From New International, Vol.13, No.8, October 1947, pp.182-187.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
Our readers are acquainted with the negotiations for the unification of the Workers Party and the Socialist Workers Party in accordance with our policy of publishing important party material of interest to the radical labor and political movement. From the very beginning we have informed our readers and sympathizers of the general progress of unity and from time to time reported on its development. In a recent issue of the New International we published an article by Albert Goldman dealing with some fundamental aspects of unity and the perspectives of the Workers Party. This article was severely criticized by the SWP on two grounds: first, that it was published in the magazine, and secondly, because it expressed the opinion of the Workers Party that it hoped to win the unified party to its theoretical, political and organizational views. The Goldman article is being used in the SWP as an additional reason for them to reconsider the whole question of unity “politically.” That is what they are now discussing.
We are therefore reprinting two speeches by M. Stein and J.P. Cannon made at an SWP membership meeting in New York, and published in one of their internal bulletins (reprinted in a bulletin of the WP) dealing with the question of unity and another article by Albert Goldman in reply to them. This will, we believe, bring information on the state of the unity negotiations up to date. – Editor.
“On unity, our line has changed again.” So sang Cannon and Stein at a recent meeting of the Political Committee of the Socialist Workers Party. (See Bulletin of the Workers Party, Vol.II No.4, May 27, 1947. The bulletins of the SWP are “secret.”)
What is the present position of the leadership of the SWP on the question of unity? Cannon states in his speech that “in a political sense we are right back where we were at the convention. We have not changed our position.” That should mean that he is against unity because the convention resolution solemnly affirmed that the “SWP rejects the so-called unity proposal of the Shachtmanites and closes all discussion of this question in the party.”
On the other hand Cannon says that “we don’t need to withdraw our unity proposal” made at the recent Plenum of the SWP and Stein chimes in with the statement that “we do not in the least retract from” the Plenum resolution in favor of unity. So we are confronted by this very clear position of clear thinkers: they hold to the Convention position which is against unity and “which we have not changed,” if we believe Cannon; they are still for the Plenum position which came out in favor of unity.
Is there, can there be a better example of double talk? And Cannon has the temerity to accuse me of being guilty of “double talk” in my recent article on unity published in the New International of April 1947. Naturally he does not point to any specific example of “double talk” to prove his statement. To Cannon every straight-forward proposition must necessarily be double talk.
If we believe Cannon and Stein, the change of line in favor of unity was due to a sad mistake, “a chain of comical errors,” in the words of Cannon. Now that they have discovered their mistake they must go back to their Convention position which is against unity (without giving up their Plenum position which is for unity). Their mistake, they lament, was due to their naïveté and their excessive faith in the “Shachtmanites.”
Far be it from me to deny that Cannon and Stein can make mistakes. In this particular case, however, I rise to their defense and contend that they did not make the mistake they claim to have made. Their mistake was an altogether different one. Only those who do not know Cannon and Stein could possibly accept the idea which they now wish to put across, that their naïveté and their excessive faith in the “Shachtmanites” led them to come out for unity.
What, according to Cannon and Stein, was their mistake? They thought, so they tell us, that the leaders of the Workers Party actually “changed their attitude toward the Movement,” They claim they thought we “capitulated.” They assure us they meant nothing bad by the word “capitulation,” but that is immaterial.
Now Cannon and Stein are people of some shrewdness and experience. Their tactics, right or wrong, are based on some facts. What, in our documents, in our conversations with them, or in our attitude could possibly lead them to conclude that we capitulated? What conditions did anyone present to us which we accepted as an indication of surrender?
To give some semblance to the charge of capitulation, Cannon utilizes the fact that we finally agreed to accept whatever decisions the Extraordinary Party Conference may adopt. At first we rejected the proposition that we accept such decisions before we know what they are. In reality Cannon tries to create the impression that we “capitulated” not only on the question of accepting the decisions of the EPC but also on all political and organizational questions. It is not necessary to discuss any “capitulation” on political or organizational questions. Not even Cannon or Stein dares to say that openly. I shall confine myself to discussing the question of capitulation in so far as it has reference to the fact that we agreed to accept the decisions of the Conference in order to attend its sessions.
Here I for one must admit that I misunderstood a phrase used by the comrades in charge of convoking the Conference. In their resolution they stated that an organization must agree to be bound by the decisions of the Conference in order to have a “deliberative voice.” I took that to mean what we usually mean by the phrase “a voice but no vote.” These comrades, however; use the word “deliberative” to mean a voice and vote. Had I understood that I would not have objected so strenuously, although I still think that limiting an organization to voice only is wrong under the present circumstances when such great and important problems face the revolutionary movement and when the Conference has obviously very little authority in the working-class movement.
