There is a ferment in our country which reflects the crisis of capitalism—a growing anger over plant shutdowns, unemployment, inflation, takebacks, and cutbacks, home and farm foreclosures; a rejection of the imperialist schemes of U.S. policy-makers in Central America, the Middle East, and other areas in the third world, and a rejection as well of the threat of nuclear war; along with resentment over the assault on Blacks, Hispanics, women, and other oppressed groups. Increasing numbers of people are beginning to relate these issues to each other, to turn away from “politics-as-usual” and to seek avenues for action. The consciousness of the American working class is shifting leftward. The opportunities for revolutionary socialists are increasing. There is much work to do.
A similar ferment can be found in other advanced capitalist countries. Even more intense is the insurgent spirit in the underdeveloped capitalist countries, where the dynamic of permanent revolution is asserting itself— especially in Central America —with unequalled force. And in the bureaucratized workers’ states, particularly in Poland, the consciousness of the working class is advancing under the blows of the privileged bureaucracy—setting the stage for the political revolution which will make the workers the masters of the factories. Now as never before the revolutionary Marxist program of the Fourth International is being confirmed and enriched. And on a world scale, too, the responsibilities of our movement are immense.
It is a great tragedy that faced with such opportunities and challenges, the majority leadership of the SWP has demonstrated a lack of confidence—in our traditions and program, in the working class and its struggles, and in itself. This leadership has broken from our theoretical and programmatic foundations. They have openly begun to reject our ties to the world Trotskyist movement organized in the Fourth International. They have more and more withdrawn from intervention and participation in the mass organizations of the working class and its allies. And they have undertaken a series of anti-Leninist organizational measures in order to silence and slander those who criticize their new line. These developments threaten the future of the revolutionary party.
Party membership has declined drastically, due in part to a lack of recruitment and an inability to consolidate those we do recruit; but also, in large measure, as a result of an irresponsible squandering of longtime cadre—the most precious resource of any Marxist party. During the same period the objective situation for growth has become more and more favorable, and other left groups in this country are experiencing an expansion of membership and influence.
The party ranks will have to intervene in order to reverse the current disastrous policies.
An anti-Trotskyist course was first signaled in speeches by Jack Barnes and Mary-Alice Waters at the 1980 Oberlin educational conference. But instead of stating their new perspectives fully and openly to the party membership so they could be discussed prior to our 1981 convention, the majority leadership presented only a few oblique references in the 1981 draft political resolution downgrading the Fourth International and counterposing to it a nonexistent “new mass Leninist international,” a perspective which has, and can have, no substance today.
Throughout the entire 1981 preconvention period, and during the convention itself, spokespeople for the Political Committee denied that they had embarked upon a path away from Trotskyism and the Fourth International. Only two days after the conclusion of the 1981 convention, however, at an expanded Political Committee meeting which heard a series of “informational” reports on “historical” studies done by central party leaders, an open attack was launched upon the theoretical traditions which our movement has defended since the founding of the American Left Opposition in 1928. Since August 1981, through a series of articles in our public press and talks by party leaders, none of which has been discussed or approved in any party body, sweeping new theoretical perspectives have been laid out:
1) The article in the November 1981 International Socialist Review by Doug Jenness entitled, “How Lenin Saw the Russian Revolution” began this revisionist process. Jenness asserted that Lenin’s pre-1917 concept of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry “effectively armed the Bolsheviks to carry through their historic task.” This statement clearly heralded the beginnings of a criticism of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution.
2) This implied criticism became an open polemic in the second article by Jenness, “Our Political Continuity with Bolshevism” (ISR, June 1982). Here it is explained that Trotsky was wrong about permanent revolution from 1905 to 1917, and that had the Bolsheviks adopted Trotsky’s theoretical perspectives it would have “increased the likelihood that the party would have failed to take power in October 1917.” In addition, Jenness repeats a number of slanders first raised by the Stalinists, such as Trotsky’s “underestimation of the peasantry.”
