Marxist Bulletin No. 3 – Part IV
Wohlforth Against the RT
Spartacist-ACFI Unity Negotiations
Fourth Session 23 July 1965
- Spartacist: Robertson, Stoute, Nelson (alt); (Harper, Secretary).
- ACFI: Wohlforth, Mazelis, Michael (alt).
Meeting convened at 8:15 p.m.
- 1.Election Statement
- 2. IC World Resolution
- 3. Future Discussions
1. Election statement:
(a) The corrected revision of the second draft was agreed upon; will be published in Spartacist and Bulletin.
(b) On the popular leaflet, ACFI will bring draft in to next meeting.
2. IC Statement:
Wohlforth: The 1961 IC document, “World Prospect for Socialism”, was essentially an analysis of the international situation, capitalist development in the post-war period, the Stalinist countries, and the colonial revolution. “Rebuilding the Fourth International” is an evaluation of the International, making an important and definitive assessment of Pabloism, and, flowing from that, the need to rebuild the FI through the International Committee. The concluding section is the most important. The Fourth International founded by Leon Trotsky no longer exists. The task is to rebuild it, not to set up a new international. Marks a turning point in the assessment of reality that is becoming increasingly clear, the diverging course of the two international groupings since the last document, and the struggle to rebuild the International, regrouping forces around the IC, and the theory and practice of building national sections.
Nelson: With a few minor exceptions the document looks very good to us, and we find no major points of difference. We are pleased to note it develops several themes we had taken up in our 1963 international resolution, “Toward the Rebirth of the Fourth International”; the development of the IC document on the basis of the intersecting crises of Stalinism and capitalism in the post-war period is good. In our own document we went into this, and used it as a basis to examine the crises that had beset the Trotskyist movement. If ACFI can agree with this IC document, it marks significant progress in our unity negotiations, since the document incorporates the perspective that Spartacist held in our earlier documents on the necessity in each country to build strong national parties as opposed to a section in your 1963 international resolution, “The Rebuilding of the Fourth International”:
“… our task now is not the conquest of state power but the conquest of the masses in preparation for the conquest of state power. Everywhere and in all countries our cadres must break away from the routine habits of propaganda group existence and reach out, no matter how meagre our forces may be, to establish contact with the masses themselves on whatever political level this can be done. This must be the main orientation of the whole international movement and the major task of each national section. Those sections which do not attempt such work will quickly find themselves bypassed by developments during the period of revolutionary upsurge.”
At that time we in our international resolution, “Toward Rebirth of the Fourth International”, section 18, said:
“The task of the international revolutionary Marxist movement today is to reestablish its own real existence. To speak of the ‘conquest of the masses’ as a general guideline internationally is a qualitative overstatement. The tasks before most Trotskyist sections and groups today flow from the need for political clarification in the struggle against revisionism, in the context of a level of work of a generally propagandistic and preparatory nature. An indispensable part of our preparation is the development and strengthening of roots within the broader working-class movement without which the Trotskyists would be condemned to sterile isolation or to political degeneration in the periods of rising class struggle and in either case unable to go forward in our historic task of leading the working class to power. Above all, what can and must be done is the building of a world party firmly based on strong national sections, the assembling of a cadre of working-class militants won and tested in the process of the class struggle and on the firm basis of the revolutionary perspective of the Fourth International, the program to realize workers’ democracy–culminating in workers’ power.”
