Marxist Bulletin No. 3 – Part IV
Wohlforth Against the RT
Spartacist-ACFI Unity Negotiations
Fifth Session 30 July 1965
- Spartacist: Robertson, Stoute, Ne1son (alt); (Harper, Secretary).
- ACFI: Wohlforth, Mazelis, Michael (alt).
Meeting convened at 8:22 p.m.
- 2. Democratic Centralism
- 3. N.Y.C. Mass Election Leaflet
- 4. Epton Campaign Work
- 5. Discussion on SWP
- 6. IC correspondence
- 7. Time and Agenda of Next Meetings
1. Minutes: Minutes of July 9 were approved as corrected (corrections incorporated).
2. Discussion on Democratic Centralism:
Robertson: The burden is on us to show how we think a group of our size ought to function, since in the event of unity the comrades from the Spartacist would initially be the majority. You have received our bulletin on the Smith case. Other documents explaining our position are “For the Right of Organized Tendencies to Exist Within the Party” and “Rescind the Suspensions”. We approach the question from the point of view of factional democracy. I was disturbed by comrade Wohlforth’s remark last week that PL, the SWP, and Spartacist all claim to be democratic centralist organizations. But PL and the SWP seek to ban factions, while Spartacist defends the right of principled factions if properly regulated. Regulation is necessary to direct factionalism toward its legitimate end–arrival at a political line. The SWP used its regulatory powers for the purpose of suppressing the internal life of the party and reducing it to a mere safety valve every two years. There is also the question of the kind of balance that should be struck between the democratic and centralist aspects. During the whole period of the American Trotskyist movement, the range of conditions under which Trotskyists have struggled has not been sufficiently great to justify any shift from the previous balance, i.e., the American party has never been either a mass party nor an illegal party; it has always been a propaganda group. In comparison with the total range in which democratic centralism was projected by the Bolsheviks to operate, we have experienced only a narrow range. We are a small propaganda group operating under conditions of legality. We don’t deprecate the organizational question. It is one of the programmatic points defining a Trotskyist-Leninist organization, and the way an organization functions carries strong inferences about the role of that organization as a working class and revolutionary movement. The Russian movement split in 1903 over what was basically an organizational question: whether the majority will rule, what membership means. It would have been wrong for Lenin to have said these were “only organizational questions”. While it would have been better to have had a clean, clear split (e.g., over an issue such as whether or not to have a bloc with Liberalism), nevertheless the issue was raised in this way, and it was important. Finally, if we try for a crystal clarity on organizational questions in these negotiating meetings, what the rights and obligations of membership are, there will be less grounds for anyone claiming to be “surprised” later.
Wohlforth: We don’t see how we can comment on the case of Smith since in our opinion it is a messy business. In order to make a fair judgment one would have to have gone through this particular experience and know the person involved. It is difficult for us to come to any kind of conclusion about the extent of our agreement or disagreement since we don’t have a Constitution or similar document in front of us. On what I said last week, I meant that merely saying that we are democratic-centralist is not enough to indicate basic agreement in practice. The SWP, PL, Spartacist, and ACFI too, all claim to be democratic-centralist. In the
SWP content violates form, while PL lacks even the form. The SWP has a resolution before the coming Convention banning permanent factions, a departure from their previous formal position. On the content of democratic centralism in the history of the SWP, we may have a difference, for we don’t look back on the SWP as a model on either organizational or political questions. Cannon was always an unprincipled factionalist, and Trotsky intervened against him. In Trotsky’s opinion, Cannon was a Zinovievist. Trotsky was unhappy with the way in which Cannon handled the Shachtman struggle, and only a few days before his death he threatened to break with Cannon. Cannon always felt a common front of the leadership against the ranks had to be maintained, and this helped lead to the destruction of the central cadre. The artificial separation of the ranks from the leadership leads to clique relationships. (This of course does not mean certain types of problems, like personal problems, should not be taken up first by the leadership.) Organizational questions cannot be raised apart from programmatic or political questions. We should not take the 1903 experience as a model, because Lenin’s own development was not complete at the time. Had he been what he was in 1917, it would have been different, not that he was wrong in 1903. This was the birth, not the full development, of the Bolsheviks, and we should not seek to repeat the whole history of the Bolsheviks in 1965. Trotsky always insisted on methodological struggle. We have no differences over formal formulations–disciplined cadres, assignment to tasks, moving around, etc, but at the same time, in dealing with someone incapable of this type of functioning but who still maintains political agreement we should seek sympathizer status. We’re not saying you were wrong on Smith but we are certainly not saying this was a model. I’d like to see your Constitution when you get it worked out. We feel a certain attitude around Spartacist, a formalism on the organization question, a rigidity.
