Marxist Bulletin No. 3 – Part IV
Wohlforth Against the RT
Spartacist-ACFI Unity Negotiations
8 October 1965
- Spartacist: Robertson, Nelson, Stoute; (Harper, Secretary).
- ACFI: Mazelis, van Ronk, Michael.
Meeting convened at 8:40 p.m.
Chairman: van Ronk
- 1: Discussion on Split and Past Differences
- 2. Good and Welfare
1. Split and Past Differences:
Mazelis: The issue is not whether we can agree on all past differences but whether we can understand or communicate with one another. If we can, unity will still be possible. The 1962 split was principled because your tendency showed a complete lack of understanding of the ABCs of struggle inside the SWP, and we have no regrets. Behind our tactical difference lay a fundamentally different method, a different approach on how to build a revolutionary party. Impossible to function as a common faction barring your agreement with us on the statement of reorganization of the tendency–this was an absolute minimum, non-negotiable. We had no choice and have no regrets. The evolution of certain members of your group has confirmed to a large extent our initial feelings on the nature of your group and the way it was headed toward a split and away from serious struggle in the SWP. After these people left, your group then pulled back from a split. We of course made mistakes, and had to in order to learn. We were feeling our way. The central difference between us is that we seriously struggled and developed and you did not. Our approach to the 1963 Convention was basically very good, although our submitting material relating to our split in 1962 to the Majority was a blunder, as we have acknowledged. We are proud of the Convention material itself. We learned a lot later in the struggle against Philips and his Economism and Cannonism. It is easy for you to say you were right about the SWP because it continued to degenerate, but you should have struggled against this degeneration. Summing up: You failed to break from the method of the SWP Majority; you prematurely wrote off the party in 1962; you supported the Majority’s economic analysis in 1963; you refused to vote against the reunification itself; and you were commended by Hansen for this and for your Cuba position; the main fire at the 1963 Convention was against us as agents of the SLL, while you prided yourself on separating yourself from the SLL; your subjective, empirical approach is shown by your line on the history of the SWP and our methodological differences, and finally by your attitude toward the Marcus document, rejecting the ABCs of Marxism itself. Three times in three years we have addressed ourselves to the American Question, but you have refused to submit a contribution to the IC Congress. You attack the Marcus document but have nothing to offer as an alternative. You justified your counterposition on the Negro question rather than the American Question in 1963 by the attention the Majority gave this question; however, we must choose our grounds, and the American Question is decisive. You are orthodox rather than Marxist in a real sense. You don’t apply Marxist method but work out an orthodox line. You are politically Cannonites, like the WP of 15-20 years ago. You share the weaknesses the SWP had then, but not its strengths, its proletarian character. We have learned that a different approach is needed, that it is necessary to go beyond Cannon’s unbelievable theoretical backwardness. In conclusion, the obvious question is why are we trying to achieve unity? Situations change. The methodological differences we had in 1962 paralyzed our functioning. Because we face different tasks today than we did then, we must explore working relationships and attempt to resolve our important differences. If we are to unify, it must be with the understanding we will not fall apart at the first tactical difference; therefore we want to learn beforehand as much as we can about you and your working. If we can get assurance we can struggle together, then unity could be attempted. Unity should be approached within the framework of international discussion leading to the International conference. These discussions have been fruitful despite some very difficult moments. We should continue to work together in outside arenas and test our level of agreement in practical work. [This presentation was read from Mazelis’ prepared statement.]
Robertson: That was a rather imaginative re-creation of the history of the evolution of the two groups; however, the real history is a matter of documentary record which we have done our best to reproduce (see Marxist Bulletins 1, 2, 3 and 4). Your method can be described only as mindless, empirical zig-zagging–chasing after one will-o-the-wisp after the other, then bounding off again. During that time we have been bruised by you three times in passing: the documents are (1962) “Towards the Working Class”; (1963) “Party and Class”; and (1964) your 12 August reply to our letter suggesting unity was the order of the day. The present discussion must be examined in the light of these contributions. What separates us and poisons the prospects for unity is the profoundly unprincipled blows we have received at your hand. Over the past year our political differences have tended to narrow (not that they were ever wide, e.g., PL, nationalism and the Negro question, but we still face problems in terms of working together. If you state 1962 is your model, then we know you are not serious in talking about a unification. Each of the three documents I mentioned was written in a deliberately fraudulent manner, yet every so often Wohlforth turns around and gives a precise and exactly correct appraisal of our positions, so we know that he is fully aware of our correct positions. Your position in ’62 was a closed and consistent work of art, perfectly reminiscent of the Stalinists in Stalin’s day who dealt with Trotskyists by claiming they were simply agents of a fascist power and conscious enemies of the Soviet Union. Thus Comrade Wohlforth consciously falsely described our position in his conclusion:
“To state it openly and plainly, theirs is a split perspective [italics in original]. A tendency which rejects party discipline even if only partially, and party building, which seeks to sneak people into the party, which functions in part as an independent entity, which carries on an organizational faction war within the party, which in violation of party statutes includes non-party members, which is so deeply alienated and isolated from the party ranks that it has in fact already split in content if not in form, such a tendency is going down a road that must inevitably lead to a split from the party.”