Insomuch as the new IC document represents a change in your own perspectives in terms of what you saw two years ago, I think it is a good thing, one more obstacle removed on the road to unity. The document coincides more with our own analysis of the degeneration of the world movement and in particular the American movement, where it puts in its proper perspective the objective conditions which were a large contributing factor in the degeneration of the SWP. The main error of the existing parties after Trotsky’s death is that they tried to preserve Trotskyism as they knew it rather than go ahead. You had placed much more stress on the subjective factor. The IC document does a good job of pin-pointing the weakness in Pabloism, the abandonment of the transitional program and their dropping any reference to dialectical materialism as a method. While you are often abstract, they are nicely concrete. The most serious omission in the document is that there is no section that developed the application of the Permanent Revolution to the colonial revolution. Implied but not explicit. Our ‘63 document “Toward Rebirth…”, has a section that nicely develops what is missing (Paragraph 12):
“The theory of the Permanent Revolution, which is basic to our movement, declares that in the modern world the bourgeois-democratic revolution cannot be completed except through the victory and extension of the proletarian revolution–the consummation of workers’ democracy. The experience of all the colonial countries has vindicated this theory and laid bare the manifest inner contradictions which continually unsettle the present state of the colonial revolution against imperialism. Precisely in those states where the bourgeois aims of national independence and land reform have been most fully achieved, the democratic political rights of the workers and peasants have not been realized, whatever the social gains. This is particularly true of those countries where the colonial revolution led to the establishment of deformed workers states: China, North Vietnam … and Cuba. The balance, to date, has been a thwarted success, either essentially empty, as in the neo-colonies of the African model, or profoundly deformed and limited, as in the Chinese example. This present outcome is a consequence of the predominance of specific class forces within the colonial upheavals, and of the class related forms employed in the struggles. These forms imposed upon the struggle have been, for all their variety, exclusively ‘from above’, i.e., parliamentary ranging through the bureaucratic-military. And the class forces involved have been, of course, bourgeois or petit-bourgeois. A class counterposition is developed out of the complex of antagonisms resulting from failure to fulfill the bourgeois-democratic revolution. The petit-bourgeois leaderships with their bureaucratic forms and empiricist methods are ranged against participation by the workers as a class in the struggle. The involvement of the working class is necessarily centered on winning workers democracy and requires the leadership of the revolutionary proletarian vanguard with its programmatic consciousness of historic mission. As the working class gains ascendancy in the struggle and takes in tow the more oppressed strata of the petit-bourgeoisie, the Permanent Revolution will be driven forward.”
We would like to submit this section as an amendment to the IC resolution. To repeat my original statement, the IC document is one we support, a good document.
Mazelis: It is very hard to know what to make of most of the things Nelson had to offer. One of the clearest points he made was at the end, that is, that it would appear that he would seek to amend or add to the resolution where it doesn’t state your view, or enough of a developed view of the colonial revolution. I agree that the resolution as it stands, being more of a summing up of developments in the world movement, and not an international resolution, has these omissions. It is important that this be dealt with, be discussed, but does not have to be specifically in terms of this document. Of the other points you raised–really, I don’t know what to think. There is an element of absurdity. I cannot agree with the way you approach the whole discussion, a bookkeeping kind of approach, a cross-referencing of documents–I think it is absurd, patronizing and petty, and politically it’s fantastic. There are no grounds for the kind of conclusions you draw. I don’t think the discussion tonight should be primarily on these kinds of questions. If you don’t agree with the formulations of our ’63 resolution, it is you who were in contradiction to the IC. You are twisting things around to show that in ’63 you were right and we were wrong and that now the IC agrees with you. In ’63 we had noted that today is a period of the conquest of the masses. I don’t disagree with what you read from your ’63 resolution, except for the beginning of it. The example of the British movement should prove that reaching out to the masses is exactly what is necessary. On the degeneration of the SWP–you are more absurd, you simply don’t make sense. There is no disagreement between us and the British and the French on the SWP. As far as our assessment of Cannonism, there is no disagreement. Summing up, to put it mildly it struck me funny, it is silly, the stress that you put on (1) discussion of the IC document simply in terms of past differences; (2) in discussing these differences, twisting things to try to show that you have won the IC over to your views.