Nelson: There are two weaknesses in your statement on democratic centralism. First, your not knowing what our position really is without a Constitution. We are not brand new, and our attitude on democratic centralism is not at all new. Part of our thinking on this subject was involved in our choice of the two articles in our pamphlet, i.e., “Building the Bolshevik Party” and “What is Revolutionary Leadership?” Second, in part on the historical basis of the organizational question and the basis of this alone that we could come to agreement or disagreement. There is a relationship between the task of the vanguard party and its organizational forms. What you said last week about the SWP, PL, and Spartacist all claiming to be democratic centralist–this is an agnostic position. You know we are not the same. You know our background, our stated positions, etc. Your weakness is that despite statements to the contrary you disconnect the political basis of organizational attitudes much too much. Your attitude toward Cannon is purely subjective, that Cannon is no more than an organizational front man for Trotsky, nothing more than an organizational judo expert, or in the words of Marcus just “a window breaker”. In your own words, Cannon becomes Foster. Shows a weakness in your understanding of the role of the organizational question in the building of a revolutionary party. Cannon’s tactics toward the Progressive Party are still considered a model. Individuals and groupings in the SWP complained that their intellectual capacities were being squashed by the bureaucratic Cannon. Trotsky didn’t dismiss the question but saw that it was a smokescreen for fundamental political differences. Trotsky insisted on discipline in building the F.I. The Smith case is a concrete example of the way we operate and how we view the obligations of members. It is not messy, as you claim, but clear-cut. He committed a breach of discipline, and when he attempted to defend and justify it we brought charges; his final expulsion was not for the original breach but for his public attack on Spartacist. The Slaughter article, in the section “Lenin and Inter-Party Struggle”, does a nice job in condensing a formal statement on the role of the organizational question in the revolutionary party:
“Political and organizational questions therefore cannot he separated. In an epoch where the construction of a leadership of the working class is the most vital historical problem, it is exactly on the questions of concrete planning and discipline for revolutionary work that political differences become explicit. Some Marxists seem to conceive of the party as simply a contractual discipline to stop individuals from going off the rails as they react to class pressure. But it is more than that: it must become the vanguard of revolutionary action, the representative of the general interest of the working class.
“In the construction of a revolutionary party there is a constant need to strive to maintain a correct relationship between democracy and centralism. The balance of this relationship tends to change with the objective situation. During times when the revolutionary movement operates under legal conditions, as in Britain today, it is essential to have full democratic discussion on all questions concerning the working class and the party. This does not, however, mean that democracy is a free-for-all, with nothing being decided. To the Marxist democracy is a weapon in the struggle against capitalism. Discussion is necessary to arrive at decisions upon which the activity of the party can be based.
“The constant training of new leaders in the revolutionary party requires the greatest patience by the leadership. Local autonomy and initiative, allowing the leaders and the rank and file to learn from their mistakes, is essential for the branches of the revolutionary party. The more experience the revolutionary leadership has the more flexible it will be in assisting the ranks by theory and practice to understand the need for a democratic centralist party.”
