Marxist Bulletin No. 3 – Part II
Wohlforth Against the RT
“Each compromise with the revolutionary conscience prepares a greater compromise on the morrow, and therefore renders it more difficult to break away.”
The documents contained here are a continuation of our Marxist Bulletin No.3 on the Healy-Wohlforth group. Part I dealt with the 1962 split in the Revolutionary Tendency inside the Socialist Workers Party, leading to the formation by a minority in the RT, led by Tim Wohlforth, of the “Reorganized Minority Tendency”. Part II contains the documents of the 1963 period, culminating in the expulsion of the RT majority (Robertson-Mage-White grouping) from the SWP–an expulsion desired, facilitated and finally provoked by the outright lies proceeding from the pen of Tim Wohlforth. Part IV dealt with the attempts of the RT supporters to heal the unprincipled split in the tendency and wage a common fight against the Pabloist revisionism which had swept the Trotskyist movement, efforts which we continued despite the gross organizational misconduct of the Wohlforth grouping until, after 1966, following unity maneuvers and a second rupture manufactured by Healy-Wohlforth, the political degeneration of that grouping qualitatively worsened so as to preclude further attempts at reunification on our part.
Behind the 1962 Split
The ostensible basis for the original split in the RT had been the question of the SWP: revolutionary or centrist? [for the documents of this discussion inside the RT see Marxist Bulletin No.2]. Our tendency contended that the SWP majority had become centrist and adopted the revisionist political outlook of Pabloism. Wohlforth, however, maintained that the SWP remained a revolutionary party and would be “the main instrument for the realization of socialism in the U.S.” (“Call for the Reorganization of the Minority Tendency”, 13 November 1962). Backed up by Gerry Healy of the “International Committee for the Fourth International”, Wohlforth presented this characterization of the SWP as an ultimatum, demanding that all RT comrades sign his “Call…” thus repudiating their position, or be expelled from the tendency. The majority of the RT refused. The Wohlforth minority then “expelled” the majority and set up the “RMT”.
The real purpose of forcing a split on this issue was to guarantee Healy a subservient U.S. following which would defer to his authority, and that of his chosen instrument Wohlforth, no matter what their own views. Healy and Wohlforth hoped that most of the RT comrades could be intimidated by threat of expulsion from the tendency into signing their names to a position they disagreed with, thus compromising their ability to function as principled revolutionists in the future. Our comrades repeatedly stressed that they would have been willing to abide by tendency discipline on [the] question of the nature of the party as on other questions, maintaining a common front towards the SWP majority; what they would not do was declare this position inside the tendency by signing Wohlforth’s “Call….”
Personal motives were also involved in the split. Wohlforth, who had been the main public spokesman for the RT, had had his authority eroded by previous mistakes and high-handed organizational maneuvering and was about to lose the vote inside the tendency on the question of the nature of the Party. As a somewhat artificially selected “party leader” (Wohlforth was the only minority member of the SWP’s leading body, the Political Committee) he wanted to remain the leader of something, anything, and preferred to be the big fish in the small “RMT” pond rather than an oppositionist inside the RT.
As the ostensible reason for forcing a split on this issue, Healy-Wohlforth concocted a self-justifying lie: that the RT majority intended an immediate split from the SWP, rather than remaining in the Party to fight for a Trotskyist perspective. They sought thereby to stampede tendency supporters into aligning themselves against the Robertson grouping in the split that was being prepared inside the tendency [for Wohlforth’s accusations and our reply see Marxist Bulletin No.2]. That our supposed “split perspective” was an utter fabrication is shown not only by the refusal of most of the RT to be sucked in by Wohlforth’s lie but by the simple fact that 8 months later our tendency was still inside the SWP! Moreover, at the time of our expulsion from the Party, SWP majority leader Farrell Dobbs was forced to admit that he could not cite one single act of indiscipline on our part (because of our willful, prolonged and deliberate refusal to commit such acts!). (Dobbs later told the 1963 Plenum: “We don’t have to await formal proof of specific hostile acts, nor do we have to let concrete evidence pile up, one fact upon another, until the sheer weight of their attack on the party makes their patent disloyalty obvious even to the most blind.” (our emphasis )–December 1963 “Report on Internal Party Situation” [reprinted in full in Marxist Bulletin No.4 Part II]). Wohlforth and the SWP leadership were united in their desire to get rid of the RT, but our steady adherence to Party discipline denied them the means. This obviously distressing situation for the majority and for Wohlforth was neatly taken care of when Wohlforth deliberately provided the majority with prefabricated charges which provoked our expulsion.
