Hal Draper

SWP Feigns Shock over Election Policy of WP

(16 August 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 33, 16 August 1948, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Socialist Workers Party’s Militant has been stung to the quick. It complains in an August 9 editorial that the Workers Party (those durned “Shachtmanites”) has refused to give sole, single and undivided support to its own presidential candidate, Dobbs.

It is horrified to discover that the WP thinks pink Norman Thomas is no less and no more a socialist than the Cannonite Dobbs (a “compliment,” we shall point out, which cuts both ways) and that the same goes for the Socialist Labor Party’s Teichert. In other words, it is griping about the fact that the WP has put Dobbs, Thomas and Teichert – the three socialist candidates for the presidency – on the same footing and advises workers to cast a socialist protest vote by voting for any one of them.

This simple proposition the Militant editorial calls “shameful,” “without precedent,” and “bizarre,” in that order. The middle term will be worth discussing after we have disposed of a few other features of the Militant diatribe that cannot be left unnoticed. Suffice to say immediately that we plead guilty to the charge of breaking precedent. In fact we insist upon it. To the monolithic SWP mind, we are aware, this closes the case: for them the possibility of new departures in the Marxist movement ended with Trotsky’s death. Trotsky himself, to be sure, was a great Marxist precisely because of the many precedents he so brilliantly shattered, because of his unwillingness to substitute a thumb index for a brain. Sad to say, however, if the latter is lacking, the former unsuccessfully replaces it.

The Logic of Hypocrisy

But first, the few necessary terse comments on the unsavory portions of the Militant editorial. No Cannonite polemic would be complete without such.

Right off, we call our readers’ attention to the hypocritical note of shock and disappointment in their remarks. Why hypocritical? Because no one would ever suspect from merely reading this piece of chicanery that it comes from the mouth of a party which has consistently refused, in every case that has come up in the past eight years, to support a single candidate of the Workers Party in any part of the country! In every case without exception, from New York to Los Angeles, with no candidate of their own running, their line was to advocate abstention – that is, tell workers there was no one to vote for, and certainly not to vote for the WP.

Now logic also cuts both ways. On what ground can they pretend shocked surprise at our refusal to support Dobbs against the field? There is only one ground possible and that a political one: on the ground of the similarity of our political line with theirs, on the ground that our politics are sufficiently close to theirs to make it mandatory that we favor them, above Norman Thomas and Teichert. Unless they claim this is so, and are writing to convince the well-known “honest workers” that this is so, they are hypocrites and dodgers with whom one cannot even enjoy useful discussion.

But they do not believe this is so. They shout from their housetops that this is not so. And for eight years they have acted on this belief. For if our lines were that close, then they would have been as thoroughly obliged to support OUR candidates as they now feign pained surprise that we refuse to support theirs.

Indeed it is this political question which is at the heart of the matter. And the second piece of blatant hypocrisy is that they deliberately conceal from their readers our own forthright statement on the matter, made by the same National Committee meeting (in its resolution on the SWP’s international faction, the Fourth International majority) which adopted the election statement.

Political Development of SWP

As anyone interested in our movement knows, up to recently we did indeed follow the policy of giving support to SWP candidates in every case where we ourselves had no competing candidate. We did so precisely because we were following the criterion stated above: we believed there was a close enough political affinity between our two movements to justify this policy. The SWP has worked hard at the task of convincing us that no such affinity exists. They have succeeded, not by force of their contentless screams of anger and abuse, but by the hair-raising development of their political line, their ever more rapid degeneration toward a “left” critical appendage of the Stalinists.

We have noted this degeneration as we have gone along and there is no need to repeat the acrid details here. It happens, however, that even as this is written, we learn of a latest development which puts all others in the shade. It is an eleven-page open letter addressed to the Yugoslav Communist Party, the totalitarian tyrants of the Yugoslav people who have fallen out with the totalitarian tyrants of the Kremlin; it is signed by the secretariat of the Fourth International.