The main point of this is that democratic centralism is the form of the revolutionary party, and this form flows from its political tasks. Balance varies according to the objective situation. The general balance between democratic and centralist haven’t changed that much in the history of the SWP. The British comrades during their early struggles didn’t seem to be as horrified as much as you are in hindsight about Cannon. Healy in rep1y to our protest over our exclusion from the old minority tendency quoted as a model for the minority to follow the relationship of the SLL to Cannon and the SWP. You shouldn’t try to read the Cannon of 1962 back into his earlier history. He maintained a revolutionary party in this country admirably under adverse conditions, and maintained it longer and better than any other national section. The SWP and YSA Constitutions are examples of our attitude toward democratic centralism.
Mazelis: You seem to want a vote of confidence on the question of Smith, and this would not be proper. The Smith case must be judged from an overall politica1 standpoint. We need not only examples of Spartacist functioning but also a Constitution to discuss or a resolution. We feel there were serious differences between Cannon and Trotsky on the organizational question, and we agree with Trotsky. We are thrashing out this question in the absence of written material, and while we can get somewhere we cannot get all the way. You misunderstand our position on Cannonism and the SWP, take it out of context when you refer only to “window breaking” or “Foster”. This doesn’t mean we equate Cannon with Foster or Debs, but it doesn’t mean we view Cannon as a Marxist or Communist politician either. Our history project document deals with this in detail.
Stoute: We stand in the tradition of the SWP–the old SWP stands for something we can say we are in agreement with now, that we can apply to our movement today. This of course doesn’t mean we endorse everything Cannon ever did. Your attitude is that we must either wipe out everything the SWP has been or must embrace it totally. This is not the way it is. I would like Wohlforth to elaborate on his statement that Spartacist is a rigid, military, formation.
Robertson: Nelson made a valuable point that examples of our application of democratic centralism are of far more value than our Constitution for your information, since our Constitution will be absolutely standard. There is something that has not been taken up. “For the Right of Minority Tendencies to Exist” discussed at length and concretely the question Wohlforth said would be of greatest interest to him: relationship of a minority to the organization as a whole. We will have a Constitution, but you won’t learn as much from it as you can from the material before you, and it is in that sense we introduced it. We don’t care whether you think we are right or wrong, but want to show you how we proceed, the concrete application of a certain type of discipline. If you feel we are formalist, I will say we are an organization with several currents in it; this stems from your presently being small enough to have complete homogeneity–therefore democratic centralism seems like sheer formalism to you. You should be thankful we are formalists. The SWP has learned to dispense with these formalities. Since we are a larger organization we must bring less personal and more impersonal forms into play. We have an internal life and this must be regulated. You are loading a lot on Cannon’s shoulders. Shachtman always said Cannon was a Zinoviev, but where did Trotsky say this? To reduce the experiences of the SWP from 1928 to 1940 to Cannon is overstressing the central figure. You want to see documents? We have taken over the experiences and practices of the earlier Trotskyist movement. We use “Struggle for a Proletarian Party” to train our new members with (in it, by the way, Cannon says “pay attention to what I say here, not to anything I may have done”). It is not automatic by any means that we have as yet gone beyond the SWP. On the role of leadership, the leadership is elected to handle the infinity of day to day problems, reserving for the entire organization decision on fundamental differences. Cliquism was certainly rife in the SWP. One thing we have strived to do is shatter preferential access to information. Our comrades are heavily informed and this creates a much healthier organization.
Wohlforth: We have refracted differences on this question, derived from other differences, such as on the SWP, and our general approach to building a movement. I now agree with Robertson–having a constitution here wouldn’t prove anything. I’m sure we would find any constitution you presented acceptable. The difference is in approach to politics and building a movement. On ACFI being a homogeneous group, we strive to create a homogeneous group (though we are opposed to monolithism). The way you strive to have a homogeneous group is the way you have democratic centralism. Discipline flows from political cohesion. Any disciplinary problem is in essence a political problem, including the 1903 split. Cannon sought to create organizational, not political, homogeneity. We don’t disagree with what Cannon says in his book but with the experience of the Cannon regime. However, Cannon wrote his own history. Trotsky intervened in the 1932 Cannon-Shachtman fight and used the term “Zinovievist” regarding Cannon. Trotsky intervened in the Field question and in 1940, urging political rather than organizational fight. Our difference on this question is similar to our differences on method, theory, and program. Our feeling is that you are formalistic about organizational questions. This will find greater reflection when we discuss tactica1 questions relating to our work in this country.