But the question of the meaning of “deliberative voice” was pushed completely aside very early in our discussion with Comrade Smith, the representative of the Conference Committee. We made it plain to him that we would agree to accept the decisions of the Conference only on condition that unity would result from or precede the efforts of the Conference. Not to have unity and still agree to abide by the decisions of the Conference would be an absurdity.
Smith, who is very close to Cannon, accepted; and I remember distinctly that in our first conversation with Cannon and Stein this understanding was mentioned and it was taken for granted by everybody that unity was an essential condition to our agreement to abide by the decisions of the Conference.
Do Cannon and Stein deny that there was such an understanding? Let them read the joint statement which they certainly read and re-read before signing and they will see that it is expressly stated that our obligation to accept the decisions of the Conference was undertaken with the understanding “that fusion of the two organizations into a united party was achieved.”
The failure of the SWP leaders to explain this to their ranks is part of the deception, the purpose of which is to convince their members that the WP “capitulated.” In his speech before, the Political Committee Cannon said, “In his circular letter to the WP membership he [Shachtman] refers to their disciplinary pledge to the EPC as a ‘formality’ and said that unless ‘unity is achieved’ they would regard their commitment as a ‘mere scrap of paper.’” Cannon does not say so explicitly but he wants his followers to understand that our commitment to abide by the decisions of the Conference has no string attached to it whatsoever. Cannon knows better, but if by chance he really believes that he should read the joint statement.
It should be obvious that while our undertaking to abide by the decisions of the Conference depends upon the achievement of unity, unity is not at all assured by the fact that we undertake to abide by the decisions of the Conference. Unity cannot be ordered by a resolution of a higher body. It must result from the desire of both parties to unite. There is clearly no desire on the part of the SWP to achieve a good unity.
Many times have we explained that in a united party we were willing to abide by the decisions of the majority. Hence we yielded nothing when we undertook to abide by the decisions of the Conference, provided there was unity. And unity depends upon the attitude of the SWP leaders.
If there is nothing in the written documents to support the thesis that we “capitulated” to the SWP or to the “Movement,” the same is true of the conversations that went on during the negotiations. The fact that the SWP leaders never cited a single statement allegedly made by any of our negotiators is proof positive that no such statement was made. Of my own knowledge I can testify to the first conversation we had with Cannon and Stein. The emphasis was laid on the probability of our being able to work together in the united party without friction. We all agreed that the last thing anyone wanted was a factional fight after unity. While on our part we stressed the necessity of complete freedom of discussion as the best means to avoid a factional fight, Cannon argued that the best means of achieving freedom of discussion was to avoid factions. We agreed and we further agreed that we would refrain from discussing any political question decision upon which was arrived at by the EPC.
Four incidents are supposed to have opened the eyes of Cannon and Stein and to have made them realize how mistaken they were in believing that we “capitulated.” They are:
- the introduction to the joint statement on unity, both published in Labor Action of March 24;
- the answer of Max Shachtman to Martin’s claim of capitulation;
- the publication in Labor Action of the letters of Jack Weber and Ruth Fischer, dealing with the attack on the latter that was published in the Militant;
- my article on unity published in the New International of April 1947.
The introduction to the joint statement is a factual account of what had previously occurred on the unity question. What is wrong with that? How does a scrupulously correct statement of facts violate the spirit of the joint statement on unity? The leaders of the SWP could have pointed out any error of fact and we would have been glad to make a correction. It seems that they are somewhat sensitive about their past position on unity.
We could not possibly ignore Martin’s letter to the SWP membership in which he claimed that we capitulated due to the “pressure” of the representatives of the EPC and of the Johnson minority in our party. By failing to state specifically the points upon which we allegedly capitulated the Martin letter tries to create the impression that we capitulated on all of the political and organizational questions upon which we have our own position. To permit such an impression to go unchallenged would be criminal. Not only because we are vitally interested in the principle that leaders of a revolutionary party should under no circumstances deceive the membership of the party but also in order to avoid serious misunderstandings and conflict in the future. We want the members of the SWP to know our position on all questions and that we do not give up a position except openly and on the basis of argument. A good unity can be achieved only on the basis of an honest interpretation of the ideas of the opponent.