3) A rejection of Trotsky’s pre-1917 concept of permanent revolution logically required a rejection of all of his subsequent work on this question as well, since this was based on his early approach and affirmed its correctness. At the December 1982 plenum of the SWP National Committee, Barry Sheppard presented what was described as his “personal view” that Trotsky had developed an incorrect and sectarian understanding of the Chinese revolution of 1925-27. Various distortions of Trotsky’s actual positions were necessary in order for Sheppard to establish this idea—for example that Trotsky called for “instant expropriation” of the Chinese bourgeoisie. By rejecting Trotsky’s analysis of China, Comrade Sheppard has broken definitively with the theory of permanent revolution, since it is precisely as a result of the 1925-27 experience that Trotsky confirmed his theory and gave it worldwide application. In declaring this to be a sectarian error, Comrade Sheppard repudiates our most fundamental programmatic position.
4) This repudiation of our traditions was carried to its highest stage so far in the speech by Jack Barnes at the Chicago YSA convention, “Their Trotsky and Ours, Revolutionary Continuity Today.” Not only did he repeat Comrade Sheppard’s rejection of permanent revolution, but he stated that the only period in which Trotsky was a real revolutionary Marxist was from 1917, when he joined the Bolshevik party, until around the time of Lenin’s death in 1924—with an occasional correct position before and after that period, such as on German fascism in the 1930s. Our revolutionary continuity with Lenin and Marx, Barnes explained, was blurred in the process of Trotsky’s fight against Stalinism. In this way Barnes called into question the entire activity of Trotsky’s last exile, including the founding of the Fourth International, and went so far as to predict that, “None of us will call ourselves [Trotskyists] before the decade is out.”
All of these profound revisions were unveiled in the seventeen months after the end of the last SWP convention (and there is no reason to believe that we have reached the end of the revelations). Repeated requests even for the opening of a literary discussion on these questions have been rejected. In this way the Barnes leadership has fundamentally changed our most basic programmatic precepts without any discussion by the membership before the convention or since, and even without any discussion in the leading party committees. Such a mode of functioning is in complete contradiction to ail Leninist norms.
Barnes’s rejection of permanent revolution inevitably leads in the direction of an adaptation to the methodology of the Menshevik-Stalinist theory of stages. The theoretical revival of the “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry” under the name of the “workers and farmers government” represents a step in that direction.
The term “anti-imperialist” is also being given a meaning different from its traditional one. The majority leadership is moving toward using “anti-imperialist” in the same way as it has traditionally been employed by Stalinists and other class collaborationists—to justify subordinating an anticapitalist perspective in the colonial world to a strategic alliance with the national bourgeoisie; and worse, to rationalize political support to radical neocolonial bourgeois regimes in the name of their alleged “anti-imperialist” character. This can be most clearly seen in the majority line on events in Iran, and it also underlies recent errors on our orientation to the Palestinian struggle.
The recent evolution of the Barnes leadership has also been marked by the beginnings of a rejection of Trotsky’s analysis of the degeneration of the Soviet Union and of Stalinism. A hallmark of our movement has been our program for a political revolution in those workers’ states where a hardened, counter revolutionary bureaucratic caste must be overthrown by organs of workers’ democracy. Our party press is virtually silent on this question in response to the Polish events, and the central leadership has begun to substitute the incorrect, gradualist concept of “regeneration” or “democratization” of the workers’ state.
Our party also has a rich tradition of defending the rights of dissidents in the deformed workers’ states through petition campaigns, meetings, and demonstrations in which we have sought to organize all those left-wing forces who would join with us in common action. Yet even before the crackdown on Solidarity in December 1981 the leadership of the SWP not only refused to initiate such activity, but attacked other left-wing forces in the U.S. and elsewhere that have campaigned in solidarity with Solidarity. The party has failed to actively fight against reactionary forces which have sought to transform the struggle of the Polish working class into cheap anti-communist propaganda, being content instead to denounce them from the sidelines. What’s more, the refusal to mobilize support for the Polish workers is rationalized by wrongly counterposing the process of social revolution in Central America to that of political revolution in Poland.