Nelson: I see that “method” has raised its saintly head (it always does), unscathed and pure. I am listening to the words. You have profoundly over-simplified Cannon’s role. As far as seeking to create homogeneous groups through organizational means, such a thing is not even possible. However, the main point I want to make is to question the “purity” (pardon a certain sarcasm) of your intentions. I dislike hearing pious words when dirty actions have preceded. Back to the “bookkeeping”. You express a desire for avoiding “organizational excesses” … yet you played a key role in the organizational excesses of the SWP and YSA against us. Your words fall on slightly calloused ears. I happened to go through this (comrade Michael didn’t – it might be good for him to hear this). You became the “theoretical arm” of the party in their desire to get rid of us. It was your document “Party and Class” that provided the Majority with the basis for our expulsion. This was not just naiveté on your part. Then in 1964 in the YSA I and the comrades of our tendency were fighting the frame-up suspensions. We defended ourselves not primarily on technical grounds, but brought out the political reasons and context of the suspensions, the question of Party-Youth relations, etc. Comrade Mazelis played a despicable role that night. The Majority was unable to deal with our arguments and with the damaging evidence against them. Mazelis, as the most capable person in the room, took the floor as lawyer for the Majority, stating that with our line on Cuba we could not function as disciplined YSA members. When we tried to lean on the Constitutional technicality that YSA members can belong to any adult political organization, Mazelis claimed that the YSA in fighting us was fighting Menshevism in the YSA (I have the notes right here I took that night). This was your role in facilitating our expulsions from the SWP and YSA. You were able to do a better job than Jack Barnes, Peter Camejo, or Barry Sheppard were able to because they didn’t have your background and understanding. This is your past again. These past actions do not coincide with your words tonight.
Michael: I didn’t live through all this. This is the second week you’ve brought up these old questions, and I don’t see why you are doing this. I don’t think this will help. You can put all this in a bulletin and I’ll read it, but I am interested in what our differences are today. What are our tasks today? If we discuss this first, we can then have a clearer discussion on these old questions. I can’t see that this sort of discussion helps us.
Mazelis: I agree strongly with Michael. I don’t intend to take up the gauntlet. I do feel we made mistakes–but not the ones Nelson stated. This is the wrong way to discuss democratic centralism and the wrong way to go about the whole process of unification. Not because we are ashamed but these questions can only be clarified in light of our positions today. Nelson has given us a sarcastic and subjective outpouring of the way he feels his tendency was wronged by us. We have a completely different viewpoint. Later at the proper time we will sum up all these questions. It will be part of a summing up and not this kind of abstract bookkeeping, as he himself refers to it. I don’t feel under any obligation to take up these points just because they have been raised here tonight. They will be taken up later, but in the right way. We want to relate them to developments up to the present.
Stoute: You said we seem to have a disagreement on whether or not a revolutionary movement should be made homogenous on the basis of politics or organizational rules. We don’t propose to bring about homogeneity on the basis of organizational rules. However, one never has complete homogeneity and this is why we have organizational rules. You said we can’t settle this question tonight. How will we settle this question? You know what we are made of. You have a better knowledge than anyone else where we stand on all these questions.
Robertson: You may not like what Nelson said, but these things are vivid in the minds of our comrades. This is your past as well as ours. This is the single obstacle in our minds; repetition of this extremely bad conduct must be avoided. Wohlforth is standing the question of political homogeneity on its head. One struggles for political homogeneity not because it gives real democratic-centralism but because then you don’t need recourse to the organizational rules. I deplore factions if by argument you can prevent their formation in advance. Most political leaders spend much of their energy on internal struggle. But whenever organizations meet new situations, differences develop. Wohlforth made a mistake–we are most interested in political homogeneity but when you don’t have it you must function by rules. My reference to Comrade Cannon’s “Struggle for a Proletarian Party” was answered by Wohlforth’s counterposing Theory and Practice. But words are part of practice and can’t be separated out. You have found comrade Cannon to be the source of the ills of the strongest national section of the Trotskyist movement bar none. Many Spartacists would call themselves Cannonites. We look upon the earlier period of the Trotskyist movement in America as our heritage, to be accepted, critically.