Addressing the Titos of Belgrade as “comrades,” written throughout in the gentle cooing terms that one might use only toward honest revolutionary rank-and-file workers breaking with Stalinism, this astounding letter ends with the slogan: “Yugoslav Communists, Let Us Unite Our Forces for a New Leninist International! For the World Victory of Communism!” It asks Tito “to permit a delegation of its [Fourth International’s] leadership to attend your congress, to make contact with the Yugoslav Communist movement to knit close fraternal ties with you, which can only be of service to the world Communist movement.” The Fourth International leadership furthermore announces there “a vast campaign of protest against the bureaucratic measures which the Cominform has taken against you ... Tomorrow it will make known your documents in twenty different languages, because a Communist cannot tolerate that a militant be judged without a hearing.”

Perhaps this letter is addressed to the “honest” rank-and-file against Tito? Perish the thought! In a remarkable passage it specifically warns against those who may propose “to change your leadership,” in the course of warning against capitulation to the Kremlin. While the language ties one up with the other, there is not a word which even hints that the Yugoslav CP might indeed benefit from a change in leadership or even distantly breathes of any difference in interest between the ruling bureaucracy and the rank-and-file cadres. On the contrary! The entire letter Is an appeal to the LEADERSHIP to follow the “Leninist road.” and when it speaks of the “very great obstacles” to this delightful consummation it points precisely to the ranks: “A complete re-education of your cadres in the spirit of true Leninism would be necessary.” Needless to say after this, there is also not a word in the entire eleven pages of belly-crawling to hint that Yugoslavia under Tito is a totalitarian prison state ...

We will go into detail elsewhere on this monstrous development in the Fourth Internationalist movement. Though this document was not yet known at the time, the recent meeting of our National Committee already stated in precise political language a characterization of the leadership which gave birth to it, which that leadership only confirmed with unexpected rigor by producing it. Where before our characterization was a deduction from a political analysis, it has in one month become a simple description. The political line of Cannonism is that of a “left” critical appendage of Stalinism, a “democratic” wing of Stalinism, so to speak.

Test of Revolutionary Policy

It is therefore with a supple pen that the Militant editorialist wrote: the WP “cannot distinguish between Thomas, a supporter of American imperialism, and Dobbs, a consistent opponent of Wall Street and its policies.” Now being a “consistent opponent of Wall Street and its policies” is in itself no recommendation nowadays. SO IS FOSTER AND THE ENTIRE STALINIST BROOD. The SWP, clinging to its formula of “defense of the Soviet Union,” is a supporter of Russian imperialism in exactly the same sense in which Norman Thomas is a supporter of American imperialism. That is the charge which our pro-Stalinist “Trotskyists” (God save the mark!) delicately ignore.

The mark of a revolutionary Marxist today is consistent opposition to BOTH the imperialism of Wall Street and the Kremlin, BOTH Washington and Moscow. Both great imperialist poles wreak their disorientation in the socialist movement: the SWP is drawn toward one pole where the reformists are drawn to the other. To paraphrase a well-known remark of Trotsky’s: pro-Russian Cannonism and pro-American social-democracy “are symmetrical phenomena.”

We wish to point out another “symmetrical phenomenon” inherent in the situation. The real supporters of Norman Thomas get just as indignant about our inclusion of the SWP’s man Dobbs among the three socialist candidates we present for a vote without preference, as does the SWP about our inclusion of Norman Thomas. And for the same social-patriotic reasons (whether it be American social-patriotism or ersatz Russian). We cite, of course, the reaction of Albert Goldman, who recently resigned from the Workers Party with an outburst of indignation that bears in some respects an interesting similarity to that of the SWP editorialist ... the similarity of being symmetrical, not identical. Now, we can imagine an argument as to whether it is less “socialist” to support a totalitarian butcher in another country than to support one’s “own” imperialist at home, but we politely decline to participate in it.