Robertson: To say that this document is in agreement with our former positions and in disagreement with yours is not absurd. As far as I know the British wrote this without any thought in their heads about the past documents of either of our groups. While we are quite in agreement with the IC document, we feel it less than World Prospect for Socialism, and in its own terms. I found lack of guidelines here for the actual building of sections of the FI. The document ended at its half-way point. I agree with Wohlforth that the old FI has been killed. Some generalization on the role of Pabloism in the colonial world is essential because the Pabloites have made the “Third World” the center of their perspective. Two other criticisms: ambiguity near the end of section on Algeria. The final paragraph on Cuba begs the critical question. Algeria and Cuba were treated in different language, unlike the IC statement in the Newsletter which spoke of Algeria and Cuba in bracketed language. This document draws the line of the IC on Cuba between our two positions. They say Cuba is not a healthy workers’ state. But what is it? They should come forward and say. On Stalinism, it is a careless formulation to use the word “exploitation”, suggests a New Class theory and capitalist extraction.
Wohlforth: When Robertson says it is a question of whether or not the IC document agrees with the positions of Spartacist as against those of ACFI, the IC document clearly states essentially what we were trying to say in ’63 on the question of the role of the working class where it talks about on p. 12:
“The intervention in the class struggle is not separate from the theoretical discussion upon which we have insisted. There is no development of Marxist theory except insofar as revolutionary parties fight in practice to penetrate living reality with that theory, enriching it in the course of the struggle, to negate the revisionism which has destroyed the International originally founded by Trotsky. It is not enough to make formal theoretical corrections on the one hand and to carry out intensive activity in the class struggle on the other. Such a procedure might give the appearance of limited success, but only when Marxists see themselves and their consciousness as part of the 1iving class struggle, developing with it and transforming its quantitative ebbs and flows into an enriched theory from which to develop the programme of the International, is the unity of theory and practice actually recognized. Only in this way will the cadres of the sections of the International be trained. Their internationalism will be worthy of the struggles of the international working class, because it develops as a living part, the conscious and most vital component, of these struggles.”
What they are saying here is that we said in ’63, regardless of the size of your movement you don’t have a two or three stage development: our tasks today are propagandistic, tomorrow the mass movement, etc. Rather, the process of solidification takes place along with the process of intervention in the mass movement. Why is this old dispute being raised, since in concrete work the Spartacist comrades are simply carrying out this perspective? That is, despite your small size, you are seeking to become involved in the mass movement. Essentially Spartacist today agrees with what we said in ’63–a bookkeeping judgment would be that Spartacist has been won over to our position. The net effect from all this is to learn once again it is not very worthwhile to go over old documents. No difference exists between us on this today either because you have been won to our position or we didn’t disagree then, that there was a difference in formulation and emphasis. Doesn’t help us to go over the old dispute. A movement cannot be built isolated from the masses. Objective conditions change the way you intervene but not the essential objective: conquest of the masses. The comrades of the Spartacist group would be making a mistake if they felt the IC or the SLL does not mean what they say on p.9, 2nd paragraph: (about the empiricism of Canon and of the American movement). The ideas in our historical project come from the British and were inspired by a trip to England in Feb ’64 and there is fundamental agreement between ourselves and them on it. They are in fundamenta1 agreement with our history project. Omission of the Permanent Revolution? There was a really clear difference between the ’63 international resolutions of our two groups, and this was on the revolutionary perspectives of the petty-bourgeoisie, leading to Spartacist’s position on the Cuban revolution. The IC document in no sense has the assessment you do of the role of the petty bourgeoisie in the colonial revolution. We have this in common with the British. They do not have your position on Cuba, so the amendment you suggest is one with another theoretical line. It would be better to submit your material on the general theory leading to your position that the petty-bourgeoisie is capable of creating deformed workers states than to introduce it through this amendment. “Exploitation” is used in the sense that the deformed workers states reflect capitalist exploitation; to an extent they are ambiguous transitional formations with capitalist norms of distribution.