Wohlforth: On the question of past differences between our groups, we have not objected to their discussion and feel this is an important part of the unification process and have discussed them ourselves in our communications. However, we feel that at this and the last meeting such discussion has been broadened artificially. We didn’t get much clarity at the last meeting, and tonight is another example. You feel that in order for us to understand what you mean by democratic centralism, you have to discuss what Mazelis said on a particular night. Maybe Nelson was saying Mazelis knows what democratic centralism is because he correctly attacked you for Menshevism in the YSA. But I had a feeling Nelson was saying something e1se – “that whatever Mazelis says now doesn’t make any difference because he finked”. If you want to discuss this, you can put “finking” on the agenda. This has been brought in artificially and has not led to clarity. We must try to view this discussion process as aimed at its goal. It would seem proper to first probe the level of agreement and disagreement today. We can then make judgements on the past if one of us wants to keep a record. Our conclusion is that the split in l962 was principled; you think it was unprincipled. We should put this on the agenda so that it can be discussed in a positive manner not poison all our discussions. To the extent that we presently have differences on democratic centralism, these are not sufficient to bar unity. Since Spartacist feels such an identity with Cannon I am worried as to whether or not Spartacist comrades proceed first from political to organizational questions or vice versa. Your failure to understand the real role of Cannon will lead you in one way or another to make errors on the organizational question. We have a feeling you may have made an error (on the Smith case), but we don’t know enough. We might have a sharp difference with the way you handled the case. However, whatever differences we have on this question would be subordinate to differences on all other questions. We have a different emphasis on the org. question, but this is subordinate to the political questions. We should hold up on discussion till we see what is the level of current agreement. In that framework we can have a real discussion on past differences. Human beings have a correct desire to justify themselves. We will do our best not to discuss these differences now, as we were tempted to do at the last meeting.
Nelson: Politics determine — that is why we are here. The friction that exists between us is that our two groups are very similar politically yet continue to remain organizationally separate and competing. Continuing this separation on the basis that we have to examine further and still further the basis for unity is in the course of time becoming quite thin to anyone with eyes to see. It is not artificial to bring in “old” questions. We went through a common experience in the same party. Your role towards us in the YSA was not one of exposing Menshevism. Our record and our documents show the struggle of a Bolshevik minority to maintain itself in the face of bureaucratic suppression. Unfortunately for you, this can’t be pushed under the rug. Because of your past role, we have to get understanding of what proper minority rights are. We have the scars to show your past attitude. Now the wheel has turned. The minority split originally was over whether or not you and your supporters were willing to accept a minority position in our common tendency. You denied our tendency had the right to democratic centralist organization. One instance of this was when our tendency selected a representative to go on the YSA local exec. You refused to support our candidate, running your own instead and letting the majority choose the weaker one. This was unprincipled. The differences we had could have been maintained within a common tendency. The question of discipline was the origin of our split. In your “history project” you analyzed Cannon’s history, but when it comes to your own history then suddenly you aren’t interested. You can’t separate what we are now from where we came from.
Mazelis: We don’t want to discuss it now, not because we are not interested but because it is a question of how you deal with it and the framework in which it is raised. We will deal with it in the proper way. Your subjective interpretation can’t lead us anywhere. The incident you mention has a certain importance, but you are exaggerating it. We could not vote for the representative not because we didn’t accept democratic centralism but because of the situation. A trip to England by Philips was being made at the time. During a crisis in the organization we felt it was wrong for you to wield your majority as you did. Your way of interpreting these matters is not our way. Since this incident preceded our split by two weeks, we simply didn’t wish to be bound by any decisions.