This was created out of the whole cloth, and when the other comrades in the tendency outside New York had a chance to measure whether or not we had proposed to violate party statutes, they did not believe you people. Some of these, especially those who were politically neutral between us, were demoralized by the split and dropped away, and you advance this as proof that we were close to splitting from the party! Not a single one of those who from our viewpoint understood what the fight was about dropped away; those that did were your people on the West Coast who quit when they found out you had been lying to them. And tonight you say that the proof we were planning a split was that people like Jim P. and those in S.F.–who supported your political analysis–dropped out! Which side is creating castles in Spain? Wohlforth, in both his ’62 and ’64 documents, suggested we saw as the root cause of the SWP’s degeneration their 1940 loss of the Shachtmanites. The single sentence that this is “taken” from read approximately that in 1940 the SWP suffered a double blow, that half the party split and Trotsky was murdered. This stunning double blow to the SWP is passed off by Wohlforth as “Robertson weeps tears over the split with the Shachtmanites”, suggesting that something very different was meant by us. Something else that’s funny: I was condemned in these documents by Wohlforth for suggesting that one of the things that kept the SWP from going off the rails at this time was James P. Cannon, and this was condemned as outrageous subjectivism, to attribute this great a role to a single individual. Yet this same Wohlforth two years later sees Cannon as the SWP for 35 years! Talking about “method”, in 1962 a big argument was waged over whether the SWP possessed a Proletarian Core. We said this was nonsense, that the party’s working-class backbone had been broken up and driven out during the early years of the witchhunt. Wohlforth insisted (“Toward the Working Class”) that the proletarian core existed, and that the failure of Robertson-Ireland to see its weight in the party proved their petty-bourgeois nature. “Toward the Working Class” was the only effort made by Wohlforth over what was to him then a very serious question, that the proletarian core of the SWP was everything. We brought in several documents, especially Ireland’s “What the Discussion is Really About”, where we analyzed the possible ways you can speak of a “proletarian core”. We never got an answer to anything–all we got was a split.
You didn’t have it so good in 1963. In “Party and Class” you made it clear you were addressing yourselves to the party Majority so that it could fight us “politically rather than organizationally”, implying that they should “get us”, but politically. But a big hole had opened up in your past thesis that we were hell bent on a split (your whole justification for splitting with us). This is the fact that we were still in the party! You had to admit that your story of our split perspective was cooked up. In 1962 in your circular faction letter to Bertha, you said: “therefore under no conditions, since we disagree on the most fundamental question of all, the party, can we have anything to do with Robertson-Mage”. Five months later we got an offer of collaboration–though it was simply an invitation to us to support your Convention document. We then recruited the intermediate people between us, comrades Chatham and Turner. I remember when Wohlforth leaped up and said, “But Robertson thinks the party is centrist”. They already knew this, and joined our tendency. You say you took the brunt of the 1963 Convention? Have you really forgotten that Convention, that hate-filled atmosphere when I took the platform after having been called a “Negro-hater”? We attacked the party where it was doing the rottenist thing on the American Question, throwing away the American Negroes, which you theoretically endorsed with only tactical amendments to their document. Something else to set the record straight–we fought long and hard against “For Early Reunification” and voted against it. You are distorting the fact that we abstained on an oral motion, read to us once, that we would accept the Majority decision on this question. We voted against the positions of the Majority contained in their document, but did not vote against accepting the already-adopted Majority line. Your distortion of this is another example of your fakery. After unity was also adopted by a majority of the IC sections, we criticized Healy for not turning up at the unity conference on the grounds that it should be made into a good, clear split. Obviously the SLL and French would never have gotten in, but things would have been clearer then. Hansen outmaneuvered Healy tactically and split the IC. That you didn’t argue with us about–you were just interested in trying to make out we were against the IC. Over this period (1962 to the present), on the Negro question, PL, the proletarian core, your line towards the SWP–you see yourself simply as developing while we see you as oscillating and zig-zagging. Take your line on the SWP for example. All through 1962 Wohlforth oscillated back and forth, doing something very peculiar to the word “centrist”. Centrist means nothing if not flux, change, motion, heterogeneous elements lumped together. You insisted that centrism was a finished category, and to say the party is centrist is to say it’s finished, that everyone in it is a centrist. Yet centrism means that in the minds of the members are all sorts of contradictory ideas. You made a mockery of the meaning of centrism for the sake of polemical convenience, at the same time carefully avoiding comrade Dobbs. You labeled Weiss and Swabeck the main enemy in the SWP, aided and abetted by the hirelings Hansen and Warde, but not the central party leadership itself, not Cannon and Dobbs. You worked this angle for only a little while, until the fall of ’63. Since nothing happened in the SWP between the spring and fall of ’63 you became dispirited and ready therefore to walk out of the party (maybe you decided the party didn’t have a proletarian core after all). Eventually you precipitated your own exodus by violating a standing (though not justifiable) party regulation, knowing that it would lead to your expulsion. Wohlforth doesn’t lead his people but maneuvers them into positions, assuming they aren’t going to see things clearly and act on that basis. His method is to figure out a way to stampede his own people so as to carry along the weaker and otherwise resistant elements (the same technique he tried, unsuccessfully, to use against us in ’62). This is not our method.
On the ’62 split: We made it clear that had the IC simply issued orders to us we would have accepted the line, as we would accept it again. But you wanted to break us, wanted us to sign a statement of agreement to a policy, not simply to carry out the policy. This was deliberate, because you wanted a purge. A shabby split was carried out by Wohlforth for organizational and personal reasons. Healy should have known better. Healy moved in an unprincipled way; he tried to purge this section and to break its back. It was not a question of discussion and a vote somewhere, then our carrying out the line, but of breaking us. We were asked not to accept but to affirm our agreement with something we did not agree with; “Even if only two people sign, they will be the tendency.” Comrade Wohlforth immediately ran down and told Dobbs (see Wohlforth’s “Letter to Bertha”), told his leader.
You’ve talked at great length about your struggles in the SWP. The Majority raided a tendency meeting of ours, and we responded very correctly by defending the right of factions to exist. You had not a word to say at the time, this was “only an organizational squabble”. You’ve always been very cavalier toward organizational questions–when it’s worked to your advantage. Now the Bulletin is filled with material about how the SWP has done away with inner party democracy and factions and the rest. But we fought against it in the party while you were silent. We always compelled the Majority to reveal themselves. Thus they expelled us for no deed on our part but for our “bad attitude”, and they had to put out five internal bulletins to justify it, and they’ve had to adopt a new special resolution which bans factions.
