Marxist Bulletin No. 3 – Part II
Wohlforth Against the RT
Discipline and Truth—Reply to Wohlforth
by Mage, Robertson and White for the Minority Tendency
(reprinted from SWP Discussion Bulletin, Vol. 24, No. 30, July 1963)
It has come to our attention that comrade Wohlforth has submitted for bulletin publication an article, ‘Party and Class,’ which in part seeks to justify to the Majority the split by Philips and Wohlforth from the Minority Tendency last Fall.
Plainly Philips and Wohlforth feel hard pressed and organizationally threatened in the course of the current pre-Convention discussion period. Understandably, they want to make us the target of the Majority instead. Were they to employ arguments and mere invective in this pursuit, well and good–it would be their privilege to try to save themselves at the expense of former collaborators. But they have done something more. We also find that appended to the Wohlforth piece is an earlier, inner-Tendency document of his entitled ‘Toward the Working Class,’ dated October 2, 1962.
This earlier article purported to present as well as polemicize against views advanced by Jim Robertson and Larry Ireland. In seeking to score his points Wohlforth made statements denying the acceptance and practice of party discipline by Robertson and Ireland. The most conspicuous of these accusations are the following:
‘Rejecting party building and rejecting party discipline because the party is dominated by centrist elements leads logically to only one conclusion–splitting from the party. But these comrades do not openly advocate such a course.’
‘They urge our tendency to take young fresh elements, indoctrinate them with our views (in a careful manner of course) so as not to get ‘caught’) and then sneak them into the party and into the tendency.’
‘We reject any concept of playing games with party discipline, sneaking people into the party, functioning in an undisciplined way when the majority isn’t looking or not present (why else the concern to be active where they are not?).’
‘For us to consider opening up our tendency to non-party members is simply to invite disciplinary action from the majority. This is clearly an action in violation of the statutes of our party.’
‘I have no intention of participating in any meeting at which internal party matters are discussed in front of non-party members.’
Finally, Wohlforth makes a summation as follows:
‘The Robertson-Ireland orientation, taken as a whole, has an internal logic to it that the authors may only be partially aware of, or not aware. To state it openly and plainly theirs is a split perspective. A tendency which rejects party discipline (even if only partially) and party building, which seeks to sneak people into the party, which functions in part as an independent entity, which carries on an organizational faction war within the party, which, in violation of party statute, includes non-party members, which is so deeply alienated and isolated from the party ranks that it has in fact already split in content if not yet in form–such a tendency is going down a road which must inevitably lead to a split from the party.’
These statements and any other similar ones about the ‘indiscipline’ of Robertson, Ireland, and by implication of the entire Tendency they support, are–to say it plainly–lies, done in desperation then and repeated in desperation now.
Then, Wohlforth went from being our principal Minority spokesman to facing the threat of losing in an unfolding inner-Tendency discussion. This he couldn’t take. In a vain effort to dump his opponents and rally a majority of the Tendency around himself and his new political mentor, Philips, Wohlforth created the myth of our splitting from the party to cover his own very tangible, but unprincipled, break from the Tendency. To give credence to his accusations of split, he had to back it up by inventing horror stories, intended for distant consumption, about our anti-party activities. Very few Tendency comrades proved to be gullible; most learned how little trust to place in a snarling Wohlforth backed into a corner.
Now, the Philips-Wohlforth group faces a grim picture all around. It is not enough for them that they face severe difficulties of their own–and in connection with which we aim to be second to none in the party in fighting for the scrupulous protection of these comrades’ democratic party rights, whatever they have done to us notwithstanding.
The other vexing problem for the AP-TW group is that no matter how much they verbally banish us we don’t disappear up some academic smokestack in accordance with their incantations. Instead the Minority Tendency stabilized itself early after the split, did a creditable and responsible job in presenting several carefully worked out documents containing its views to the party for convention consideration, and by its seriousness and integrity, won as supporters comrades in the New York party local who stood between the two groupings. All this adds up to an intolerable situation for the Philips-Wohlforth group.
There is a rule in political life that controls the evolving relationship between larger and smaller competing and politically similar groupings. The only way the smaller can grow at the expense of the larger is if it has something decisive to offer politically and has a pro-unity stance toward the larger. Otherwise the size gap will remain or grow. But in the present case we are larger, our political line on questions tends to be better (or at least not downright peculiar–compare our view of Cuba as a deformed workers state with Wohlforth’s odd obsession that it’s an eroded, decomposed capitalist phantom state–and God only knows what Philips thinks!). Moreover we recognize that the split in the Left Minority was unprincipled and unjustified. We favor working to heal it.