Nelson: To reply to Wohlforth on why we raise old disputes, the purpose of these sessions is to examine and discuss the theoretical and political differences that may or may not exist between us. Part of this discussion is the matter of our agreement with the international resolution and our relationship with the IC. I disagree that we should approach the document separately and objectively as you suggest. We must examine our common histories on points that are developed in the IC document. There were some differences between us that involved differences of appraisal. You said we differed on the role of the petty-bourgeoisie. However, both our documents made explicit that the petty bourgeoisie was, as a social stratum, incapable of successfully carrying through a workers revolution. In every case, they have fallen short. You have not yet come to a dialectical understanding of the nature of Stalinism as a political system, but have continued to maintain the model that existed in the ’30’s and the theoretical conclusions stemming from that model. The USSR played a counter-revolutionary role. A whole series of events had not yet taken place which relate to an analysis of the kind of states issuing from revolutions with petit-bourgeois leaderships. We are examining your positions, and you are supposedly determining what our positions are (but you had no difficulty in determining our positions at the time of the last convention). We saw our role as propagandistic and you saw yours as conquest of the masses. We had different positions, and we had separate documents–that is how serious our differences were. This can’t be glossed over. Differences must be examined to determine past mistakes and get them out of the way. We have discussed other old differences and come to some conclusions which allowed us to go forward toward unity. The IC document’s treatment of Cuba is not that ambiguous. On p.8, paragraph 1, the document says “The building of an independent workers’ party and the establishment of workers’ councils in Cuba as part of a proletarian internationalist orientation, with the extension of the revolution to Latin America and a revolutionary alliance with the workers of the USA and the rest of the world …” It seems to me that this assumes a social revolution has taken place with a bureaucratic leadership.
Mazelis: I agree with Wohlforth that the term “exploitation” should be looked at differently than, for example, a reference to “Soviet imperialism” would–I don’t think there is any different evaluation on or softness toward state capitalism. Robertson is right when he says the document we are discussing wasn’t written with an eye to the past documents of either of our groups. However, these points are all that our discussion should be. Nelson’s contribution was made within a scholastic and subjective framework. Old differences can and should be discussed within a proper context, and I don’t feel he has done this. He has stressed these old differences, and in an extremely scholastic way. On PL we admitted our mistakes. We aren’t afraid to admit mistakes. We must discuss differences as they evolve, bring them to the present, if the differences are real and if they find expression in our work. We have to see if the overriding method is the same–not say “this document says what we said then … we were right and you were wrong”. The process we want with Spartacist that we think is being achieved at some level is to bring differences up to date, not see them simply in the past. On the ’63 documents, I tend to think there was a real difference there, not just in formulation. We feel Spartacist has made a lot of healthy steps forward since then toward the mass movement. I don’t think there are no mistakes being made now by Spartacist. This kind of assessment of past differences is how we should approach things, and not as Nelson has.
Robertson: Especially in light of tonight’s discussion, my most serious criticism must be taken up. I feel compelled to call upon the ACFI to recognize that unity between us is possible and desirable, otherwise we will lose momentum toward unity, especially if things continue like your sharp attack on us in your summary at the Algeria meeting, calling us “Shachtmanites” etc. We don’t make our criticisms of you in this manner. We find more agreement with this document than we do with you, despite the fact that one of the conditions of your existence is that you not have any differences with the British. Two years ago when you had a bloc with Philips your American document had a semi-syndicalist approach. We are a propagandistic group, and our mass work is related to and subordinate to this. We recognize the need to do mass work and that is why we kept trying to get into CORE, etc., while we were still in the SWP. You should stick more closely to the British–then you will share their strengths as well as their weaknesses, like the SWP when it leaned on Trotsky. For our part, we continue to find even fuller political grounds for unity, and in addition we find greater organizational need for us to unify. We need to fuse with you even though you are only 1/5 to 1/10 of our size.
Wohlforth: Or 1/3.