Now, where do we go from here in the light of your actions against us? (we regard you as a gang of organizational wreckers). Mercifully you’re an appendage of the British who are a stable political formation–otherwise you would have blown away long ago. However, you are so appended, you have people of talent among you, you’re situated in this country and you hold a general political line similar to ours despite your excesses. What we want to know is the possibility of honest collaboration on your part–that’s why this extremely squalid history has meaning to us. We want to know whether your past “method” is a model, to be repeated. If we are to unify, we want to know whether, for example, you are prepared to accept (not agree with) membership in an organization which has the position ours would on our own common history, for we must educate our members and we’re not going to burn our existing Marxist Bulletins (the best thing of course is that new alignments would develop within the new organization). As far as we are concerned these unity negotiations have not been particularly fruitful and haven’t taught us much we didn’t already know–things are about as we thought they were. We think unity is indicated providing you are not laying down the basis already for preparation for a new split. We want to be able to function and that’s why we want democratic centralism. Normally, if we weren’t going to have a session up North in a couple of weeks, we should at this point go over the 10 points raised in your initial letter where you suggest we’re pro-India, pro-Chiang, white-chauvinist, etc. What we’d like to see (after the Northern conference) is examination of a number of transitional measures towards a joint national conference following the IC Conference. If the Northern meeting and IC Conference make explicit an acceptance of a united group as an IC section, then we would be in favor of a joint convention, in the meantime bridging the gap with a series of parity committees coordinating our public activities. But what we want to know in the meantime is whether you can accept life in an organization which makes an evaluation of the 1962 split as being unprincipled. If progress toward unity goes well, the question tends to become increasingly academic. So, we still think unity is possible, though these negotiations have not been particularly encouraging. You have fastened ever harder to your position that the 1962 split was great. If that was really so, we shouldn’t be sitting here now. And that’s what we said at the time. Not that much has changed in the two year interval since, except that a few verifications have come in (we predicted the outcome in the SWP). One more thing about your then position on the character of the SWP (which you now say was never really revolutionary!). Within one month after our split came pretty good verification of the essentially centrist character of the central party leadership (their reaction to the Cuban missile crisis). And within a year their reaction to the Kennedy assassination showed they were far more rotten than most classic centrists. This was a matter of a year–not the 12 packed years 1922-1934 in the Soviet Union. The majority of our tendency was willing to abide by your position if we could only argue and be voted down. Or, if Healy had sent us an order–do this–we would have done it, as long as we did not have to personally affirm it within the tendency. But you wanted to get rid of us. You say it was necessary as we wanted to split from the party, but you were dead wrong, and by word and deed on our part you have been shown to be wrong. But you are so blind, so obsessive, that you wouldn’t see it and haven’t seen it through tonight.
Stoute: In assessing common histories since the split, one thing stands out–there would be big differences now had the split taken place over a real political difference. At the time we had a political difference on the nature of the SWP and a tactical difference on how we should function in it. Now you should be able to look back on your position of the time and recognize you were wrong. This is important because we do not want to repeat the unprincipled split, to unify now and then have the same thing happen again in a year or two over a similar matter. We struggled to exist in the SWP as an organized political tendency, whereas your policy was to minimize political struggle and also one that would tend to lead toward the dissolution of the tendency. You also used to charge we wanted to avoid mass struggle and merely have a “study circle”. Yet as soon as we were thrown out of the SWP we were told we were doing too much mass work and not enough theoretical work, that now we need “method”. A few months before the split Wohlforth said, “The SWP is centrist through and through”, but at the time of the split said that the SWP is revolutionary through and through. And now your position is that the SWP has never really been revolutionary! This kind of zig-zag makes me feel that we are not dealing with real political questions, and that it is somewhat unreal to discuss what are the political lines and differences of the two groups, because your political positions always hinge on some kind of maneuver. All this is reflected in the big organizational problem which is now posed: the problem of democratic centralism. We don’t want to see the same thing over again. On our handling of the Negro Question in 1963, it is artificial to separate the American Question and the Negro Question.
Mazelis: What did you submit in 1963 on the Negro Question?
Stoute: We submitted the article “For Black Trotskyism” and a statement of our critical support to the Fraser resolution (“Revolutionary Integration”, 1963).
van Ronk: Leading up to the ’63 Convention I was formally uncommitted within the party, though my sympathies were with the Minorities. When the Convention itself came up I found myself in a position where I had either to vote for political documents or make vague gestures. It was not that I felt the documents of the Reorganized Minority Tendency were perfect, but they gave me something on which to take a political stand, though at the time I was more sympathetic with Robertson’s position on the party. You did not give me anything on which I could take a stand politically, and this was crucial at the time. The Committee’s view on the party has been borne out. You viewed the party as centrist, i.e., a finished product, but it was the Committee that struggled at the Convention politically while all Spartacist did was submit an amendment or two and a statement on which there was no vote.
Robertson: We submitted two resolutions.
van Ronk: You submitted no resolution on the American Question and that was the key. You abdicated the struggle. I felt a hard struggle should be made. Your analysis that the party was a finished, hardened centrist thing harkens back to the period when you were in extreme opposition but submitted no documents on the key questions. This is true of your group today – you have strong political positions, but submit few documents to the world at large. This is because you have nothing to say, and the reason is that you take your politics as given. This is not Marxism. The conclusions of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky are extremely important but we cannot simply take them as given, and you do. We on the other hand have a large literary output. This is because we are in the process of examining a lot of things, reexamining all kinds of things, and we are struggling towards method–this is what method is, actually, and not what Jim [Robertson] said, deriving theory from program (good grief, man). Yes, there were political differences then, even though we didn’t fully understand them. If we had, then certainly we would have had a much more fruitful political discussion then, and perhaps be spared this. There were political differences; there are political differences; the essential nature of that split was principled.
Nelson: When you place the minutes of these negotiations side by side with the actual documents of 1962, then you explain to us how the split was principled, because they don’t say the same thing–not at all. Compare “Toward the Working Class” with the statements by comrade Fred [Mazelis] that it was simply a matter of your not being willing to abide by positions that a majority of the Tendency held … that there was a split in the offing and therefore you weren’t willing to abide by decisions. You coolly explained that this was something set up a long time before October–a cynical but fairly accurate description of the process that preceded the split. You were quite frank a couple of sessions ago, and that’s not what’s in “Toward the Working Class”. This is what we are jumping on, not the positions, because all the positions then were phony–you attacking positions you knew weren’t ours, and presenting in some ways positions that weren’t yours. You can say a thousand times that 1962 was principled, but the record says different, in black and white. You can’t explain “Toward the Working Class” in light of the proceedings of our negotiation sessions. Fred [Mazelis] said in his presentation that “Party and Class” was a blunder.