To the Cannonites it was not the Martin letter with its misrepresentations and distortions that raised an obstacle to unity but the Shachtman reply which corrected the misrepresentations and distortions.
An editorial in the Militant criticized Ruth Fischer for testifying against Eisler, the GPU agent. The editorial called Fischer an “informer” because she revealed what she knew about one of the murderers in the pay of the GPU. Both Jack Weber and Ruth Fischer wrote letters criticizing the Militant editorial. We published the letters because they dealt with such an important subject. One or two expressions in the Weber letter might have given offense to the Cannonites, from the point of view of “tone.” We asked Comrade Weber to eliminate them; when he refused we published the letter as is. This is our method and we want the world to know it.
And what was there in my article which aroused the rage of Cannon to the point where he called it “greasy hypocrisy,” without of course indicating exactly what points in it are hypocritical? In general it can be said that any honest presentation of a problem would almost necessarily appear hypocritical to Cannon. In my article there is, however, a subject about which he is very sensitive – the leader-cult in the SWP. All who know the members of the upper ranks in the SWP know that it is a calculated policy for some of them to “build up” the leaders, especially the leader. That of course implies that there is a necessity for building them up. Cannon is exceedingly sensitive about this subject and my mentioning it undoubtedly explains his foaming at my article which I claim is a very restrained statement of the differences between us and the Cannonites. I shall plead guilty to the charge of hypocrisy only if restraint constitutes hypocrisy.
The whole theory upon which the Cannonites rely in their criticism of our course subsequent to their turn in favor of unity is that the expectation of unity should mean a cessation of mutual criticism. We reject that concept; we are not in favor of creating a bureaucratic unity on top by agreeing to refrain from criticizing each other. We are perfectly willing to see criticism of our ideas and policies in the press of the SWP and we are prepared to answer.
The Cannonites are fond of repeating that we are sensitive and jittery to criticism and this “proves” that we are “petty-bourgeois.” It would be hard to find a group of people more sensitive to criticism than the SWP leaders.
That Cannon and his lieutenants made a mistake in their maneuverings is clear. But it is not the mistake they are now so anxious to admit. It was in thinking that they could get away with a crude deception to the effect that it was the “capitulation” of the WP that brought about a change in their line on unity.
Less than three months before they came out in favor of unity, Cannon presented a resolution to the convention of the SWP, which rejected unity and forbade further discussion of the subject. The resolution was based on a “political” analysis which proved to their satisfaction that we are everything that is bad from the point of view of revolutionary Marxism. In addition, our unity proposal was a fake. The addition was a mere afterthought. The stress was laid on our “petty-bourgeois revisionism.”
Of a sudden there is a complete shift in favor of unity. My theory is that the shift was caused largely by the fact that leading comrades in other countries must have been repelled by the method used by the SWP leaders to reject unity. They had promised to conduct a “thorough discussion” of the differences but unity was rejected without any discussion unless the document wherein they decided that we are "petty-bourgeois revisionists" can be called a discussion. Some leading comrades in other parties really wanted unity and others accepted the Cannonite line of opposition but thought Cannon was too crude in his methods.
When confronted with the objections of the leading comrades Cannon acted on a hunch and decided to go all-out in favor of unity. He was of course uncertain as to what would develop but he figured he could take a chance and retreat if he had another hunch. Probably he also figured that he could possibly win over Johnson and some of his followers by his maneuver.
It was necessary to present some explanation to the membership for the sudden change of line. Cannon and his lieutenants cooked up the idea of “capitulation” of the WP. This was their mistake. For it turned out to be impossible to put this idea across. The “capitulators” refused to act the part assigned to them. Even some of Cannon’s staunch followers in the ranks declared that they saw no sign of any capitulation on the part of the WP, and continued to oppose unity. Then, when the WP answered and annihilated the claim of capitulation, Cannon had another hunch and decided to go back to the Convention position.
The mistake of the SWP leaders was not that they thought that the WP capitulated but that they thought up the idea of a WP capitulation in order to deceive their members into believing that they did not change their line on unity, but that the WP surrendered.
In the two years since the question of unity was raised the SWP leaders have frequently shifted their position. Is it possible to find some general theory to explain these shifts? Let us first enumerate their various positions on unity.
- “We must deepen the split.” This position was held just before the question of unity was raised.
- Flat opposition to unity on the ground of political differences. This was the first reaction to the proposal for unity.
- A slight turn in favor of unity leading to negotiations with the WP. This shift coincided with a letter from Natalia Trotsky in favor of unity.