For Wohlforth was trapped. On the one side was the RT; on the other, the SWP leadership, on a steamroller course toward reunification with Healy’s enemies, the Pabloists of the International Secretariat. Healy’s desperate aim was to keep the SWP leadership on his side in the international battle, and his minions of the Wohlforth group were assigned the thankless task of maintaining a bloc–against the right-wing oppositions (Weiss, Swabeck) and the left-wing (us)–with the Dobbs leadership, which despised them. As we stated regarding Wohlforth’s role:
“The essential barrier to reunification [of the RT] or collaborative activity is that for our part we aim to create an alternative, politically and organizationally, to the existing Majority leadership. But you have defined yourselves, spoken and acted, as closer to the party Majority than to us.” (18 May 1963)
The final, logical expression of Wohlforth’s conciliationist policy was to offer up the RT for expulsion by the Dobbs regime, to both hopefully deflect the SWP majority from action against the “RMT” and get rid of a tendency which embarrassed Wohlforth by its resolute struggle against Pabloist revisionism.
The final proof of our accusation was yet to come. A month later, Wohlforth submitted a document, “Party and Class” [reprinted below], to the SWP pre-Convention discussion. In itself, this document contains little of importance. It heaps invective and innuendo upon the “Robertson group”, implies he will fight the RT better than Dobbs can (“The majority is, of course, hindered in answering these comrades politically precisely because it also resists a turn of the party toward the class.”), seeks unsuccessfully with pompous and meaningless abstractions to justify his unprincipled bloc with the state-capitalist Philips tendency, and displays his party patriotism. He shamefully bleats:
“We do not consider the party a bureaucratic jungle, neither are we interested in organizing battles against the leadership. We have sought to the best of our ability to assiduously avoid such battles and have disassociated ourselves from those interested in such a course.”
Wohlforth’s main contribution to the pre-Convention discussion was equally unimportant: a massive 43-page document, “Decline of American Imperialism and the Tasks of the SWP” [SWP Discussion Bulletin Vol. 24, No.10] which in deference to the “conquest of the masses” orientation of the Philips group, called for the Party to charge simultaneously into all sides of the mass movement. The document was easily subjected to ridicule by the SWP leadership for its Don Quixote perspective [see “The Whirling Dervish School of Politics”, SWP Discussion Bulletin Vol. 24, No. 18]. By way of contrast, our tendency submitted a one-page amendment calling for a class orientation to the Black movement, a modest but real perspective of colonizing into the South and the recreation of nuclei within key sections of the industrial working class [see below].)
The real purpose of “Party and Class”, however, was its appendices [reprinted in full in Marxist Bulletin No.2]. Supposedly to “clarify” the stand of the “RMT” for the Majority, appended were two items from the 1962 intra-tendency discussion in which Wohlforth had mendaciously charged the Robertson wing with: “rejecting party building and party discipline”, “opening up the tendency to non-party members”, “sneaking people into the party” and having a “split perspective”–all entirely false and originally intended to prepare the split inside the RT, as already shown. Thus Wohlforth, having earlier carried through the unprincipled split inside the tendency, had no inner resistance to blocking with the Pabloist SWP leadership to have his former political collaborators–with whom he supposedly shared an anti-Pabloist perspective–expelled from the Party!
Ironically enough, Wohlforth provided the Party majority with false, manufactured allegations of our supposed indiscipline with the full knowledge that the discussion within the RT on the nature of the SWP contained real information on the indiscipline of his own tendency–his collaboration with Healy. But we refused to respond in kind by giving the SWP leadership this club to use against Wohlforth) even after Healy brazenly blew the whistle on him himself, stating in a letter to Dobbs [reprinted below]: “Of course, we sent comrade Wohlforth a copy. He is part of our international tendency.” (When finally, after our expulsion from the Party, we planned to make public all the material documenting our origins and history, we even informed Wohlforth in advance. But the Dobbs regime found Wohlforth a useful whipping boy and never took organizational action against him on the basis of his intrigues with Healy.) Wohlforth was confident that he could fink on us without fear of reprisal in kind because he knew our comrades would not sacrifice principle for organizational advantage or personal vendetta.
Wohlforth’s vicious betrayal availed him very little, however. Our tendency was suspended, then expelled, in the months after the 1963 Convention in which the SWP had voted to reunify with the Pabloists internationally (forming what is now the United Secretariat). This reunification meant the frustration of Healy’s aims toward the SWP leadership and left the Wohlforth grouping hopelessly compromised and its presence inside the Party superfluous. Six months after our expulsion, Wohlforth arranged for his own group’s expulsion by flagrantly violating an established SWP discussion procedure (typically, while telling his own followers that the Party would not take disciplinary action against them so that they would be faced with Wohlforth’s fait accompli). But his wretched history of betrayal there was not without effect, for it was one more step into the mire of opportunism and slander which has continued to mark his political conduct ever since.
—Marxist Bulletin staff, August 1970