It is certainly no surprise that these basic programmatic revisions have been accompanied by an ever-increasing series of attacks on the organizational expression of our program on a world scale—the Fourth International. This has included slanders and falsifications directed against the United Secretariat and against individual sections (most notably the Mexican PRT), and presented internally to the party membership in the form of “informational” reports. There have also been a series of public attacks on the Fourth International in the press and in Barnes’s Chicago speech. Yet despite these complaints about the political line of the International and its sections, the SWP majority leadership has failed to present even one resolution or line document for a vote in any international body in counterposition to the views of the majority. Such an approach is completely irresponsible. And at the same time, the SWP is the only section or sympathizing group in which the leadership has prohibited rank-and-file members from collaborating on articles for the International Internal Discussion Bulletin.
Only one conclusion can reasonably be drawn from these facts. All of the assertions by party leaders before and during our 1981 convention—that no question was being raised about basic program or about our party’s relationship to the Fourth International—have proven to be deceptions. The central leadership has organized itself as a factional grouping which rejects our most fundamental past theoretical perspectives and has set itself the task of changing the program on which our party was founded and built. This reflects in the final analysis a break from our basic strategic orientation to the working class. Rejection of the theory and program of proletarian revolution can only express rejection of the liberating historical role of the workers. This lost confidence will inevitably be replaced by newfound faith in other class forces.
This loss of confidence in the working class is also illustrated by an increasingly sectarian approach to all political life of the masses in the United States, which has accompanied the process of liquidation of the party’s program. Party members are systematically prevented from taking even modest responsibilities in the unions, women’s organizations, antiwar committees, Black, Puerto Rican, Chicano, and other minority groups, student groups, human rights coalitions, etc. In the immediate capitalist assault the leadership sees only defeats in store for workers and their allies. This analysis is then used to justify and rationalize a purely propagandist and abstentionist orientation toward confrontations and skirmishes that are taking place now in the class struggle. No action program, however modest, is developed to attempt to guide these real struggles. The party is overlooking its basic task, that of providing a political perspective for working people. Demonstrations and other defensive actions are dismissed as insufficient (and apparently therefore of little value). Although actions that do take place are sometimes covered favorably in the Militant, this does not generally reflect any serious involvement by the party. The ability of the ruling class to divert some struggles into channels that don’t threaten capitalist interests is consistently exaggerated and used as an excuse for not offering our own perspectives. Our failure in this can only contribute to the fulfillment of the central leadership’s prophecy of struggles being diverted by bourgeois and probourgeois forces, thereby creating unavoidable setbacks and defeats in the current phase of the class struggle. Yet it is noteworthy that the recent period has been marked by a number of important victories which have been achieved when workers developed the unity and strength to resist.
A deep pessimism and ultimatism pervades the leadership’s orientation, or lack of one, to the unions and other social movements. We lecture abstractly about how only a labor party can reverse the tide of defeats. More recently the “workers and farmers government” slogan has tended to replace the labor party as the solution to all problems of U.S. workers. While such statements are correct in the abstract, they have in practice been falsely counterposed to our participation in the mass movements and to a program of concrete proposals for action.
The growing antinuclear movement has been characterized by the leadership as at best a diversion from the task of organizing opposition to U.S. policies in Central America, and at worst as “prowar.” Instead of participating in this important development and helping to sharpen its perspectives, we stand on the sidelines as carping critics. The SWP majority leadership ignores or denies the fact that antinuclear demonstrations have already reached a million in size, and have regularly included and featured speakers and slogans opposing U.S. intervention in Central America. Several hundred local county and state labor bodies have formally joined this movement—directly counterposing the U.S. war budget to the need for social services, education, and jobs. Yet all that the party leadership can see is the Democratic politicians who try to manipulate this movement for their own ends.