- A turn away from unity with the statement that they are not for unity nor against unity but must wait and see.
- The period when the necessity of a “thoroughgoing discussion” of the differences between the parties became the point that was stressed. Needless to say there was no discussion whatever between the parties.
- The final decision of the convention which passed a resolution rejecting unity and forbidding further discussion of the subject.
- The sudden and completely unexpected shift to unity following the intervention of some leading comrades of other countries.
- The present position which can be characterized as being both for and against unity in principle but working hard to prevent unity in practice.
What a miserable record! And the persons responsible pride themselves on being principled politicians! Such a shifting of positions shows conclusively that the leadership does not act on the basis of some thought-out political principle. The real explanation is not difficult to find if one knows Cannon and his lieutenants. The first “principle” is that they do not want unity because they do not want the opposition of a large group composed of many capable comrades. They have very little confidence in their ability to meet an opponent on an ideological plane. The second “principle” is their natural unwillingness to tell the real reason for their refusal to unite. Hence the necessity of maneuvering and shifting in an attempt to deceive their followers and important leading comrades everywhere. If one tactic leads to complications and difficulties they try another one. And one must not forget the element of “hunch politics” which plays a large role with Cannon. Faced by some difficulty he is capable of coming out for unity and seeing what develops.
It is perfectly true, as he claims, that he offered us unity immediately after his shift. Since we follow a consistent, thought-out line on the question we rejected such hasty unity. First we wanted a period of collaboration to prepare the ground for unity. And second, we wanted to discuss the problems that will face the Extraordinary Party Conference. Cannon made his offer of immediate unity subject to the condition that there should be no discussion after unity.
On the basis of the change of line in favor of unity made by the SWP leaders at their last Plenum and on the basis of our conversations with them, most of us were convinced that it was highly probable that unity would be achieved. Then came two blows which shook our confidence: the Martin letter with its charge of capitulation and the refusal of the Cannonites to have joint meetings on May Day, on the pretext that the contemplated attack by the American imperialists on Russia made it necessary to emphasize the defense of Stalinist Russia at the meetings. Since we would not go along with the idea, joint meetings could not be held. With all the important issues confronting the American workers, especially with the anti-labor legislation being pushed through Congress, the Cannonites had to emphasize the defense of Stalinist Russia.
Now it is perfectly correct that were we the minority in a united party we could not insist that slogans unacceptable to us should be eliminated from meetings. But the fact remains that we are not yet in the united party and until unity is achieved or until unity is absolutely certain in the immediate future we must play an independent role.
Nothing would have done more for unity than successful joint May Day meetings throughout the country. The refusal of the SWP leaders to have such meetings shows how little they are interested in preparing the ground for unity.
And now we have the speeches of Cannon and Stein which in effect cancel our agreement with the SWP as embodied in the joint statement. All this does not mean, I suppose, that unity is absolutely excluded. Our agreement with the EPC stands, that is, we still undertake to abide, by the decisions of the EPC if unity is achieved. If the EPC can effect a real change in the line of the SWP leadership then unity can be revived. But we must understand that unity is not a matter of formal discipline. An unwilling party should not be ordered to unite with another party even if there are enough votes to pass such an order. There must be mutual respect and a desire for unity before it can be achieved and certainly before it can work.
The speeches of Cannon and Stein at the Political Committee meeting show how far we really are from unity. Stein tells the members of the PC that the WP “remains essentially what it had been.” As if there could be any question about it! He can eliminate the word “essentially” and speak even greater truth. We did nothing to lead anyone to suspect that we changed in any way. Stein seems to be of the opinion that unity is not to be had unless the WP changes. If that is his opinion he should say so and quit maneuvering.
Stein also informs us with an air of profundity that the only firm basis for unity is programmatic agreement; failing that there must be subordination of the minority to the majority. For two years we have been saying that there are serious political disagreements between us but that we think we can live together in one party in spite of them. We recognized that we were in the minority and said that we were willing to submit to the majority in action. All we ask for is an assurance that the majority will grant the minority a minimum of freedom in the party. We have gotten no place with our requests for a discussion on the real questions of unity – the questions of how to assure a fruitful unity, where there is worth-while discussion as well as action and discipline.
There are all kinds of threats in the speeches of Stein and Cannon. They have a right to make them and we have a right to ignore them. When Stein tells us that there will be no collaboration except on their terms, he merely says that there will be no collaboration unless we deem their terms acceptable, We are not afraid of terms nor are we insulted by being presented with them. On our part we too offer terms for collaboration but we do not make ultimatums; we are ready to discuss and be convinced by superior arguments.