Wohlforth: I think we can show what we mean by the relation of organization to politics and why we feel it is necessary to discuss the split in the tendency as a separate point. We and the British came to a common judgment at the time of our split. We had no intention of carrying out your line. If we felt differences today were of the same depth we would not be interested in unity. We have no intention of playing games. We want to find out before we unite whether or not there is enough political agreement that we can maintain your line. A split is forced upon people when they can’t carry out the line of the majority. We are not putting forward the position that our differences in 1962 were not important. We will have unity if there is enough political agreement that either side could abide by the majority. We should be discussing now only our present attitude toward the organizational question.
Stoute: The 1962 split was unprincipled and shouldn’t have taken place. It was unjustified politically and was basical1y around organizational differences. How you reacted organizationally at the time is where our disagreements came in. Do you think the concept of democratic centralism that we sought to put into practice in 1962 was wrong? What kind of minority rights would you expect?
Robertson: Your position on the 1962 split is now a serious political difference between us. You had a cavalier attitude toward democratic centralism within our tendency. You supported the SWP hatchet job on us on the basis that organizational questions are not important. You acted as the policeman of the majority over us when they desperately wanted to throw us out. Your actions show a difference in the revolutionary fiber of individuals. You lied to our Bay Area comrades. There must be some reflection on your part on what stood between us then now that the question of unity is raised. You have been wrong on every major question since then and don’t show any reflection. It was a bad split and the proof is that we are still faced with it. I told you then that perhaps someday a split would be justified but it wasn’t clear then, and it still isn’t as long as we proceed along parallel political lines. What were the differences then? You wanted personal and political capitulation; you demanded we go before the party as liars. We were begging for democratic centralism. You took our money to send Philips to England while telling us it was for “consultation on the trade union question”; now you admit it was to work out the details of our split. Cannon never did the things you have done! We want unification because for us politics comes first. You must realize that you can’t build a movement the way you acted. You casually say now “we had no intention of carrying out your line”. Your actions drove a lot of people out of the Minority, old party cadres, good people with maybe one more fight left in them. We blame you for blocing with Dobbs in order to get us. These are not “subjective questions”. This is what looms largest: Will you do it again?
Nelson: It would have saved a great deal of trouble if what you advance now as the real reason for your split with us in 1962 had been the reasons given your own supporters and to the SWP then. However, the comments you made then can still be read in documents. The comrades on the West Coast knew Philips was lying through his teeth when he gave his “reasons”–that is why they voted him down 17-0. It was phony demagoguery, designed to stampede political opinion. Because of this good comrades were lost. You drove out the people whom originally you had bragged of attracting! And there was no political basis for it. The people that left had a good history in the movement, but you wasted them, and people continue to be wasted. The existence of two separate groups with such similar lines has made us a laughing stock among serious people. Two groups cannot continue to exist in the same areas fighting for the same people. We will either unite or one will be removed from the scene. If you call this “military”, go back to Lenin and look at the ruthless struggles he waged. This is the criminal side of dishonest and unpolitical approach. You want to fraternize with our rank and file? They have read the documents, and they feel that politics determine over organization.