Robertson: We are continuing to grow. Since our last meeting with you we have picked up organizing committees in the deep south and in Connecticut. We have picked up a black cadre in Chicago–not just one or two Negro comrades but a black cadre from the anti-Willis movement–and elsewhere a new supporter in the SWP. We need your abilities. You think you are 1/3 our size? Frankly, we have been doing our best to check your claimed membership, and we find your claims mostly bluff. To ascertain the relationship of forces at the time of unity we will propose to get signed statements of membership from each comrade and then we will see where we stand. What do you mean by membership anyway? You speak of an Iskra program. Do you have democratic centralism? In terms of standing disagreements with you and/or the IC we see a recession of them. We would like to see some movement forward in these discussions. We can go on endlessly finding documents to discuss–there are lots of things we could talk about. But the main point isn’t just this but to find out if unity is possible and desirable. If we don’t make progress in this direction there will be more incidents like the Algeria discussion, and momentum toward unity will die.
Wohlforth: I have been concerned about the animosities between our two groups. We feel extremely upset by the movement of the Spartacist comrades to take political differences we have not had time to discuss and bring them to the public and insist that the discussion center around our differences on Cuba at a time when we had made no agreement on public political debate. This will set back progress toward unification. We have been denied our request for rank and file discussion, and the things we want to discuss have been pushed before the public. The tone of my summary was perhaps a subjective response to your action. I propose that we make a decision to regulate discussion between our two groups–to postpone public debate till we have privately discussed disagreements among ourselves. I find it hard to declare that there is a political basis for unity when (1) a tremendous amount of differences exist and (2) your action which was not an action of good will. I have a strong feeling that we are very close to achieving at least one notable objective, no matter how things evolve in the future, of removing artificial differences. What were our differences on the American Question in 1963–I would like to see this clarified. We had assumed that on this question our differences had been removed. In ’63 there were formulations on both sides that both sides would like to reformulate. We made too many concessions to some of Philips’ formulations. But you tried to amend the majority document rather than ours, though you are not now claiming the SWP’s position of ’63, but what I wrote you should do. I propose we try to get this question cleared up. Are the two groups separated by a different assessment of the American movement and our tasks today? We say “No, we are not separated, because what is crucial is what we have become today”–this should be the context of discussion. Discussion on how many members each of us has is beside the point–absolutely beside the point. It would be like the British asking you how many members you have compared to them.
Robertson: That is exactly what we want. We want as many votes as we are entitled to on the basis of our membership.
Wohlforth: That is not what you should want, but to ascertain whether or not you belong in the International. Politics, not numbers, comes first. I am sure the IC is not going to query you, and are not interested. They will be concerned only with your potential to build a movement in this country, which is related to your theoretical development. In these discussions we have to show an ability to admit our mistakes. The learning process is different from going back and saying “we were right then”. We were half Shachtmanites in 1961, and at least I think that you have developed since then. It is not whether you were right and we were wrong, but whether you have learned something.
Stoute: About mistakes, it is not that we are afraid to admit making mistakes–we always assess our past positions–but what we wrote then still looks good to us today, and we are still carrying out the same line. If you think we have made a mistake, point it out to us and we will evaluate it. You mentioned that we should make a decision about public political debate. On Algeria and Cuba, this is not a new question but a question we have both been discussing in the past years in our publications; not something new but already public. We don’t raise question in a polemical manner like you did in your summary. In your summary you didn’t attack our position but destroyed a position we never held. You found it necessary to call us “Shachtmanites”. We don’t use the same tone toward you as we would use towards a Shachtmanite or Stalinist. You seem to feel it necessary to make it very clear that there is not one little bit of difference between the British and you.