Cannon tells us that if, after the Conference, the WP still wants unity he will see. And he adds that he will formulate the conditions and we are at liberty to take or leave them. We are happy at least that he permits us to take or leave them. That is really a wonderful concession on his part and we shall certainly exercise that right. And we shall also exercise the right to formulate conditions of our own.
The leader of the SWP seems to be of the opinion that unity means an obligation on our part to accept his ideas about politics and his ideas of the party. He seems to be indignant when he says that Goldman thinks “by coming into the SWP they will change the character of the party.” I don’t think that I used that expression but we certainly hope to be able to change the character of the party and we shall try to do so by winning a majority for our ideas, We want a Bolshevik party and not a Zinovievist or semi-Stalinist party.
If Cannon and Stein want a homogeneous party, as they proudly assert (another name for a monolithic party), they surely cannot have it with us in that party. They must make up their minds exactly as to what they want and stop playing around with hunches.
On our part we have said and still say: we want unity and we want to make a Bolshevik party out of the united party. This is the antithesis of a monolithic party. It is a party where free discussion prevails at all times and where the minority submits to the discipline of the majority in action.
We must now review the unity proposal as it was presented to the Plenum in the light of what has transpired since that time. This applies especially to the motivation we originally gave for the unity proposa1. Our motivation at the Plenum, and prior to the Plenum in the Martin letter, was based on the premise that Shachtman and the WP had changed their attitude toward the Movement.
Once we accepted this premise, we concluded that we must give the Shachtmanites every possible chance to reintegrate themselves in the movement. Even when we spoke or their “capitulation,” we interpreted this in the best sense, that is, as a turn toward the Movement from which they split seven years ago. When they decided to accept the terms for participation in the Extraordinary Party Convention we interpreted this as an important step in our direction and were prepared to greet this development and extend to them a helping hand. That was the motivation for the Plenum resolution.
Since then the Shachtmanites have done their best to convince us that we acted on the basis of a misunderstanding. We judged the WP leaders and their attitude toward unity by their signed statement and by impressions gained in conversations or reported conversations. This served to obscure our knowledge of these men and their politics, based on long experience. We then read into their statement of February 10 a change of line, which was not there in reality.
We must now purge ourselves, so to speak, of the illusion we had about the Shachtmanites changing for the better. Such illusions can lead only to bitter disillusionment when the truth becomes known, as it has become known. There is a lot of disillusionment in the party today with the unity proposal, and a strong opposition is rising up against it. There is a realization that the motivation we gave for the unity proposal has not been proved correct. Everything the WP has done since the appearance of the joint public statement has served to sober up the party on this score.
Had we broached the question of unity with the WP correctly, we would have oriented ourselves upon the following factors: The failure of the WP to emerge as a viable force after seven years of struggle against us as party against party; the isolation of the WP, its stagnation, its lack of perspective, and the internal conflict of irreconcilable tendencies within it. Then we would have posed the question as to whether this situation warranted on our part an offer of unity to the WP.
They tried a unity maneuver against us which lasted for some time but which came to smash against the firmness of our party. They tried this through the disloyal minority inside our own party and the fraudulent “unity” campaign in their public press. Their object was to create either a split in our party or to effect a “unification” which would lead to a bitter factional fight and a bigger split. There was not a trace of good faith in their approach to the question. This is equally true, it is now clear, of their present attitude to the new unity proposal.
Once their original “unity” maneuver was smashed, the question was posed whether or not it is advantageous for us to accept unity with them, with the object of removing them as a rival party and in this way facilitating the building of the revolutionary party. Had we posed the question in this way, I am not sure what the answer of the Plenum would have been. But I know that I for one would have favored such a move. I would not of course have proposed concentrating the party’s activities on such a unity effort. In reality, there would be no need for it, since we can easily take it in our stride.
But it is profitless now to speculate on this aspect of the question. The task now is to reorient ourselves along practical and political lines. We must acknowledge openly before the party that we made a mistake in attributing to the WP a political change in the direction of the Movement which they did not really make. The Shachtmanites remain Shachtmanites. The WP remains essentially what it had been. Shachtman’s demagogic agitation about the Martin letter, the hostility with which he met it, only serves to demonstrate this all the clearer. Shachtman is now out to demonstrate that he did not “capitulate,” that he remains true to his revisionist program, to his Menshevik concept of an all-inclusive party. If anything, he has revealed himself as in no way different from the right-wing in his party. As far as I am able to judge, he is now heading the right wing.