Wohlforth: As I was impressed at the last meeting and more impressed this week, and as we suspected from the beginning you are opposed to unification. In fact, Robertson clearly states now that we have a real difference and unless it is resolved there can be no unification. We have not in the slightest changed our position on the origin of our split. If you feel this is the one difference, there will be no unity. This is not a parallel with 1902. The split was principled–and later proven so. As far as the origin of the split, I tried to explain as clearly as I could and don’t expect you to accept this. As we look back on our past there were questions on which we admitted errors, but we have no apologies on the split. It was correct, clear and proper. If you wanted to function as a tendency with us you could have signed our statement. Robertson gets all excited and I smile because I view it so differently, I can’t take it seriously. He views it differently because he has a different method. He ought to understand that we believe what we say. This was not an incident of which we are ashamed. We felt the split was a good and necessary thing, and the French and British felt the same way. We had no intention of submitting to your discipline. We were not interested in that type of functioning and felt the work involved was too important. We are not going to get any further clarification than this. It was a very good and healthy split. The comrades in this room do not express seriousness. They thrust in questions in which they know we will get disagreement. The main difference is that Robertson feels we are a bunch of bastards. Instead of progress we are getting retrogression, and it is not the fault of ACFI. You have brought up questions to show we are rotten finks rather than seeking to find areas of agreement and proceeding from there. You tell us we are 1ucky to be dealing with you instead of with your snarling ranks. You should encourage them to read the Bulletin instead of factional stuff from the past. You are preparing your membership not for unification but for a deeper split, and as the responsible leadership you are responsible if that is the end result. Obviously the Spartacist group is hostile to unity because they take every matter and turn it into snarling dispute that would disrupt the final step–concrete common work. More common work or no unity. We are going to work in common first or there is not going to be any unity. If you think we are going to waste our time in hostile confrontations, we are not, because we have more important things to do. I urge that we proceed first to make clear the principled basis. We should take up the important theoretica1 and methodological differences and only then proceed to past differences. We must proceed to fruitful common work. It is absolutely important to prepare unification but you are preparing your comrades for a split. You should bombard us with fraternization.
Mazelis: The last session and especially tonight have in large measure reflected retrogression. Wohlforth’s remarks were another last-ditch effort to try to salvage whatever progress we have made, and go on to the final stage. You talk of immediate unity and then prematurely raise issues the way you do. We are more honest about unity, want to proceed in such a way that when the bitterness comes out it will be in a good context. That is why we propose to start working together. You simply call us finks again, and don’t even begin to understand what our motivation was, you don’t try to put yourselves in our place. We have tried not to take you up on this. I can’t stress too strongly that this will get us no place. You are sabotaging unity. We plead for an end to this approach. You must have no political mind at all if you expect to raise questions in the way you have.
Nelson: You should be honest and not resort to debaters’ language for the minutes. If you will examine the history of the attempt to unite our two groups, it is one year since we made the first proposal for unity, right after you were expelled. Retrogression? Do not complain of a process which you have set in motion. Any outsider can tell from seeing our positions that there is a basis for unity between us. We emerged from the SWP with greater differences than there are now, but there was still a basis then for unity. These differences could exist within a single organization with democratic centralism. This would be parallel with our relationship to the IC, i.e., we might have to carry out a line at variance with our own opinion, but as long as we had the right to participate in the arrival at the line we would do this. The issues you have reacted to our raising are live issues. The issue of 1962 is extreme1y pertinent. What would be our position in relation to the IC given this defense of your 1962 role? The IC nailed the French Pabloites to the wall for expelling the majority of the French section. Would you repeat the same action today were we in a common organization? The differences within our tendency then were far less than those separating us from the Pabloites, and we continue to maintain the split in 1962 was unprincipled. These issues must be discussed. It is c1ear that there has never been a political basis for the separation of our two groups. It is from this separation that factionalism comes.
Robertson: At the time of our split you said it was absolutely unprincipled to have any contact between our two groups. Now you say you have not changed your position on the split. Common work is not our problem. Michael has been drawn into common work … on our initiative. You were able to give an exact rundown on what the differences were between our groups but still you are not willing to admit that unity is possible. What are we preparing our ranks for? We frankly don’t know what the outcome with you will be. We have told them everything we say here. On 1962, we are not proposing that you grovel. We are not asking you to sign a statement that you did wrong. But you will have to hear these words. We do not see any political good will on your part (by this I don’t mean “friendliness”, the fake seduction tactics you used on the SWP and PL). If the split in 1962 was such a good thing why then are you in this room now? All you can come up with is the Pabloist theory of Spartacist getting better despite our own intentions.