Nelson: “If you don’t learn from history, you are doomed to repeat it.” This is the basis for our raising “old” questions (they aren’t old). Are there differences between our groups on the American Question? I say no essential differences. Wohlforth is being demagogic in raising the straw man on relative size and what the attitude of the IC would be. Our discussions have the purpose of political clarification. Discussion should be in terms of where we have come from, how have we gotten here. You said there are formulations in our ’63 documents we should both forget. No indeed! The truth is that on almost every major point and tactic in dispute between us over the last years, you have been in error mostly by your own admission: on the youth question, nature of the SWP (which resulted in our split), on PL, on your assessment of the level of struggle and tasks of the revolutionary party. In ’63 you supported the party majority on Black Nationalism and submitted only an action amendment. On the American Question your position was that now was the time for the conquest of the masses. We have to agree on what the mistakes were in order to come to a position now. We know our common history. We see a basis for a principled unity to be consummated now, no obstacles to unity now, and all our discussion is raised in this context. The question of numbers, this is important so that the minority in a party or national section will have proportional representation. On public debate–first you did not notify us of your intention, could have been eliminated if we had had a joint forum. Mazelis said to come down and speak from the floor. Algeria and Cuba are tied up together. We were compelled to reply to your position on Cuba, especially as sections of the radical public know we are engaged in unity discussions.
Mazelis: Not that we are opposed to discussion of these questions. Robertson’s arguments were demolished by Wohlforth at the meeting, but we paid the rent and the purpose of the meeting was not to discuss our differences with you. Robertson should have gone into the questions at much less length. We were upset because the whole character of the meeting was changed. This is in line with your military confrontation policy. On our histories over the past few years–there is not really much agreement–we are not speaking the same language. I wonder if you really understand and mean what you say when you say “Over the past 5 years you have been wrong on every major question”. Our admission of error over PL is in no way an admission that you were right. We have shown we know how to make an assessment of PL. Since then, it is you that have been dead wrong and not us. We don’t agree with you. We think you were dead wrong. We are proud of our ’63 document, and are sorry you don’t support it. When we admit some errors and see a forward development on our part, Robertson says “empirical zig-zags”. We feel we have gained. We gained from our bloc with Philips. We are not ashamed. We feel you have not developed in the same way. We are interested in discussion with you, in unity with you, in working together, precisely because you have developed, whether you realize it or not. You have developed against your own will.
Robertson: We did not artificially raise the issue of Cuba. You can ‘t discuss Algeria theoretically without bringing in Cuba, Egypt, etc. You invited our people to come down and we saw this as opening up discussion with our members. If there is going to be an opening up of discussion, it will not be a one-sided discussion. Yes, you demolished “our” position on the “petty-bourgeois state”–a position we don’t hold. It won’t work, it’s not smart to use these tactics, it’s really not. On the ’63 American Question documents, we submitted an excellent amendment to the majority document. With our amendment it gave thrust to the SWP position, to set down roots in mass struggle. The declared position of the SWP was not their actual one. Our amendment looks good today. Your document turned the SWP document inside out. We have been following out our position, and in our sections have a balance between propaganda and activity. Hindsight is a tool we have, a powerful test of method. We don’t think you have “Marxist method”. We see a difference between your protestations and your actions. You do what you want, and tack on justifications. Of course politics comes first, but number is important which is why Wohlforth snapped “l/3” when we said “1/5 to 1/10”. We said there never was a basis for a split. Healy’s calculations were predicated on our demolition. The only reason you must deal with us today is because of our numbers. We have always been prepared to be dealt with on the basis of democratic centralism. Unity is a necessity given the extent of our agreement. We gather from reports from Europe that there has been a mistaken reversal of the relationship of forces between us in this country. This will be and is being set straight. Our mistakes–they’re really not very many. Speaking personally, I reacted insufficiently in the summer or ’61 in letting you try to oppose the party over the youth (letter to Ed), in that I tried to control you rather than fight you. In IDORP I let the phrase “the SWP is our party” slip through ill-defined–I was sloppy and had to pay for it. In the fall of ’62 I failed to recognize early enough that you would bloc with the Majority to get us thrown out. These were serious errors. They might have led to our destruction. I would say in general, however, that we have done very well. Remarkably so, and the documents as we go over them look pretty good. It is not bragging to say that our purpose has been straight as an arrow. I repeat–is ACFI a democratic centralist organization?