Mazelis: I didn’t say Party and Class was a blunder. I said submitting the Appendices was a blunder.
Nelson: The part of your document that referred to our positions, then, was, you admit, a blunder. The point I’m making is that the common denominator of “Toward the Working Class”, “Party and Class” and the August 12 letter is that they are a pack of lies. “Toward the Working Class” was designed to stampede the out-of-town comrades into a vote for you and against us. But they recognized this on the West Coast. Fox went out there and spoke to them on what was printed in “Toward the Working Class”, and he got thrown out of town with a 17-0 vote. How do you explain that in terms of principled splits? The same with the 12 August letter. Each of these documents ascribes to us positions by innuendo and outright lies. Talk about method. Political methodology doesn’t stand apart from theoretical underpinnings, and the political methodology that is the common denominator of all these documents is the lie. It’s one thing to fight hard for a political position, but when you’re lied to and shafted–that doesn’t go away. It’s happened three times. First it caused a split in our tendency. The second time it caused our expulsion from the SWP. And now it appears to be preventing our unity. Van Ronk, you once said, “We finked on you. You finked on us. We were both wrong, so let’s forget it.” But there is an essential difference between the intentions and results of “Party and Class” and what you claim was our finking, ie, the material presented by comrade Myra Weiss to the ’63 Plenum which indicated the relationship between the Reorganized Minority Tendency and the SLL. “Party and Class” was designed to get us expelled from the party. It was deliberately submitted to the Discussion Bulletin too late for us to reply, and it was only by the accident that I was working in the national office that enabled us to see it in time for us to reply contrary to your intentions. This was a knife in the back. You say the 1963 Plenum equals “Party and Class” and therefore cancels it. But comrade Healy had already written Dobbs earlier in 1963 saying that Tim [Wohlforth] was a representative of the IC, or words to that effect. Healy exposed Tim, at the time that you were playing the role of Loyal Opposition in the SWP. What Myra presented was to offset the slanders you presented to the party, and not designed in order to get you thrown out. You weren’t thrown out on this basis, while we were thrown out on the basis of what you did.
Speaking of “methodology”, let’s take a case in point. In 1961 Wohlforth thought we should make a power play in the YSA in order to fight the party. When the YSA was lost Tim turned his back on it–the party’s the real thing, when a few months before the YSA was the end-all. A big blunder, then overcorrection. Then, in May 1962 the document “On Orientation” characterized the party as containing elements of centrism. In October 1962 the party was dominated by a centrist tendency. A few weeks later the party was still revolutionary–this at a time when an enormous centrist development had clearly taken place–the capitulation over Cuba. The SWP ceased to be a revolutionary party at that time, and was already preparing unification with the Pabloites. The capitulation to Black Nationalism was the final manifestation that they had abandoned any perspective of building a revolutionary party in the U.S. Yet at that time you said the party was still revolutionary and possessed a solid proletarian core. We don’t want you to grovel, but to judge your positions politically. On every single point your tactics were widely at variance with the reality of the party’s behavior. Van Ronk, when you said that at least the ACFI comrades were struggling in 1963 you missed the last session when Wohlforth admitted an analysis of the party contained in the ACFI American Question document was largely incorrect, i.e., this oversimplified position of Philips that all that is needed to regenerate the party is to get its feet back in the working class. To wind up, it’s not so much our particular positions, but the profound political instability exhibited by your tendency and your demonstrated willingness to lie and to resort to the unprincipled methods more appropriate to bourgeois politics, and such as the SWP uses. You say we haven’t outgrown the SWP, but you haven’t broken with them yet in that sense … your whole past three years is nothing but a kind of fiction in terms of the written word.
Michael: You comrades seem to have characterized the SWP at the time as being rotten, non-proletarian to the core, and a diseased shell. Yet you maintain you wanted to remain in the party in order to recruit to your tendency. Your documents stress work where the Majority isn’t working, you refuse to carry the blame for the things the Majority was saying–well, how could you have reached people in the party with such an attitude? It’s obvious that you would alienate these people. They still believe in the party and they’re not going to see you working seriously to build it. When you label a group, you tend to represent all the people in the group as having the same characteristics. Since you viewed the party as worthless, there would be a tendency to view all the comrades in the party as worthless. At the last Convention it was our comrades that waged a political struggle, not yours. We had a discussion last week on the Marcus document which we feel is a continuation of our work on developing the American Question. But you didn’t reply to it in a serious way. You made jokes about it. Your approach to the Garment Center Vietnam Committee was the same. This approach tends to alienate people. Even in your current work the same sort of approach is evident.