Even the tasks of defense of the Central American revolution, of which the Barnes leadership professes to be the only true champion, have not been carried out. The tactic of the united front on the broadest possible basis in defense of the principle of self-determination is being abandoned. We have failed to adequately explain what is wrong with the “negotiate now” slogan—presented by the CP, CISPES, and others—as a demand for this movement, and thereby have defaulted in our responsibility to explain that the U.S. government has no right to negotiate any aspect of the future of any people on earth. While fully supporting the right of the Salvadorans to conduct such negotiations, the U.S. antiwar movement must demand simply that our government get out and stay out of Central America. It is this perspective which can most effectively organize working people and their allies in this country.
In recent months the SWP leadership has made a turn, but not a correction. They now proclaim themselves to be the one and only true builders of the World Front in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador. But they have presented this perspective in counterposition to the real forces—whatever their inadequacies—that have actually been involved for the last few years in Central America solidarity and anti-U.S. intervention work. This can only be a hopeless sectarian exercise. We must begin now the necessary process of joining with all other forces who can be drawn into a broad, non-exclusionary movement around the basic slogan of “U.S. Hands Off Central America.”
While the severity of the assault on working people mounts, our party’s response has been focused almost exclusively on propaganda tasks. But even this necessary work of patiently explaining the fundamental causes of the current capitalist crisis and the socialist alternative to it, through our press, forums, election campaigns, classes, etc., is projected incorrectly. The education of working people must be connected to the fightbacks and mobilizations that are occurring—however limited and embryonic they may be. It is mainly through participation in these day-to-day struggles that the working class as a whole educates itself, and gains the experience necessary to understand a socialist perspective. Through this process of participating in real battles we also learn how to make the generalizations in our transitional program concrete and comprehensible to working people. And such participation will lead toward the recruitment of workers, reversing the drastic decline in party membership, and transforming the character of the party so that workers will feel comfortable in it.
Ironically, the refusal to participate in the real struggles of the working class has frequently been justified by the party leadership in the name of “deepening the turn.” But the abstentionist policies, in reality, lead us only to isolation from the masses. No intelligent worker will take seriously those who claim to aspire to the leadership—of nothing less than the proletarian revolution—but who refuse to take any responsibility for the most elementary and modest tasks of the day. We must play a role in these still limited fights, even if we know that they are likely to lose given those limitations. To refuse to do so, counterposing instead more revolutionary battles to come in the future, is an elementary error. It will guarantee only our continued isolation today, and prepare the ground for opportunist “overcorrections” or further sectarian policies tomorrow.
Our real isolation from the workers is further compounded by job-hopping. A cavalier attitude toward holding a job is deliberately promoted, making it difficult or impossible for comrades to acquire the necessary experience in our knowledge about the struggles in their industry, making them perennial newcomers who cannot speak with authority, and alienating us from workers who cannot afford this luxury. The policy of reassigning comrades from industry to industry has also left them with lowered seniority and thus more vulnerable to layoffs. All of this undermines our ability to build on-going, functioning fractions.
This frivolous attitude toward work engenders a parallel attitude to the problems that workers face in their day-to-day lives. It impedes the mutual influence exerted between our party and the masses. All of the conditions which caused us to adopt the perspective of the turn in the past remain valid today. The turn remains a necessary and central task. But there can be no turn to the working class without taking part in the day-to-day struggles, and without going through similar life experiences with our co-workers. Only by rooting ourselves in our jobs and in our unions, and in the other fighting organizations of working people, can we begin a genuine turn.
It will certainly be necessary for us to occasionally reorient our cadre from one industry to another, and from one city to another, in order to take advantage of new opportunities. But a serious and deliberate policy along these lines has nothing in common with the current “revolving door” approach to building fractions.
The party’s withdrawal from mass work means that its consciousness is turned inward. Routine propaganda activities are portrayed as great campaigns and become a substitute for other necessary political interventions. Any modest successes are touted as “qualitatively” superior to previous accomplishments because they are supposedly garnered as “part of the turn.” The turn, used in this way and completely abstracted from the real struggles of the workers, takes on the character of a magical incantation used to dispose of all criticism and conjure away all failure.