Wohlforth: At the Algeria meeting, there is a difference between what we did and what the Spartacist comrades did. We did not address ourselves publicly to our theory. We were ambiguous on purpose theoretically on Cuba. The essential lessons of Algeria could be achieved largely within that framework. In our whole history we have never had a public polemic with Spartacist. However, you chose to have a public polemic. In our opinion your theory leads to bureaucratic collectivism. We don’t feel we should say this in the Bulletin. On past differences, where we were supposed to have been wrong on everything and you were supposed to be right on everything except for your errors in not being tough enough toward us, I think it is primarily a difference of method. I do not see how at one and the same time we have erred, followed a zig-zag empiricist course, have nothing approaching Marxist method, and then in the same breath you think a principled basis for unity exists. If we felt you didn’t approach Marxist method, we would be forced to come to the conclusion that there isn’t a basis for unity. We feel you have developed and have a different position than you used to whether you recognize it or not. You may have an incorrect method abstractly and in your Cuba approach, but this doesn’t mean in your general work you don’t have anything approaching a Marxist method–if you didn’t your work would be different. Robertson says his purpose has been straight as an arrow. Marxism doesn’t move like an arrow. We feel our assessment of the SWP was correct and because of that assessment we now have a relationship with the most viable section of the SWP. We have always refused to let the SWP alienate us from the rank and file of the SWP. The position we took at that time was correct. You haven’t done what we did as regards PL–a serious tactical error, and a big one. On the American Question, what we proposed the party should do flowed from our analysis of the American and world situations. The SWP did not share that analysis, did not have a method of proceeding from the conjunctural analysis to concrete tasks. Our position on the Negro question stemmed from that analysis. You made concrete amendments to a document which didn’t have a correct analysis. I still wonder whether we share the same conjunctural analysis. You had Hansen’s theory at the last meeting. Marcus seems to agree with our conjunctural analysis, being a theoretical person. On democratic centralist functioning, we are a democratic centralist organization. However, I have a very deep suspicion that we are not in agreement with you as to what democratic centralism is. Democratic centralism is an organizational question that flows from the theoretical tasks, the nature of the period, and the nature of our movement. We must have democratic centralism, but not always the same organization at all times. We have no temptation to set ourselves up as a party at this time.
Stoute: What does your deep suspicion on what we consider democratic-centralism flow from?
Wohlforth: From your “military formations” policy, Spartacist buttons, etc.
Nelson: On the question of our theoretical development, and the expression “our purpose has been straight as an arrow” as being un-Marxist: theory is verified and tested by history. We have an analysis, and positions based on our theory, they are on paper, and over 3-4 years we have had an opportunity to test them. Our theoretical development has been consistent–not slamming around from excess to excess, on the Cuban state, Black Nationalism and the SWP. If you think in fact that you were correct, when did the party become something other than revolutionary? At the ’63 Convention you felt it was still revolutionary, yet you were ready to leave in the fall of ’63. When was the process of the party’s degeneration consolidated? There seems to be a rather curious quality about your statements concerning the future of our group –you seem to assume a separation between our groups for a long time to come. We are prepared to move this night to consummate unity. There has always been a programmatic basis for unity. The existence of two separate and identical forces is detrimental to the development in this country of a revolutionary movement. Politics demand that we unite. For you to maintain a separate course and to seek to maintain a separate course is to play a role detrimental in this country to the building of a force capable of building a revolutionary party.
Wohlforth: Our assessment of the development of the discussion over the last 2 weeks is that unification now would be a proposal to have an internalized war to the death, would not be a serious unification. I believe your assessment of our role would motivate you to do this, you will feel it necessary to conduct a struggle against us within a common organization. This will not be unification but destruction. This is why we are not proposing that we unify tonight and why we propose an entirely different course than we have been following thus far. What has been prepared over the last couple of weeks is a deepening antagonism between the two groups. We need more common action. Only when we have comradely relations between the two groups can we have unity. You aren’t really prepared to say we can have unity tonight; you may mean we can have unification in three months. We need more discussion here and internationally. What you mean by “unity” is really “let’s internalize the fight”. What we mean by unity is an end to the struggle.