Mazelis: Michael hit on a couple of very important points I was going to make. Robertson, you’re bookkeeping again. On the question of who left the party after the tendency split, we are talking about who were your comrades after the split, not before. Then Petras was not with us. A section of your group was looking for an out, and you catered to these people. Peter and Roger dominated the tone of your group. Cary left, Edith left, Cowley left. We continue to feel exactly what we felt then–we’re not ashamed of what we said in “Toward the Working Class”. At the same time we’re very proud of the fact that what we’re saying now is not what we said then. We have developed, there’s nothing wrong with that. Comparing “Toward the Working Class” with what we say now shows we were fundamentally correct then, yet we have developed. Our understanding was not complete at that time, either of your group or of the nature of the party. Our basic approach was correct–we wanted to struggle, we weren’t giving up, and you were. On our position on the working-class core of the SWP, we’re not ashamed of that either. We’re not saying that this wasn’t overstated to some extent. But if you’re going to say who was more correct, it was us. Following our break with you we continued to collaborate with these people and developed through this a whole grouping in the proletarian cadres in the SWP. The fact that we weren’t able to continue working with them after a certain time doesn’t mean that the work we did with them was worthless. We are very proud that we went through that process with them. After we broke with Philips and his group we continued to be able to reach a layer of people completely unreachable by you, among the older cadres of the party. I don’t see how it can get us very far simply to throw around the word “lies”. I’ve thought about the question of the proletarian core and there were perhaps 50 people, 15% of the party, that we were able to connect up with on one level or another and have an exchange with them. You couldn’t do anything with these people–you could only affirm your own purity and orthodoxy, and explain how rotten the SWP was. You can do a lot of good things, and have shown that as an organization. But you cannot struggle together with others, you cannot struggle in other organizations, and this is a very, very important weakness. The basic difference between us is on how to build a movement, a basic methodological difference. The whole composition of the party is changing, but to you all that matters is this question or that question. You fix a label and put a date on. Cuba is a deformed workers state and that’s that. That’s not the way we approach things. The fact was that the older cadre of the party was leaving, had to be struggled for. This was important to us, and that’s the thread running through our work from 1962 to the present, that’s why it’s not a question of zig-zags, that’s why we think we were right then. We’ve developed; it’s not a question of zig-zags. How can we explain “Toward the Working Class” in light of the party’s position on Cuba? That document showed we wanted to struggle and reach people in the party, and you did not. This is precisely what we want to explain in these sessions, how to build a movement. I don’t see any contradiction.
Who took the brunt in ’63? You gloated that we weren’t going to get thrown out, and that is obviously a way of saying we took the brunt. You attacked the SLL in no uncertain terms at the Convention precisely at the time you should have been cutting the ground from under the Majority notwithstanding whatever differences you had with the International. About your accepting the reunification, we never said we weren’t going to carry out the decisions of the Convention. You chose the technical point of acceptance to show very clearly to the Majority that you were differentiating yourself from the IC at a time when you should not have. You didn’t have to do that to remain in the party. They didn’t throw us out for voting against the reunification. We felt you should have voted with us against the reunification itself. We never said that you didn’t state your opposition to reunification in other senses, as in your resolution. You accuse us of lying when that is not the case at all. This is an indication of a very casual attitude toward theoretical struggle on your part, as is your statement that you haven’t learned anything from the negotiating sessions. The Negro Question and the American Question are not the same, and in any event you took a very abstract and incorrect theoretical line. You made no attempt to analyze the crisis of capitalism as it revealed itself at that time.
You inform us you are interested in working in unions, but you have not analyzed the situation in the labor movement. You share an empirical disdain for an arena where not much is happening. There’s no getting around it–you haven’t devoted any attention to the American Question. Your politics are given–it doesn’t matter that from 1961-1965, the whole life of your tendency, you had nothing to say on this question. We’ve waged a very serious struggle inside the SWP, hammering away at them on the American Question. We didn’t want to write off the SWP prematurely without a struggle, didn’t want to place premature labels. This was tied in with the fact that the SWP did not formally break with the IC until 1963, although it was of course clear where they were heading. Instead of struggling against all this, above all over the American Question and exposing the Majority on that level and showing how revisionism had eaten into their line at home, you ignored this and simply fixed a label. This was part of your alienated attitude which made it impossible for you to reach or relate to anyone in the SWP, just as you haven’t been able to relate to anything in PL. You saw our serious orientation as playing around. Show us where we adapted to PL or anybody else the way the Majority adapts in their opportunist little zig-zags which we are not guilty of. We went after PL knowing exactly what we were doing, and we succeeded in part because of that, we internalised the struggle in PL, and that struggle is still going on. If we had been working together in PL we would have had the exact same problems we had in the SWP. You accused us of selling out by distributing the PL leaflet calling for a boycott of the presidential election. To this day we have not the slightest guilt about this, not the slightest guilt whatsoever. This ties in with other things I will mention. We would have no objection as part of a struggle in a living movement to distribute this welfare workers committee leaflet calling for negotiations or indicating some confidence in the U.N., as part of a struggle, making it clear where we stand but not refusing to go along with these people. The same thing goes in part for the Fifth Avenue Peace Parade next week. The same thing goes far PL. The same thing goes for the Garment Center committee. These are things that tie together some of the problems. If you study the way the SLL has struggled in the YS and Labour Party, I think you could not with your line have done that and still have been part of the struggle. Because that struggle entails a lot of distributing leaflets we don’t like. You take an Ohlerite line on tactics. This sums up our differences. I would conclude by reaffirrning the points made before. Our record both in the SWP and PL is one we are proud of, that we feel confirms the points we have been raising. Our group sees the need for a serious relation to these various movements and a serious struggle within them. This relates precisely to your seeing theory derived from program. This relates precisely to the point we made about how you viewed the SWP. You’re acting the way the SWP did at that period when it had practically nothing to do with outside organizations, concentrating on shopkeeping, building the party, etc. The whole situation of the SWP shows that this attitude is not enough, that you have to struggle in a living movement.
Robertson: I had hoped there might be some reply to my perspectives. My initial presentation had two parts: (1) a running critique of our past; (2) where we stand today and, if you people opt for unity on the basis I indicated, how we can go forward. If someone at a public meeting should ask, you people have just united–why did you split? we couldn’t just have a free-for-all.
Mazelis: This is something the exact handling of which would have to be discussed–it’s obviously a problem.