Branch and fraction meetings are more and more stripped of any decision-making vitality, and their sole function has become to implement decisions made by a hierarchy of “higher bodies.” These new organizational methods developed by the Barnes leadership were originally presented under the heading of “political centralism.” As the party is commanded to mark time, and comrades are effectively insulated from any contact with the real world, our proletarian program is being systematically dismantled and discarded.
The new political line has been gradually introduced into the party through cryptic plenum reports as well as through speeches and Militant articles. Any discussion by the party membership of these sweeping new political positions has been declared illegal and grounds for expulsion—an attempt to “reopen preconvention discussion” without authorization. Those who do speak out against the programmatic revisions have been ordered to “cease and desist” and are slandered as having capitulated to imperialist pressures. Meanwhile the leadership publicly pursues its new line.
Tendencies and factions in the party have been virtually outlawed. Correspondence, even between members of the National Committee, has been declared illegal. The right to meetings and discussions between members of the NC (not to mention rank-and-file comrades) has been severely restricted, even during plenums. Branch decisions have been regularly overturned. Comrades in San Francisco were transferred to other branches against their will, an action that was justified on the grounds that “a working majority” should be created for the branch executive committee. This stands on its head the correct relationship between a branch and its executive committee.
This upside-down relationship between the party and its subordinate committees is extended to the point where Jack Barnes, alone, can make a public speech challenging the decisions of every previous convention of the SWP. Divorced from democracy, centralism of this kind can only create a caricature of Leninist organization.
An unrestrained attack on party democracy is a necessary expression of the leadership faction’s theoretical and political assault on Trotskyism, which can only be accomplished by muzzling the party ranks, particularly those cadres who have truly assimilated our past traditions. The most serious manifestation of this anti-Leninist organizational campaign is the recent wave of trials, on the very eve of the period in which our preconvention discussion would ordinarily open, which raise serious questions about the possibility of a democratic process now or in the future. How can comrades freely express their opinions if any disagreement with the official line is grounds for punitive reprisals?
In order to defend the party against this deadly attack on revolutionary Marxist-Leninist theory, program, and organizational principles we are announcing the formation of the Opposition Bloc—a coalition of the Fourth Internationalist Caucus, the Trotskyist Tendency, and other currents and individuals in agreement with the general line of this platform. The signers of this platform have had disagreements on some questions in the past. However, the following points represent a principled basis—covering the fundamental issues at stake in this discussion—for our common struggle to reverse the present course of the leadership:
1) We support the general line of the following documents and articles which have been previously published:
“The Cuban Revolution, the Castroist Current, and the Fourth International,” IEC resolution adopted May 1981 (Intercontinental Press, October 19, 1981).
“Revolution and Counterrevolution in Poland,” IEC resolution adopted May 1982 (International Internal Discussion Bulletin No. 6, September 1982).
“The Iranian Revolution and the Dangers That Threaten It,” minority resolution from the February-March 1982 NC plenum (International Internal Information Bulletin No. 1, May 1982).
“The Iranian Revolution Four Years After the February 1979 Insurrection,” United Secretariat report by Andre Duret adopted May 1982 (International Viewpoint, March 31, and April 18, 1983).
“The Debate Over the Character and Goals of the Russian Revolution,” by Ernest Mandel (IIDB No. 3, June 1982).
“Lenin and the Theory of ’Democratic Dictatorship,’ a reply to Doug Jenness,” by Les Evans (IIDB No. 2, May 1983).
2) The revolutionary Marxist program defended by the Trotskyist movement remains today the only expression of a rounded and complete perspective for the world revolution, the legitimate continuation of Leninism. It is firmly based on the world revolution carried through by the working class and its allies as the indispensable prerequisite for a socialist society. It rejects all theories of building socialism in a single country, as well as all forms of class collaboration.
