Marxist Bulletin No. 3 – Part II
Wohlforth Against the RT
Letter to Dobbs by G. Healy
186a Clapham High Street
22nd May, 1963.
Dear Comrade Dobbs,
We have just received a copy of your letter of May l4 to comrade Wohlforth.
The theme of this letter is a continuation of that contained in your letter under date of May 7. Both letters contain allegations which are completely untrue, and can be most easily disposed of. For almost 12 months a Parity Committee consisting of representatives of the International Committee and the International Secretariat has been endeavouring to organize a discussion which will not just be confined to the leaders of the various tendencies, but which will draw in rank-and-file Trotskyists in all parts of the world.
What possible contribution can your letters of May 7 and May 14 make to this discussion?
Your own organization is within a few weeks of its biennial convention. The immediate effect of these letters will be to create an atmosphere of suspicion and hysteria which will sharpen the factional alliances on secondary organizational matters thus confusing and beclouding the important political issues.
We believe that this type of practice belongs to the past of the movement. It has got nothing in common with the opinions of those who want the Parity Committee to function in a way that will facilitate the reunification of the world Trotskyist movement. These include many members of the SWP, the SLL and many others inside the ranks of the International Secretariat.
Please let us try once more to approach the problems of the world movement in as reasonable and as objective a way as we can. We feel that this is necessary in order to emphasize the extremely complex nature of the issues involved.
In 1953 there was a deep-going split which we consider was the outcome of a revisionist rejection of Marxism by Pablo and his group on the International Secretariat. You, at that time, organized a split based upon your Open Letter to All Trotskyists issued in November 1953. This split took place in an atmosphere of confusion because the ranks of the international movement were not sufficiently clear on the issues involved.
Early in 1954 we proposed a Parity Committee to recommence the discussion and endeavour, if possible, to work out direct methods of collaboration. You at first agreed to this, but you then requested us to break off our relations with the Parity Committee and discontinue the discussion with the International Secretariat.
In 1956 you proposed a unification on the basis of a parity in the world leadership because you said you did not trust the organizational methods of Pablo and his group. We suggested to you that this approach had serious shortcomings because it did not allow for adequate political discussion beforehand. The International Secretariat did not accept your proposals and there matters stood for the time being.
From 1956 onwards, it became clear to those of us who studied your press and publications that the SWP was very rapidly developing methods of work and thinking similar to those of Pablo. We hesitated to raise these matters with you at first since we hoped that they would be corrected in the course of time. However, this did not take place and the political differences between us became more serious.
Early in January 1961 we opened a written discussion with you. This discussion was entirely a one-sided affair. An examination of the records shows that not only did you not submit our documents over this period for the consideration of your membership, but you failed to reply to us on the important questions which we raised.
By February 1962 it became clear that to all intents and purposes the policies of the SWP were indistinguishable from those of Pablo and his group. A new complication was developing in the world movement and it appeared that the problems had now to be tackled in a different way. Previously it was our hope that this could be achieved by first of all a clarification within the forces of the International Committee and then an approach to the International Secretariat for discussions on the political documents of our movement and theirs. We now felt that it was necessary for the IC to go ahead to open a discussion with the International Secretariat through the medium of the Parity Committee.
When we made this proposal we were aware that a lot of problems had to be surmounted. Firstly, there was the existence of a revisionist current led by Pablo. Now there was yourselves who had positions which were similar, but who at the same time claimed that you disagreed with his methods. Then there were the differences between important sections of the International Secretariat. One of these, the Posadas group in Latin America, has already split.
Within the International Committee there were differences over, amongst other things, the estimation of Cuba. Inside your own organization there was a minority which claimed agreement with us on some questions and disagreement on others.
What was needed and what we still feel is needed most in the international movement is not a combination of blocs and alliances for limited factional purposes between the tendencies but a discussion which will reach into the ranks and encourage new leaders to come forward within the international movement, thus assisting those who have borne the brunt of this work since the end of the war. We need, in addition, a thoroughgoing examination of the experiences of the national sections on such questions as entry in the social democratic and Stalinist parties.
We saw the international discussion not as a medium for creating new divisions or for making it impossible to effect a serious unification, but as a medium whereby the problems of the world movement as a whole would be brought up for review in a way that would facilitate the emergence of a new leadership.
To rush into supporting a unification such as you are doing now clarifies nobody and leaves the issues very much as they were. It simply presents a front which has no real substance. True enough such a measure may temporarily attract fresh elements but it cannot train and develop them. The moment serious political differences emerge then the crisis will begin all over again. Our insistence upon an international discussion has always carried with it the necessity for joint work carried out seriously between the tendencies.
These proposals for the development of the international movement are, of course, only temporary. They can either lead to a definitive split between the tendencies or to a reunification. We hope that the latter course will become possible but it is too early yet to say.
That is why we have to be extremely patient with all the developments within the movement and avoid utilizing incidental difficulties and organizational grievances in a way that would prevent the movement from developing.
Since the formation of the Parity Committee there have been quite a number of issues which could have been used in this way. But thanks to the maturity of both sides this has not been the case until this recent unfortunate attack which you have launched upon comrade Wohlforth.