After we acknowledge our mistaken appraisal, we should orient the party along the lines of a correct approach to the question of unity. What do I mean specifically? Proceeding from the general proposition that we are committed to unity by the Plenum resolution and that we do not in the least retract from it, we proceed to present this problem of unity to the party and the outside world as it really stacks up. We have to purge the whole unity proposition of all false concepts and illusions.
First, we have to go back to the split of 1940. That split revealed a revolt of the petty-bourgeois opposition inside the SWP against our program and against our organization methods. The petty-bourgeois minority could not submit to the discipline of the proletarian majority of the party. That was the meaning of the split. We must recapitulate this once more.
Then followed the seven years war of party against party. During that time the WP tried to demonstrate that, once they had liberated themselves from what they called the “conservative bureaucracy of the Cannon clique in the SWP,” they would build a party by their own “dynamic” methods. What have they accomplished? They ended up with a smaller group than they started with. Even though they started out with forces numerically almost equal to ours, they quickly demonstrated that they could not build a party either with their politics or organization methods, or with their “dynamism.”
Then they, together with Goldman and Morrow, made a “unity” proposal. This proposal was falsely motivated from the beginning. They said that once we had relegated the defense of the Soviet Union to the background, a unity proposal became realistic. We have never answered this point publicly but we should do it now. This was a completely false premise from the beginning. The defense of the Soviet Union was placed in the background by objective circumstances and can be placed in the foreground by other objective circumstance Our alleged change of position on the Russian question is no basis for unification of the two parties. This is a false motivation and we must say so.
We posed the question correctly two years ago. We said that the only firm basis for unification is political agreement, and failing that, the subordination of the minority to the majority. They have advanced the theory that through collaboration of the two parties in practical day to day work the ability of the members to get along with each other will be tested, and that this will establish a firm basis for lasting unity. This is another false concept we must reject.
The only firm basis for unity is programmatic agreement, and not the personal compatibility or incompatibility, of individuals with each other. The Bolshevik party is based on program; agreement on program is the cement that holds it together. Failing that, there must be subordination of the minority to the majority; not formal, hypocritical subordination, but the real thing in the Bolshevik meaning of party discipline Because of the peculiar nature of this proposed unification, there must be all the more emphasis on this point.
We must open up a clarifying discussion along these lines. We must also discuss their Menshevik concept of the all-inclusive party and counterpose to it our own concept of a party. We are for the homogeneous party a party based on one – and only one – program. Our unity resolution is not meant as a concession to the concept of the all-inclusive party, as they have mistakenly represented it but as a party of our irreconcilable struggle against it. Our unity proposal does not signify the slightest conciliationism toward Shachtmanism on the question of organization, or on any other question.
Their jitteriness, and nervousness; the present campaign they have undertaken to solidify their ranks – that is, to harden them for a faction fight in the event of unification; the polemical articles they write in such hostile tones; the open forums and classes they hold against our views – indicate that they are afraid of the prospect of living in a proletarian party and subordinating themselves to the proletarian majority of the party. We must explain that too.
They are now engaged in an “enlightenment” campaign to poison and prejudice their members against us. While they are speaking of collaboration to wipe out hostility they are actually creating a wall of hostility between the membership of the WP and ourselves. They are attempting to poison their membership against our political line, our organizational concepts and our leadership.
We must expose the whole fraud that is part and parcel of Shachtman’s approach to unity, while we purge ourselves of illusions on this question. What will we accomplish by this? I don’t attempt to predict the end result. But the very least we can do is speak the truth, to speak it boldly and pose the question as it really presents itself. We will thus arm our own party, and that is the most important thing. If, after a period of this kind of clarification, the WP should decide that they still wish to go through with the unification, there will be no illusions or misunderstandings, either on their part or ours, as to the basis on which this unification is taking place.
We will thus be writing down in advance the precise terms of the unification and preparing our party to carry out these terms to the letter. It is possible that the right-wing in the party when confronted with the realization of what unification with us really means, may recoil from it. If they do that is their business. In any case, if they do so, that will only demonstrate and confirm their fear of living in a proletarian party which imposes a real discipline on its opportunist minority.