Robertson: It’s a question of accepting rather than agreeing–something that does seem to be an obstacle. In reply to comrade van Ronk on was the American Question the key in 1963? No. You have an obsessional notion that no matter what the relationship of forces or the motion of the class or what is happening that in a given country at any particular time the national question must dominate. This is an oversimplification. In 1961 and 1963 this was simply not true. We were in a party whose revisionism was expressing itself stage by stage in those areas where there was motion and struggle in the world. This is where the inner-party struggle took place. Philips sounded fairly ridiculous by saying the Majority has forgone a proletarian perspective, therefore we must turn immediately to the mass of the American workers. That is posing the whole question quite irrelevantly. The big exception was the Negro struggle in the North and South–and this was the area we picked up on, oriented to theoretically and practically–indeed it would be hard to improve on that one-page amendment we introduced as an outlook on the American scene. Another problem is that ACFI is an excessively literary tendency, that you don’t really mean it if you don’t say it in 50 pages. Where comrade Trotsky was seeking to develop an international propaganda group between 1928-34, he listed a half dozen key points in the crystallization of left oppositional cadres around the world, and they were on an international basis. Our situation is no better than Trotsky’s was at that time. Obviously, for a mass party how one responds on the domestic terrain is decisive. But to say this is always true of very small propaganda groups, including the SWP, is a vast oversimplification. You charge we have a low literary output because we have nothing to say. There are two sides of this: (1) we aren’t a predominantly literary tendency, and (2) Wohlforth can turn out with the least amount of effort the largest number of words this side of Joe Hansen, and Marcus is no mean man with a pen either (though perhaps it would be wiser if he could be placed in some kind of restraint or under sedation). Nor do we consider ourselves a finished or closed tendency, or a systematically all-sided propaganda group even. We are a part of a propaganda group in two senses: (1) we are involved in this country; (2) we are politically part of the International Committee–this is part of the reason we are interested in the organizational side of unification. You on the other hand are almost exclusively a literary tendency, with everything poured into that. But if you compare us and yourselves with most Trotskyist sections of our size over the past 30 years, you will get an idea of a fairly normal balance between activity and propaganda that much more closely corresponds to ours. On any topic you can drop 50 dubious, embarrassing pages. It doesn’t matter that you haven’t any involvement in the arena or may know nothing about it–but by God you’ve got those 50 pages! Your American resolutions are of that sort.
What is the relationship between theory and program? Program is decisive. Theory is a part of program. By program we mean the steps in the taking of power by the working class. Since you are facile at writing, you inflate the essence of writing, i.e., method and theory, into the whole. You’ve turned inside out, whereas the Philips-Wohlforth tendency used to say that class orientation and rooting oneself in the class was the all-decisive thing. Before that it was the “party”, being at one with the party. Now it’s “method”. Michael talks about working with the “Majority”. Alas, he obviously never read comrade Harper’s document which pointed out that in the course of mass work where you have fractions it has been found easier to do one’s work where the Majority presence was not overwhelming. This was turned inside out by the Control Commission which expelled us, operating on the paraphrase of a quotation from that document by comrade Wohlforth. The idea of working where the Majority wasn’t overwhelming was presented as just running amok. Dobbs presented your interpretation very well. Such a thing isn’t possible, much less to be desired. But we found we could function more easily where there was a fairly proper mix, where we didn’t have a little Sylvia running to bring the Majority down on our back as at CCNY (she wasn’t very powerful herself, but could always bring in the Majority). You see, the Majority wasn’t a loyal Majority. The Majority consciously tried to prevent our recruiting people to the SWP because from the extent you draw people around you and bring them into the party they are predisposed to then consider your positions after they join the organization. Therefore the Majority tried to keep us out of mass activity. So, Michael, you should carefully consider whether the phrases that got us thrown out of the SWP were not really paraphrases with new meanings, or whether they were what we had really said.
On the more minor question of who dominated our group and whether we intended to split from the SWP or not, Petras is cited. He left several months after the split, but never had anything to do with our political viewpoint, always having agreed with Tim [Wohlforth], and was demoralized by the split and his loss of faith in Tim. You can’t name a single person central to our tendency and who agreed with us on the nature of the SWP that left the party. Those who dropped away were those you had won or were orienting to, and they did drop away–as a result of the split which you made. Those who dominated our tendency were those that wrote the documents: Robertson, Harper, Ireland, Mage, Stoute and White. They’re all still functioning, even Ireland who’s been out in the boondocks all this time. Even he who’d been the least active of our cadres bitterly defended his party membership. In the SWP we always made it clear we had fundamental agreement with the IC-SLL, but we were perfectly prepared at any time to indicate we were not at one with them, because we were not and are not now at one with them. We have basic political agreement, but not exact, and there’s no reason we or they should take such responsibility. If you don’t like it, that’s too bad, but that’s the way it’s been. We’ve been the ones who’ve opposed that, wanted an organizational common front; but the one thing the IC can’t have is its cake and eat it too. It can’t keep us at arm’s length and at the same time expect total defense where we disagree. Until there are organizational bonds, that’s not even a question. At present there’s no reason to subordinate organizational considerations where a political matter is relevant and where we think the SLL has a short-sighted position. It’s enough to get hung for our own positions, not those of others.
Finally, and this is probably most significant, in relation to Fred’s [Mazelis] remarks about passing out the PL leaflet calling for an election boycott, the welfare anti-war committee leaflet that called for negotiations and U.N. intervention, the Parade which you comrades continue to be sponsors of, under the slogan “Stop the War Now”– these reveal a systematic rightist bias on the part of your comrades. And you just pass this off by saying everybody has to do things they don’t like! It’s possible to work in a group without voluntarily doing those things you profoundly disagree with. Don’t tell me that the SLL comrades got out there and pushed Gaitskill’s right wing garbage and the rest of it. They did whatever minimum tokenism they had to in order to stay in. No one made you stay in the Parade Committee, no one would have been thrown out of that Vietnam committee for not passing out that leaflet. Your remaining in PL didn’t depend on your handing out that leaflet. No matter what your position is, you’ll always find someone to the left and someone to the right. You have to use judgment, judgment on whether to voluntarily pass out anti-working-class lines, opportunist lines. It is hypocritical to on the one hand make the record by calling in your paper for a vote to the SWP and being actually indifferent to the question so that you will for convenience sake pass out a leaflet calling for boycott. This is a very severe political criticism of you, mainly reflected organizationally. The political expression has been suppressed by your ties with the British. But the way they function toward the CP and the BLP is very different from the way you function toward the SWP and PL. You’ve always shown a far more conciliatory (politically and personally) ingratiating quality in the course of your work than we–strikingly so. If the bond were ever severed between you, we would be concerned about the loss of a small number of radical comrades. The question of these three leaflets, these three incidents, was of a profound, not an episodic character. This is not a generalization of atrocity stories. Wohlforth and I had a similar problem some years ago when we were deciding whether the SWP leadership was right or whether Healy was right. Eventually it became possible independent of the circumstances to determine a profound opportunism on the part of the English Pabloites, endorsed by the Pabloite International Secretariat. This was when they circulated, without comment, in their public internal bulletin the documents of some purely and characteristic Mensheviks who had broken from the predecessor of the SLL. But as for us in this room, we know the circumstances also, and we can say, yes, there’s a right-left difference showing up between us. I don’t care whether you call it left and ultra-left, but it’s a right-left difference.