Things They Cannot Understand

Which brings us to a gem of our subject editorial: “This [the WP’s] is the same kind of unprincipled politics which seeks to include in the same party those like Albert Goldman and others who acclaim the Marshall Plan, and those who opposed it.” Writing of course before knowledge of Goldman’s resignation, the totalitarian-minded minuscules of the SWP just cannot help showing the cloven hoof. As they know well enough, the Workers Party has adopted a position of uncompromising opposition to the Marshall Plan as the arm of American imperialism today. Exactly what then are they complaining about? That Goldman was not expelled for disagreeing with the party majority? No other conclusion is remotely possible, nor is any other consistent with the actual ideology of the Cannonites. Are they complaining that we permit comrades to be members of the Workers Party who favor the policy of supporting Thomas against the field? Quite apart from the fact that this is a legitimate difference of opinion for any but an outright Stalinist outfit, we beg to point out that in the Cannonite party and on the Cannonite National Committee are members who favor support of a party which is neither socialist nor working-class, a party which the SWP itself denominates a “third capitalist party,” a party which we consider to be essentially a Stalinist front – namely, the Wallace party.

Actually, the Militant rings in the name of Goldman in order to put forward the “theory” that our position on the elections was adopted as “an obvious (sic) attempt to overcome its internal differences and reconcile the conflicting tendencies within the organization.” The Cannonites project their own spirit of internal party maneuvering onto our party. It is as if they had asked themselves: “What might we do in a similar situation?” Let us make this perfectly clear: The Workers Party does not operate that way.

We have made it clear that it is politically impossible, from OUR point of view, to express a preference as between the pro-Russianism of the SWP and the pro-Westernism of the reformist socialists. This is an inherent and integral part of our basic view of refusing to support one of the imperialisms against the other; it flows from that political position and no other. There is indeed only one other position on the election campaign which is consistent with that approach: namely, refusal to support any candidate at all, abstention in the campaign.

Which brings us to the question of “precedents.” As has so often been true in the United States, where the political backwardness of the labor movement is so evident and the socialist movement correspondingly weak, the revolutionary party is unable to run a candidate of its own – to raise its own banner on the electoral field. The sacred “precedent” to which the Militant refers so awesomely has been that, in such case, you tell the working class not to vote, or at least, that it doesn’t make any difference.

Now what gives pause about this advice is not that the working class is not going to take it: that, alas, is a blow which we are accustomed to withstand. What must give pause is that the advice is not justified from our own point of view.

We have touched upon our disagreements with the socialist groups running candidates. We disagree with them on important questions. We also disagree with the Democrats. Republicans and Wallaceites. The “precedent” has been that all these disagreements are put on the same footing and no distinctions drawn. This does not, however, correspond to the actual issues which are posed in the question of electoral choice. The differences between ourselves on the one hand and Thomas. Dobbs or Teichert on the other will not and cannot figure in the casting of a vote by any Worker – it is a difference on WHICH socialist program to follow. But: the differences between Thomas, Dobbs, and Teichert on the one hand AND THE CAPITALIST CANDIDATES ON THE OTHER HAND will indeed figure in the casting of a vote by a worker – and it is a difference between casting a socialist protest vote or ENDORSING CAPITALISM.

This is the difference, and the ONLY difference, with which we are concerned in advising workers how to vote on the day in November when they are called upon to do so. For reasons which are inescapable precisely from our own political viewpoint, we consider a protest vote for Thomas as meaningful an act as a vote for Dobbs or Teichert, and vice versa.

When the AFL or CIO has (often) endorsed more than one candidate for the same office with the comment “no preference,” it is also because from the viewpoint of THEIR politics, they see no distinction between the two sufficient to warrant a choice. We have not heard this procedure called “shameful,” “bizarre,” or blessed with any other epithets by the gentlemen of the SWP except insofar as the attack is leveled against the idea of endorsing ANY capitalist candidate, one or two or three. For us, we endorse the socialist candidates, “no preference.”

Last updated on 22 May 2018