Wohlforth: We feel the split was principled, justified, and necessary in 1962, but that the Spartacist group has evolved and that being in a different position outside the SWP and facing different problems, that unification today is possible. So far in our discussions we see no barrier to unification. The most important differences have in fact been discussed already — differences in method. We are willing to go back to ACFI and the IC and propose to them that we make a statement that unity is both principled and desirable despite differences in method. But I will also have to state that there is a grave danger that these methodological problems are so severe that they are forcing the Spartacist group into an attitude of hostility toward us and preventing the natural process of unity, and that while there seems to be a principled basis for unity, until we have worked together we cannot tell whether it would work out. If Spartacist is sincerely interested in unity they will go back to their organization and propose that in the negotiation sessions a serious effort be made toward seeking agreement on political questions and common collaboration. Common work will help break through the present stalemate and lead to fruitful discussion. Finally we must try to handle the question of past differences in this same spirit and seek to make the best of the current process. By common work and collaboration we should hold discussion on areas where both groups can become involved in and function as a common group and a common tendency, e.g., the comrades in SDS should seek to function as a common fraction.
Nelson: You are now ready to go to ACFI and the IC and say that the political basis for unity exists. We came into these sessions with this position, and we said if you would agree to abide by the decisions of a joint conference that you could have ful1 privileges. Without your agreement we would have a literary exchange but no organizational fusion.
Robertson: My own first reaction to your proposed agreement is a favorable one. We have already willingly drifted into common work, e.g., our involvement of one of your people in the Garment Center Anti-Vietnam war committee. You have made a valuable statement, that unity between our groups is principled and desirable. In turn you state you want common work. You insist that we clarify issues that suggest agreement rather than discuss past differences. But fruitful discussions are not simply “positive” ones, not simply putting a good face on things. I would like to postpone decision until we have a chance to review the minutes of this and earlier sessions. It is a big step.
Wohlforth: I agree “fruitfu1” and “positive” are not necessarily the same. This agreement should be complemented with a clear statement that past differences are not on the agenda. We can discuss them later. Nothing is gained by discussing them week in and week out. Unity is not tied to resolution of past differences. One of the points of unification would be tabling any discussion of past differences for a year. They must be put aside. This is one of the proposals we would make. We not going to unite with you in order to fight over who did what in 1962.
Robertson: Tell us one thing … where is the re-evaluation that has led you to believe that unity is now permissible? You stated several times tonight that it was a great split in 1962. When did the change take place? The only explanation you have given is comrade Pablo’s explanation. We have to discuss at one or another point our differences. There is a contradiction in comrade Wohlforth’s remarks, that you did right in 1962 and now are interested in unity and preparing your ranks for it. How can you justify the split in 1962 while saying that we oppose unity? In the future should you change your conclusion on PL, for example, will we then face a new split? It is this quality which gives us the gravest apprehension. How can you square your affirmation of your past record with unity now? This contradiction which we see in you does not bode well. It seems to me from tonight’s discussion that a split would be on the order of the day next time we have differences, and we will have differences. That is why we introduced a discussion of democratic centralism, so that we will have a way of dealing with these differences when they arise within a common organization, especially differences of a magnitude comparable with those in 1962, i.e., differences that weren’t all that much.
Wohlforth: It is clear we haven’t changed our minds. It is not clear whether you feel unification is possible. You must make up your mind whether you think unity is possible, or impossible on the basis of our position on 1962. We don’t expect you to understand our motivation on this question, and must make it clear to you that we will not have an interminable number of discussions on past differences. That would be your way of stating that unless we capitulate you will not unify with us. If this is so, it will be an admission that you really feel the past break was principled. We have come to conclusion that the bar to unity is not principled political differences, but whether or not you really want unity. Spartacist must stick spoons in their mouth and hold back the outpouring of previous differences. We need experiences in common work.
Nelson: On the question of postponement of discussion of past differences, I don’t know. Subordination and regulation, certainly, if subordinated to the whole of which they are a part. If your proposal is based on a genuine desire to go forward, then the movement forward would find translation into concrete organizational steps toward the unification process. Otherwise it is no more than your continually restating “we’re here because we’re here”. That is the reason those discussions have grated so much. We have to go forward into positive organizational steps.
Robertson: We will take your proposals to our REB and consult. Obviously the rest of the agenda is tabled pending clarification of this.
7. Next Meeting: Thursday, August 5.
Meeting adjourned at 12:30 a.m.