Mazellis: That’s right, we agree on one thing.
Robertson: That’s right.
Stoute: At the time the split took place, and prior to it when we were discussing the nature of the SWP Tim [Wohlforth] accused us of not doing enough shop-keeping at the SWP headquarters. Now we’re being accused of just proclaiming our purity and not actually working in mass arenas. But we’re also criticized for doing only mass work and not concentrating on theory and method. All this seems very contradictory. To me it proves you are not proceeding from any consistent analysis. The SWP Majority wanted to get rid of us partly because we wanted to work in mass arenas, and not solely around party headquarters. They tried to keep us out of areas of struggle because they didn’t want us to recruit anyone. If we hadn’t been interested in recruiting there would have been no problem. Regarding the way you have worked in PL and in the Parade Committee, and in light of the right-left difference that has shown up here tonight and the points Mazelis raised about the way in which you work with people, I’m beginning to wonder if you see working with us in the same light.
van Ronk: I’m glad we’re getting out of the archaeology and into current politics. One thing that’s been very grating in these sessions is the sort of ledger-keeping you engage in, Robertson: “In document 21a you said so and so. In 37c you said so and so. We, on the other hand, never change our positions.” As a matter of fact I remember you once said to me, I haven’t changed an essential political position in the last 10 years. Well, I have! At the 1963 Convention the essential thing I thought Wohlforth and Co. had was that they took the leadership of the opposition; they did not tail-end, and your amendment on the American Question was a tail-end. I was attracted on that basis, on the need to intervene politically. As far as the content of the Wohlforth American Question document, there are things in the document that I … I blanch as a matter of fact. (We had our showdown with Philips later and we learned something from it.) The content that I disagreed with in the document was mostly expunged from the politics of our present organization in the process of our dispute with Philips, which was very fruitful. If I were at the ’63 Convention today I would still choose Wohlforth and Co., because now I would be able to see how you people equivocated very badly on the international question, which, as I see things now, is far more central. It’s hard work to do the literary work we do, but it’s necessary to keep abreast. We don’t believe in a dichotomy between mass work and literary work. If you’re not in the mass movement, your literary work won’t be worth a damn; but you’ve got to documentarily evaluate your work in the mass movement also. So we criticize you on the one hand for your high-bred purism and on the other for your WPA-type activity. There is no inconsistency in our point of view. In Marxist method, the two criticisms are not mutually exclusive. You say you haven’t done much work on the American Question per se but have done a lot on the Negro Question which is the same thing. I think you’ve got the order reversed, for the Negro movement is responding to pressure of American and international world capitalism as a whole, and this requires evaluation on all levels to be able to accurately pinpoint any single question. It’s commendable that you’re doing work on the Negro Question, particularly if you’re involved in the field, but to view the American Question as an appendage to the Negro Question–I can’t believe my ears. You say, we derive our method from our program; again you’ve got it reversed. Methodology is an understanding of how things actually work in intervals, concretely. From this we derive program. From this we understand what programmatic demands are necessary, then proceed. Then we proceed to the question of power. On the leaflets we’ve distributed that were discussed–first of all this is not what we conceive of ourselves as having been created by history to do. If you could take our Bulletin and could show me concretely in black and white, as you’ve done in our discussions, that we’re incipient right-wingers, I’d be disturbed. But I think you’re nit-picking. You’ve got to view who and what we are, as you’ve been saying, over a period of time. Finally, as to what has been gained from these sessions. Just from the discussion tonight, I question your ability to learn. Your politics are given. You’re not attempting to keep up (you’ve got to keep applying method). Marx never had Marx to read–Marxism is a method. We don’t see evidence of your applying it, we don’t see the essential literary output. Perhaps we put too much effort into literary output, but there has to be more than you do. Your nonchalant intellectual attitude towards these sessions raises the question in my mind, Can these comrades learn? Or is it all already known?
Nelson: I’m afraid I’m going to resort to some of that hard “ledgerkeeping” again. Going back and evaluating what people said at certain points is called “archaeology” by comrade van Ronk but it’s called theory and preservation of history by others. As to who took the brunt at the ’63 Convention, at that time it was very easy to be for Black Nationalism, and your tendency was at that time for Black Nationalism and its theoretical implications. The only amendment you put forth on the Negro Question was an action amendment. Comrade Mazelis explicitly wrote that he supported the theoretical foundations of the party’s position on Black Nationalism. I’m not saying you embraced it fully but it was easy to be for it at that Convention. Once outside the SWP and away from the pressure of the Majority you changed your position on both Black Nationalism and PL. There was no fight inside the party on the American Question. In 1963 it was only a minor point on the Convention agenda. The tough question in 1963 was the Negro Question. The whole party was running around beating themselves with sticks, ashamed they were white and the SWP was a white party, and anyone who thought differently was some kind of racist. We were under extreme pressure for months; our position was repugnant to the Majority, while yours was sort of “ho-hum”. Robertson has characterized your tendency tonight as having a certain rightward bias. On thinking back, you backed up on your position towards Black Nationalism–after the fight was over. But when the screws were on your attitude was conciliatory. In the general context of the SWP you always had a conciliatory attitude toward the Majority and on occasion actually worked in bloc with them against us. You were “the loyal oppositionists”.