On the question of collaboration: We must take just as firm an attitude on this question. We will collaborate, but only on our basis, i.e., wherever they are willing to accept our line. Between now and a possible unification we must have the same kind of approach as if they were already inside the party. The SWP is the party because we have the majority. The WP acknowledges this, and this should be the basis for collaboration.
Our members should not hesitate to discuss this whole question with the WP members, especially their newer people. If these are interested in a genuine unification they must start out by a reexamination of their whole course, the split of 1940 and the seven years since then. The WP leadership is not doing this and we should do it for them. If we do this it will also educate the new members in our own party.
I am in agreement with the remarks of Stein and wish only to emphasize a few points. It isn’t very pleasant to have to admit a mistake. It is doubly unpleasant to have to admit a mistake that helped to mislead others, especially the Plenum of the National Committee. That, however, is the rather disagreeable position we find ourselves in, myself in particular.
Reviewing the whole fight from the beginning more than seven years ago, I think we were fundamentally correct all the way through, up to and including the last party convention, in our fight against the Shachtmanites, in principle as well as in our strategy and tactics. The line was absolutely right. And none of us had the slightest idea of changing the line that we had carried through, including the line of the convention.
I consider what happened since the convention as a chain of comical errors, which I am sure we can correct without damage to our cause. First came the unexpected decision of the WP to accept the conditions laid down by the Movement for participation in the EPC. We interpreted this action of theirs as a turn in the direction of the Movement, as a capitulation to its terms which they had previously rejected. That is the way we accepted it. That was the basis of our decision at the Plenum. And when in the letter of Martin, which was sent out with the agreement of other comrades, we spoke of their capitulation, we didn’t do it in a derogatory sense, but in an entirely different one.
As we saw it, they had come to the turning point where they would have to go one way or the other, and at the last moment they made a turn to the Movement, accepted its conditions and thereby capitulated to it. And we decided to give them credit for that move, to give them a helping hand. That was the basis of our recommendations to the Plenum, where the unity resolution was adopted.
By that we demonstrated that we are communist politicians and not gang-fighters. In spite of all that had happened, all the personal animosity, all the slander, etc. at the moment they took a political turn in the direction of the Movement we were prepared to give them a helping hand, to open the door for them to come into the party and to give them liberal terms. The second thing we demonstrated – which I am not so proud of – is that after all our experience with these people, we showed a certain naiveté. It is somewhat embarrassing to be obliged to acknowledge that, in this case at least, experience did not bring wisdom; that good nature and good will obscured political judgment. That is a very sticky feeling. I really didn’t think that even the Shachtmanites would be stupid enough to think they could play a maneuverist double-game with the EPC.
Everybody at the Plenum had plenty of ground for animosities against these people, whose mistakes have often amounted to crimes against the Movement. But the moment the Plenum members saw – or rather, thought they saw – that the Shachtmanites were turning toward the Movement, they were willing to have them come into the party and give them good terms. Why, we even gave them better terms than those they agreed to in their meetings with Smith. We gave them credit ill advance for carrying out their decision in good faith, and offered to expedite the unity even before the EPC, provided the discussion was finished beforehand.
We followed that up with our meetings with them and the Joint Statement on unity, in which we rounded a few corners to make it easier for them, without, however, violating the instructions of the Plenum. We agreed to present their return to the party in public as a merger of the two organizations, for example, accepting their verbal declarations that they know this means their coming into the SWP, etc.
Then things began to happen. First through an inadvertance, when the Martin letter to the NC members came into their hands. Long experience has taught me that inadvertences never change a fundamental course – but they often show its real direction. The Martin letter was utilized by them to reveal what their real purposes are, and this has served a useful purpose for us.
Shachtman has made it perfectly clear, in his letter to the membership of the WP and in subsequent actions, that there was a comical misunderstanding on both sides. As he represents the matter, they understood that we had changed our position; that we had sharply reversed the line of the convention, and under the pressure of the Movement had changed our whole approach to the question and accepted their formula for the unification. In other words, that it was we who had “capitulated.”
Shachtman makes it clear that our interpretation of their action in sending the letter to Smith was a misunderstanding on our part, that they meant no capitulation to the Movement. When they deny heatedly, not to say hysterically, that they have “capitulated” – as though they consider it dishonorable to bow to the rules and discipline of the Movement – they only reveal that they haven’t changed a bit, that they stand exactly where they were before.
