former CP’ers or youth members who are especially and properly sensitive on a given issue.
(5) In summary and on the basis of your documents in comparison with our own positions, our opinion is that the basis for a reunified left-opposition in the SWP still exists. As suggested in this letter there are a number of particular differences shown between our two groups. These are compatible with existence as a unified tendency. Indeed there is no position held by your grouping which might not be found among one or another of the comrades of the Revolutionary Tendency.
The essential barrier to reunification or collaborative activity is that for our part we aim to create an alternative, politically and organizationally, to the existing Majority party leadership. But you have defined yourselves, spoken and acted, as closer to the party Majority than to us. That has been the insuperable obstacle between us.
It is our hope that your letter of May 9 indicates the possibility of a modification of your stance with regard to our group. The struggles through the convention period will show if this is true. In the meantime, to repeat, we readily accept your offer to exchange information and opinions between us as we have sought to offer in this present letter. We are waiting to hear further from you. In addition as the pre-convention period unfolds and if our exchanges are fruitful, various extensions of contact or working relations may prove feasible.
for the Revolutionary Tendency