Mazelis says how can we accuse you of being opportunist towards PL. It was us at the 1963 New York Branch Conference that introduced the memorandum on PL. And it looks damn good today. Your comrades got up on the floor and denounced it along with the Majority–PL was just a bunch of Stalinist adventurers–we had to fight both you and the Majority on that view. At the time the Majority was coming up with one atrocity story after another on PL, because they didn’t want anything to do with PL, they wanted to avoid confrontation with PL, and you joined them in this. After you split from the party and faced the big, cruel world–then PL looked a little better to you. You call this “learning from mistakes”. But it reflects the fact that your tendency has been very susceptible to pressures and tends to move organizationally to the right, and politically to the right in the process, where desirable. On the Parade Committee, having been caught with your pants down, I thought you’d back up–but you’re defending your role! Don’t you know what you signed your name to, what was in that “Call”? It’s the State Department position. It’s the SANE position–“this war is not in the interest of national security”. We broke from the Committee, not because we couldn’t have a speaker, but because we couldn’t go along with their discipline. We weren’t going to carry their signs or take responsibility for their political line. You comrades did, along with the SWP that played the broker. You’re in the same barrel. On the matter of small lies being part of the big lie, as a method, there are a couple of small things. In “Party and Class” Wohlforth quotes from a letter that was never actually sent from Robertson on our attitude towards your Convention material. The first sentence stated, “We see one essential defect in your Convention material …” and characterized this as the overstatement by Philips on the task of the party to do all things simultaneously everywhere. In the next sentence in your document Tim [Wohlforth] turns this on its head when he says, “It is clear from the above that Robertson sees his differences with us on this point as essential”. This was an entirely different meaning. In the 12 August letter there is a sentence that refers to “difference of a methodological character”, etc. Tim [Wohlforth] is “affirming” that “we felt then and we feel now that if we could reach a firmer agreement on the Marxist method, then these tactical questions would resolve themselves. But if we cannot, the ‘growing disparity’ between our two groups cannot help but be more and more accentuated.” That “growing disparity” that you “quote” was “the growing disparity in size” between our groups! This method of distortion is used consistently in all your documents. You fake things. Revolutionists are supposed to be honest.
Mazelis made a big point that a number of our people allegedly left the SWP though our tendency itself did not split. What is the record? On our “Declaration On the Cuban Crisis” 30 November 1962, our first document following our internal split, 24 comrades signed. Of that 24, 14 are still with us, 4 are active sympathizers, 3 were West Coast comrades who were driven out as a result of your split, and 3 were minimal comrades who can be chalked up as minimal attrition. That’s a damn good record. And this was three years ago, before the pre-Convention discussion, before the Convention, before the Control Committee hearings, and before the SWP and YSA expulsions. And 14 are still active members.
On our position that theory is part of program and that program is the road to power–I don’t see how you can abstract methodology from the whole question of theory and program. All depends on how you view your role in the revolutionary struggle. What are we getting out of these sessions? It comes down to honesty of intention. The purpose of these discussions was supposedly to explore whether or not there was in fact a basis for unity, a probe. By the 5th or 6th session Wohlforth conceded he was ready to go back to his organization with the recommendation that there was a principled basis for unity. But the main point is that this was known beforehand. Wohlforth knew all along where we stood on every issue, and I’m sure other ACFI comrades knew also. On your allegation that we do not develop theory, we view our analysis of the process which created deformed workers states in Cuba and China as a major theoretical contribution to the world movement, while Tim [Wohlforth] harks back to the structural assimilation theory, largely lifted from the 1946 discussion material of Germain. Our position resolves the question of China which the SLL has not yet resolved–the contradiction of their positions on Cuba and China, the former being capitalist and the latter a deformed workers state. The French comrades and the VO group have not resolved this question either. And we’ve made other theoretical contributions. I’m annoyed by Mazelis’ comment that we’ve consistently attempted to avoid struggle. If there is one single characteristic of your group in terms of performance, it has been the tendency to avoid struggle, to avoid confrontation. In 1962 you were afraid of being a minority in the national tendency so you took the easy way out, getting an ultimatum from Healy expelling the majority. In the SWP it was us who were the strong tendency. We consolidated our forces despite what was designed to organizationally kill us in 1962. We fought the party politically. In 1963 we had a major document on the international question, an amendment to the PC resolution on the American Question, and documents on the Sino-Soviet and Negro Questions. At each point where there’s been a test of the fiber of our respective groups in coming to grips with issues in struggle, you’ve slid off to the side, ducking a harder fight. The right way is usually the difficult way. We’ve attempted to engage PL politically, to win over a chunk of their organization. All you’ve done is inoculate PL against Trotskyism, encouraging an organizational rather than a political response.
Michael: Some of the things you people write are pretty impressive. Your characterization of PL three years ago is pretty sharp, and the ACFI people may have disagreed with you then, but I think one can attribute their change in line to a certain growth. The approach ACFI used to PL was different. A comrade was sent to the Lower East Side club to do work, passed out right-wing leaflets or leftwing leaflets however you want to characterize them, sold Challenge, delivered it to newsstands, participated in demonstrations and impressed people as being very serious and interested in building the organization. At the same time this comrade’s line and what he believed in were easily distinguished. He didn’t do this by going in and screaming “Trotskyism” all over the place. He did it by getting involved in discussions that involved PL and counterposing PL’s line with a line that didn’t necessarily have to be labeled Trotskyist but which in fact was Trotskyist. If a committee we’re working in happens to take a line we’re not happy with, we don’t just walk out and demonstrate across the street and counterpose it. We’ll stay with these people, but they’ll know what we stand for. We agree with you in many things, e.g., we certainly don’t want the anti-war campaign to continue behind rabbis and ministers and we will fight that inside these committees, but we’re not going to reach these people by simply marching out. We’ll make it clear where we stand.
2. Good and Welfare:
Robertson: I have three points: (a) A letter from Bill W. to be read at his request. (b) Copies of our press release on the split with the Parade Committee. (c) The minutes of the 5th session are now ready, and the 6th session minutes will be ready shortly.
Mazelis: The joint election leaflets are ready to be picked up.