Let me cite a few of the problems that arose.
Firstly, there is the problem of language translation of international bulletins. This has not yet been resolved but it must be if the real discussion is to take place. Meanwhile, some of the tendencies have an advantage over others.
A delegation of Belgian comrades visited our National Committee and participated in a weekend of discussion last December. The discussion was sharp but that has in no way prevented further discussions being organized. We planned a return discussion in Belgium early in the new year. Two of our comrades travelled there, but unfortunately no one met them on arrival because our letter announcing the times never arrived. This meant that they had to spend the best part of a day doing nothing. Such an issue might have caused friction just as in the case of the international bulletin which you claim has not arrived, but if it had the matter would have been rightly condemned as stupid and petty.
We had a very serious crisis develop with the IS sympathising group in Britain which could not be explained in writing because of legal reasons. We were in great difficulties as to how to convey to the comrades what was involved, so we urgently requested that they arrange a sub-committee to discuss the matter. We stressed with them that unless something was done we might have to reconsider our attitude towards the Parity Committee. This caused certain misgivings amongst members of the IS which were quickly cleared up when they arrived in Britain and learned why we had made such an urgent request. Because of goodwill on both sides we were able to achieve a settlement of the dispute.
We were also aware that comrade Hansen was engaging in long discussions with the IS in Europe. He attended the meeting of the IEC towards the end of last year. We could have felt this was wrong because he did not beforehand seek the opinions of the IC about such a step, but we accepted his report in the spirit in which it was made and avoided friction on a matter which could not have helped anybody.
Your paper, The Militant, has been carrying a considerable amount of material reprinted from IS sources. We strongly object to the line of these articles and we could protest since you are still formally associated with us, but we haven’t done this.
When comrade Hansen’s bulletin ‘Cuba –the Acid Test’ arrived in Europe everyone as far as we know, apart from ourselves, received copies by airmail. A fortnight elapsed and we wrote to you for a copy. If we had been as touchy and factional as you are in your letters, we may have suggested that you deliberately avoided sending us a copy (see appended correspondence). But we did not do this.
You are now splitting from the IC and organizing a factional gathering of former IC supporters to have a fusion. We consider that you are making a serious mistake which we shall speak about in a few days, but we have always recognized that such alliances might well take place in the course of the struggle for clarification.
We propose to continue the discussion through the Parity Committee even though we feel that your split is completely unjustified. We feel that you should have waited until the International Committee holds its congress and then debated the political issues before the comrades with whom you have been associated for the past ten years.
Although the ultimate goal of our movement will suffer a reverse as a result of this action, we shall still continue to press for a genuine and thorough discussion within the international movement for the purpose that we have already outlined.
The bulletin no. 14 which you complain in your letter to comrade Wohlforth you did not receive was dispatched to you from this office on May 4. Of course, we sent comrade Wohlforth a copy. He is part of our international tendency. We have always sent him copies of such bulletins, just as when we were collaborating with you in the course of the struggle against Haston and the RCP leadership you always sent us such documents.
We do not object when you send the IS documents. Then why should you object when we send comrade Wohlforth documents? It may be that the bulletin was mislaid in the post, the same as we have experienced at other times. If that is the case then it could be easily remedied and another one is on the way.
You know very well that we did not handle the distribution of the French comrades’ ‘Report on Cuba’. They send such documents out themselves and we are sure that they sent one to you. Surely if this were lost and you had not received a copy when you received comrade Hansen’s document, the correct procedure would have been to write to them or to comrade Hansen for a copy.
We are not sympathetic to minorities who do not carry out seriously the work of the national sections, even if they support us politically. When comrade Fox came here last autumn, we assisted him in drafting the memorandum which was presented to you on November 13, 1962. We are reproducing this memorandum [see Marxist Bulletin No.2 Part I].
When this comrade returned to the US, the memorandum caused a split within their tendency. We have continuously tried to explain to all of the comrades in the Wohlforth and Robertson groups that they must abide by the terms of this memorandum. If other tendencies support us in other sections, we shall adopt the same attitude.
You knew already from reading that memorandum that we are in political agreement on most questions with comrade Wohlforth. Why do you raise a scandal now about these matters?
We are asking you to permit the international movement to develop this political discussion which it so badly needs. We are asking you to allow the SWP rank and file to participate in a pre-conference discussion that will be free from threats and factional declamations which in any way may cut across the political discussion. Your national conference cannot terminate this discussion, because it will continue to be organized from the Parity Committee.
We shall in no circumstances stand idly by and allow any kind of organizational measures to be taken against comrades Wohlforth, Art Fox or any other tendencies including Shane Mage or Robertson whose desire is to seriously participate in the international discussion.
It seems strange that when comrades of all tendencies are seriously striving to organize an international discussion which would lead to agreement on world problems you should now embark on a course in relation to comrade Wohlforth and others that will not only confuse the political questions but may well lead you to take organizational measures against them.
If you persist with your present course then we shall refer the matter to the Parity Committee so that a sub-committee can be set up to investigate your actions.
Socialist Labour League
copies to: All IC organizations, T. Wohlforth, J. Robertson, A. Fox, E. Germain, J. Hansen.