In addition at least a few words should be said about working class composition and orientation to supplement the views expressed in our International resolution and American amendment. Wohlforth has written an incredible number of words about fusing, melting, merging, rooting, and blending with the innermost essential central kernel and core of the American workers; and Philips is projected as the great workers’ leader–a second Bill Haywood. But, comrades, for all this the working-class composition show no noticeable difference between the two groupings. (Not yet, that is; we mean what we say about developing a modest, but real root here or there in the Trade Union movement and under party guidance.)
So it is that we pose an uncontrollable and ever growing threat to the viability of the AP-TW grouping. In ‘Party and Class’ plus appendages they have now played their last card in a blatant effort to politically kill us, to cause us to be driven from the party as hated wreckers.
We are not at all interested in carrying old inner-Tendency disputes to the Majority or involving it in our arguments with Wohlforth. However, we find it necessary to introduce certain materials for examination by the party membership in order for it to verify the correctness of our accusation that Wohlforth lies in seeking to draw fire from himself and onto us.
The first piece of evidence appended is a lengthy circular letter of October 18, 1961, by Robertson in which he criticizes Wohlforth’s stewardship of the Minority since the previous Convention and proposes a new course [see Marxist Bulletin No. 2, p.1] Throughout, the letter is written in an impersonal, unfactional vein without mentioning whose line and whose errors are being dealt with. The viewpoint of this letter found a majority of supporters among New York Minority comrades and from that time, in disputed issues, Wohlforth was in a minority within the Tendency locally. All this took place six months before the incident came up which Wohlforth claims precipitated inner-Tendency factionalism. Perhaps the most central and controlling idea in the Robertson letter as a whole is the point made in the following paragraph:
‘At bottom, the reason I hold a perspective of struggle against split from the SWP is because the party is far from one in which all the revolutionary juices have been drained. Factionalism now is linked with and only has use in a split perspective. In the past few years the party has begun to react to opportunities by turning each one into a cycle of opportunism until the given opening is exhausted. Each time a selection takes place, some–notably the Weiss grouping–get worse and move toward liquidationism, but others react and are impelled in a leftward direction. This process has just begun, if one stops to view the SWP historically. There are two roads open. Either each wave of oppositionals will let themselves get washed out of the party, making it ever harder for succeeding left-wingers, or each opportunist venture into fresh fields will augment the revolutionary Marxists with additional forces.’
The second item is a hasty letter by Robertson written nearly a year later, October 7, 1962 [see Marxist Bulletin No.3-I, p.l]. This letter contains the writer’s first reactions upon seeing the Wohlforth ‘Toward the Working Class’. At that time and within the Tendency, the Robertson letter made a detailed, indignant and emphatic denial of accusations of breaking party discipline. Moreover it offered an analysis of Wohlforth’s purposes in making such charges.
The most obvious, even monumental, contradiction with reality in Wohlforth’s accusations is the simple, elementary fact that ‘freed’ from the ‘party loyal’ Philips and Wohlforth, the Minority did not move an inch toward splitting from the SWP! Even with no lack of encouragement to leave from the Majority, our perspective of remaining a part of the SWP is unimpaired. What then must one necessarily make of these accusations that were the foundation to the claim that we were ‘going down a road which must inevitably lead to a split from the party’?
There is one other little point which should not escape the comrades’ notice. The Wohlforth piece, ‘Party and Class,’ went into the bulletin with such timing that in the normal course of events we would not have seen it until after the July 3 deadline for bulletin material–too late for us to reply. Even now we are only able to make the most limited, essential and hasty answer. But hasty or not, there is one thing that had better be clear. We warn the Philips-Wohlforth group that with their latest substitution of slander in place of politics, our patience is now at an end. Should we be the butt of any further conduct along these lines, our reply will not be circumspect.
On March 25 of this year we had occasion to make a statement to the party leadership. We want to reaffirm and repeat here our declaration which concluded that earlier statement:
‘The Minority declares:
1- that it has and will strictly abide by the democratic-centralist practices, discipline, and responsibilities normal to the Trotskyist movement;
2- that it will not surrender the necessary and essential attributes and functions of an organized and internally democratic tendency;
3- that it recognizes the right of existence as an organized tendency is only justified by the most serious political differences such as all sides acknowledge exist within the party today.’
July 2, 1963