The series of events which followed are known to you. At the time they were signing the Joint Agreement that they wouldn’t take Weber into their party, they had Weber’s article against us in their hands and were preparing to publish it in Labor Action and solidarize themselves with him – without even notifying us, without mentioning the matter in the Joint Committee. That revealing incident only shows their disposition to abide by the form of an agreement while violating it in spirit and essence. This way of acting is just a little bit too clever to be clever. We will have to bear it in mind and rely more on guarantees than promises in the future.
As you know, we did not publish our Plenum resolution. This was done deliberately, as we explained to them, to give them an opportunity to present the new unity agreement to the public in a Joint Statement with us. We observed the spirit of the agreement by publishing the Joint Statement without comment. They, however, published it with an introduction attempting to justify their “unity” maneuvers in the past. By that they reopened the whole question of the past for discussion. There were two or three other incidents of the same kind. The publication of the Ruth Fischer letter, without notification or consultation, was a crass violation of all normal procedures when two parties are seriously meeting in negotiation for a unification and loyally cooperating to bring it about.
The campaign now raging in the WP against Johnson – who sincerely stands for unity – is conducted in a real Burnhamite spirit. The obvious purpose of their campaign against Johnson is to discredit those who take unity seriously and to solidify and harden their people to come into our party fighting, with the perspective of another split. That is their idea. Outside of the single thing we noted – their acceptance of the conditions of the Movement, which we took too seriously at face value – there is nothing whatever to show any change of attitude on their part, either politically or organizationally. And even that letter has since been repudiated in essence by Shachtman. In his circular letter to the WP membership he refers to their disciplinary pledge to the EPC as a “formality” and said that unless “unity is achieved,” they would regard their commitment “as a mere scrap of paper.”
So, in a political sense we are right back where we were at the time of the convention. We have not changed our position. They have not changed. Goldman writes an article in the latest issue of their magazine with his usual compound of misrepresentation, greasy hypocrisy and double-talk designed to trick and trap the unwary. As for “unity” he blandly explains that by coming int0 the SWP they will change the character of our party. He doesn’t know how wrong he is. They continue all the old, denunciations of our party in the old tone. Their object, obviously, is to poison and harden their people to formally accept the conditions of discipline until they get set in the SWP. Then would follow the next stage: the fight to break up the party as we have built it, and convert it into a Shachtmanite party, a windbag’s paradise, with permanent discussion, driving out the workers and diverting us from, our basic task of recruiting new workers and training them, for the Bolshevik struggle against capitalism.
Such is the reality from which we must proceed. I agree with Stein that we should begin a political offensive against the Shachtmanites within the formula of the unity proposal, We don’t need to withdraw our unity proposal. What we need to do is interpret it and apply it in the light of the new developments. We are still willing for them to come in and accept our line. But we must explain what we mean by that, so that there can be no more misunderstandings on either side. We do not withdraw our unity resolution, but just simply slow the tempo of its application. We should forget about this good-will offer we made to them of a quick unification to do them a favor. Take our time. The members are discussing it. Let them take their time and discuss it thoroughly. Discuss it in the press.
I, personally, am quite sure now that there can be no unification before the Extraordinary Party Convention. Our Plenum resolution distinctly specified that their disciplinary obligation to the EPC must be “carried out in good faith.” Let us wait and see what they do with the “scrap of paper” they signed. After that, if they still want unification – I, personally, am pretty sure they will revolt against the decisions of the Extraordinary Party. Convention despite their signed pledge – we should have a special convention to decide the question. No more joint statements; from now on decisions to be made by our conventions and plenums, precisely formulated and closing the door on any double interpretations, and telling them: take it or leave it. That is the form, I think, for the further developments on the unification proposal.
We have the inestimable advantage of a homogeneous party which has been built and unified in struggle. We have a leadership united in its entirety on the fundamental questions, and in its attitude toward Shachtmanism from a political point of view. So we don’t need to have any great fears about big differences of opinion. What differences of opinion we had prior to the Plenum were not fundamental at all. It was the question of how best we were going to serve our program. These differences are not like those we had with Goldman and Morrow. That is why the opposition to the unity in the first place didn’t impress us as a hostile opposition. Nothing more was involved than the question of whether our method or theirs was best calculated to serve the program to which we all subscribe. I don’t doubt that even these tactical differences will easily be eliminated in the further course of developments – if we avoid any more unnecessary “misunderstandings” and dispense with excessive good nature in scrutinizing any more “scraps of paper” which the Shachtmanites may sign.
(The above is reprinted from Internal Bulletin (SWP), Vol.IX No.3, May 1947.)
Last updated: 13.9.2008