Robertson: We will certainly have to discuss democratic centralism. We will bring in documents to the next meeting. This is appropriate since the majority of any new organization that would be formed will come from the Spartacist side. But unity presupposes a willingness to unite. It will take months and years of common struggle against common enemies in a common organization to erase the old line between us, these are the hard facts. Of course unity couldn’t be completed tonight but would take several months, but you don’t even yet agree that there is a political basis for it–this is the obstacle to progress. You won’t agree that unity is politically feasible. This is what we want to talk about. We are ready to unify now. Why can we unite with you despite your zig-zags, etc.?–Because you have an umbilical cord to the SLL and they are stable. That will keep correcting you when you get off course, but the trouble is, you generally tend to overcorrect. Your present terrible mistake is refusing to unite with us. You seem to believe that if we don’t unite we can have a beautiful coexistence. That is polyvanguardism. Such a theory is deleterious to the working class. As regards PL, you made a serious error last fall in sending in Danny and Fred as open members of ACFI. We were trying to develop indigenous pro-Spartacists but you went in openly and this brought about a hardening up against Trotskyists organizationally. At the time we didn’t have suitable opportunity for our policy. As late as two weeks ago, Epton thought the Bulletin and Spartacist were publications of the same group. It is a serious and elementary mistake to think we want to start with politics and tactics rather than theory. We mean program. We aren’t talking the same language. Cannon always talked program. You are wrongly separating Cannon and Trotsky on this matter.
Wohlforth: The antagonisms and political assessments which have been brought out tonight have political and theoretical roots impelling factionism, external or internal. They express political differences that need to be clarified, not removed entirely. If we simply make a statement there is no political bar to unity, there may be unity but it will be a unified war. You comrades recognize this. If we agreed to unity you would write to your comrades saying “Wohlforth is prepared to unify, prepare for the internal war”. No sane political person would make the assessment you have made of us tonight and still say a basis for unity exists. Because of all this we have to clarify things more. We haven’t clarified our differences on the American Question. You are saying that just discussing our differences is impeding unity. You aren’t serious political people if you say this, it’s a game.
Nelson: Wohlforth has turned the basis for our friction on its head. Frustration will continue to exist and there will be in fact a war to the death as long as our two groups are competing organizationally and internationally in the same arenas. This is the source of friction. As a unified organization we will be able to control these things, not have an internal war to the death. In the 3rd and 4th Internationals, when there was more than one organization in the same country, one or the other had to be destroyed. Only one party will make the revolution in this country. Politics and program, not abstract questions, are decisive. There is no such thing as “method” abstracted from the actual building of a movement.
Stoute: If you don’t think there is a basis for unity, why have you come to these meetings in the first place. The kind of differences you suggest might be a bar to unity were all within the framework of a common program. This sort of difference will come up even if we were not two separate organization and should be expected within a national organization, even if no differences existed in the first place. The real reason you have not agreed to unite is something other than what we have been discussing.
Mazelis: To say we are appended to the British is a moronic kind of statement and I can’t believe Robertson believes that. It is completely cynical and insulting to us to say we maintain our existence by having no differences with the British. This amounts to calling us politically unprincipled, and I don’t think we have to prove that this is wrong, that as a matter of fact we do have some honest but quite compatible differences with the British. The basic problem is not one of having obviously compatible differences, but Nelson says we have bean dead wrong on most major political questions in the past years. What are our current errors then? Even if there were none now, if what Nelson says is true we would have differences in six months. Don’t you think we should approach things in the way we want to approach them? We are trying to create the basis for unity, not prepared to say tonight there is a pre-existing basis for unity. We think we see development on your part, but we feel we have also developed.
4. Topic and Time of next meeting: 30 July, on democratic centralism.
Robertson distributed a Spartacist leaflet attacking Workers World for endorsing Jesse Gray who is running in the Democratic primary. He also distributed Spartacist correspondence with Deacons and a cover letter.
Meeting adjourned about midnight.