3) The Trotskyist theory of permanent revolution has been confirmed by the whole history of the 20th century beginning with the October 1917 revolution in Russia, as well as in the post-World War n overturns in countries like Yugoslavia, China, and Vietnam. It has been confirmed by the Cuban revolution and its validity is being demonstrated once again today by the revolutionary process in Nicaragua and Grenada. We reject all attempts to revive Lenin’s pre-1917 theory of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry—discarded by Lenin himself— as a substitute for permanent revolution.
3) The founding document of the Fourth International, “The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International,” popularly known as the Transitional Program, which bases itself on the entire previous experience of the working class movement, provides the only programmatic perspective and method that fits the workers’ needs in this period on a world scale. All other programs developed or inherited by our opponents—Social Democrats, Stalinists, or sectarians—offer no serious substitute worthy of consideration. We must consistently apply and develop this program in real life—in the unions, in the antiwar movement, in unemployed work, in women’s rights and Black liberation organizations, among the youth, and in other spheres of the class struggle (for example as expressed in the general line of the 1979 World Congress resolution, Socialist Revolution and the Struggle for Women’s Liberation; and the 1969 SWP resolution, A Transitional Program for Black Liberation). To apply the Transitional Program means the party must end its policy of abstention from the day-to-day struggles of the working class and its allies.
We also reaffirm the relevance and importance of the “Theses on the American Revolution” adopted at the 1946 convention of our party. This document clearly explains the necessity for American revolutionists to concentrate their efforts on making a revolution in this country: “This presupposes first of all an attentive study of America and a firm confidence in its revolutionary perspectives. Those who are content with the role of commentators on foreign affairs—and it is surprising how many there are—or that of a Red Cross society to aid other revolutions in other countries, will never lead a revolution in their own country; and in the long run they will not be of much help to other countries either. What the other countries need from us, above everything else, is one small but good revolution in the United States” (James P. Cannon, The Struggle for Socialism in the “American Century,” p. 293).
This Leninist perspective of attention to, participation in, and attempting to provide leadership for the struggles of American working people must become an integral part of our turn to basic industry. It must be carried out alongside of and in conjunction with our tasks as socialist propagandists and opponents of U.S. war on the job. The turn—and its central organizational goal of a party rooted in and composed in its majority of industrial workers—remains a completely correct and central task. But without a real involvement with the living mass movement, any efforts along these lines cannot be anything but a sterile exercise.
(5) We remain in political solidarity with the Fourth International as the existing nucleus of the world party of socialist revolution. We aim to create sections in every country: through fusions and regroupments as well as through individual recruitment. The goal of every section in every country in the world is the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat under the democratic control of the workers themselves. Revolutionary workers’ governments are not conceived merely as ends in themselves, but in the spirit of the Soviet government of Lenin and Trotsky, as the advance outposts of the world socialist revolution; and as the means by which the state will begin to wither away.
(6) The Trotskyist program for the political revolution in the deformed and degenerated workers’ states applies today with full force. It has been most recently confirmed by the inspiring example of over ten million Polish workers mobilizing in their own name, through their own class organizations, for their own class interests. The rise of Solidarity has had a profound impact on workers everywhere and will continue to provide a model for the revolutionary self-organization of the masses.
Although the Polish workers have suffered a serious setback at the hands of the counterrevolutionary bureaucratic caste headed by the Stalinist general Jaruzelski, they have not been crushed. The development of Solidarity will prove to be a dress rehearsal for the coming political revolution in Poland.
We have a historic responsibility to bend every effort to mobilize support for the workers in Poland and in the other degenerated and deformed workers’ states—just as we rally to the aid of workers striving to overthrow capitalism in Central America and elsewhere. It is false to counterpose the political revolution in Poland to the social revolution in Central America; just as it would be wrong to counterpose revolution in the underdeveloped world to revolution in the imperialist centers.
(7) We support without any conditions the revolutionary struggles of the masses in Central America and the Caribbean against imperialist domination. We believe that the best solidarity we can express is the building of a massive, broad-based opposition in this country to U.S. intervention in the region and to any aid for counterrevolutionary forces. In addition, it is also possible in the U.S. today to create real political solidarity with the revolutionary perspectives of Grenada, Nicaragua, and the freedom fighters in El Salvador, Guatemala, .etc. We must play an active role in this process, including campaigns to explain the goals and accomplishments of these revolutions and to organize material assistance for them.
We seek to learn from, influence, and fuse with the best of the revolutionary movements that have emerged in the course of struggles such as those in Central America and the Caribbean. We reject the false characterization of the Castroist current as a variety of Stalinism, or as a counterrevolutionary force today in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Grenada, etc. Sections of the Fourth International place no sectarian obstacles in the path of fraternal collaboration, joint action, and ultimate organic fusion with all such revolutionary forces. But we also aim to bring to this process all of the lessons we have learned about the world historical struggle of workers and their allies for freedom. We must continue to loyally present our critical-minded view of the way forward at each stage in the fight against world capitalism.
(8) We are in full support of the Leninist concept of democratic centralism as the method of organizing a revolutionary socialist combat party. We reject all Stalinist distortions of this method, as well as all social democratic and capitalist alternatives to it. Democratic centralism must provide for the broadest possible democratic rights of the membership to discuss and decide questions before the party, and the greatest possible centralism in carrying out decisions of the majority after such a discussion.
Leninist organization requires full democratic rights for members to have access to information, exchange ideas with one another, and participate fully in internal life. All members should be active in party work and to the extent of their ability to contribute; and each member has the right to fully express opinions on questions under discussion without fear of being victimized for holding an idea different from those of others. Comrades with minority views should be integrated into all leading committees as a means of enriching the decision-making process, and as a way of adding to the experience and understanding of both the majority and the minority.
We oppose the current restrictions on the formation of groups, tendencies, or factions in the party, which have the practical effect of prohibiting them during non-preconvention discussion periods. Our constitution and resolutions adopted by the party in years past do not contain any prohibition against the formation of such groups, and no one’s permission to do so has been required. The right of the leadership to regulate the functioning of internal groupings should not be abused, and cannot be construed as constituting the right to prohibit them.
Comrades who have similar views must be free to organize themselves in one kind of grouping or another if they consider it necessary, and try to win a majority for their opinions—as long as this does not interfere with the work of the party. If we take the Russian Bolshevik party under Lenin’s leadership as our model, then the existence of internal groupings of every variety must be considered a normal aspect of party life.
We oppose the SWP leadership’s position that they have the right to determine the political basis for minority groupings; decide who will and who won’t belong to them; and be privy to all of their internal affairs. This is none of their concern. Each internal grouping in the party, whether majority or minority, has the right to organize itself as it sees fit, so long as there is no breach of party discipline.
(9) An essential concern of all sides in the current discussion must be to preserve party unity. This requires in the first place an end to the current policy of political expulsions and other disciplinary measures, or threats of such measures, on the basis of flimsy organizational pretexts. This is an inappropriate and bureaucratic means of dealing with dissent, and is used as a substitute for the necessary political discussion. The expulsion of loyal party members harms the party, cutting off some of its best activists and creating a climate of intimidation against other comrades holding dissident views.
We also oppose any abrupt changes in membership requirements or “norms” used as a pretext for pressuring members to quit the party.
It is imperative that all sides in this discussion reject any talk of a split, which would be completely unjustified. What must be on our agenda now is the essential discussion and clarification of opposing views. The majority must cease and desist from its campaign of repression and reinstate expelled critics of the Barnes leadership. The majority has the primary obligation to conduct itself in such a way as to allow our discussion to proceed and the political disagreements to be resolved in a free and democratic atmosphere. As the minority we pledge to continue, as we have in the past, our own efforts to ensure such a democratic discussion. Only if a correct policy along these lines is pursued by both sides can the party ranks, who have the ultimate responsibility to pass judgment on all questions, really make an informed and free decision.
May 6, 1983