Max Shachtman

An Open Letter
from the Workers Party
to the Y.P.S.L.

(April 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 15 [should be No. 14], 2 April 1945, p. 4.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Dear Comrades of the Young People’s Socialist League:

The Workers Party sends you and your convention warm fraternal greetings. Like ourselves, you have great responsibilities and weighty problems to resolve. For you, as for us, what is involved is the building up of a strong, effective revolutionary, socialist movement in this country. Each of us has approached this task from different directions and in different ways. You have exercised your right in the past to make a critical evaluation of our party. We wish in this letter to take the liberty of expressing our views about the YPSL. No better occasion could offer itself than your Detroit convention, at which the future of the YPSL will be decided at least for the next period.

A socialist youth movement as a purely independent organization is of course an absurdity. The organization of the socialist youth has always been – and properly so – linked intimately with a party, whatever the terms of the relationship may have been. From its inception, the YPSL has been affiliated with the Socialist Party. In the history of this affiliation, the youth movement has almost invariably stood at the left wing of the party or worked together with the left wing of the party and for the victory of its ideas.

The question of the future relationships between the YPSL and the Socialist Party is now uppermost in the minds of the young socialists in this country. In one way or another, the discussions and decisions of your convention will deal with this question. It is a decisive one.

Socialist Party and the War

The Socialist Party in the past few years, and particularly in the crucial period of the Second World War, has steadily deteriorated, both from the standpoint of its influence in the working class and the standpoint of its socialist character. In general, the members and especially the militant left-wingers, in the YPSL have sought to resist this deterioration to the maximum of their ability.

It is a fact that they have not been successful.

During the war, and in all the vital problems raised by the war, the clear-cut, consistent socialist and internationalist position that a party like the SP had the elementary duty to espouse, was not in evidence. The consolidation of the party that was mandatory upon it in the crucial period we have been living through, did not take place. The firm, discipline – not bureaucratic sterility, but democratically-organized and democratically-maintained discipline, without which no socialist party can hope to be effective – disappeared entirely. More accurately, it was relaxed completely against the right wing and directed exclusively against the left wing.

A socialist party is tested decisively in wartime. The SP has failed to pass the test. The party, as an organized, clear-voiced political force, has virtually ceased to exist. In effect, the SP is known today only through the words and actions of its most prominent leader, Norman Thomas. “Official” Socialist Party policy has no meaning for him. He makes policy for himself and by virtue of the submissiveness of the rest of the party leadership, who dare not speak up against him when he flouts or contravenes “official” policy, it is his individual politics which come to be known in public as the politics pf the Socialist Party. This fact is only too well known to you. The result is that the SP has come to be the party of Norman Thomas. As such, it has practically nothing in common with the revolutionary socialist principles and aspirations of the militants of the YPSL.

If Norman Thomas is a law unto himself in the party, with his constant veiled threats to resign if any attempts are made to enforce party discipline, he is not an exception. Other party leaders and spokesmen go their own way and do as they please with impunity. As you know, in Michigan and Illinois in particular, many of them are constantly at work to find some way or other of dissolving the party entirely into some opportunistic combination.

Up to now, the YPSL militants have resisted and combated this disintegration. They have collaborated with some of the left-wing elements inside the SP itself. They have set themselves the goal of winning the party to a left-wing program, a left-wing leadership and to their conception of what a truly revolutionary socialist party should be.

If you are to cast up a sober balance sheet, these efforts have ended in failure. The left wing is weaker today in the SP than it has been in a long, long time. Its prospects for victory in the SP are more remote than ever. If anything, it is the right-wingers and the “tired radicals” in the party who have recently taken the offensive against the left wingers, above all against the YPSL militants, notably in Chicago. The question arises: What to do now?

Shall the YPSL militants devote themselves indefinitely to the work of winning what remains of the Socialist Party?

The most obvious danger in such a view is this: The left wingers can exhaust themselves, to no practical end, by substituting a PURELY INTERNAL STRUGGLE against hardened right wingers and deadweight dues-payers for EFFECTIVE INDEPENDENT PARTICIPATION IN THE CLASS STRUGGLE. This means: no realistic perspective, disorientation, a waste of valuable energies. It can only end in the gradual breaking up of the YPSL itself.

We in the United States are, in a sense, more fortunate than our comrades in other countries. We have more time at our disposal for the building up of an effective revolutionary socialist movement; But this time is not unlimited. It must be utilized to the maximum, because every day is precious and the task is deadly serious.

To continue any longer with the work of “reforming” the Socialist Party, and therefore affiliation with it, is a waste of precious time.

Join the Workers Party

We therefore place before you an alternative. We ask that you give it the most earnest consideration.

Our Workers Party is a revolutionary socialist organization. It has come into being along a different road from yours. In many ways it traditions and its methods differ from yours. These facts need not be ignored.

But between the Workers Party and the militants of the YPSL there is a fundamental bond which, in our view is decisive. We do not have important differences on basic program and aim. And it is program and aim that should unite revolutionary socialists into one movement.

There is an additional bond between us, and it is of great importance. Like ourselves, every thinking member of the YPSL has noted with abhorrence the ravages wrought in the labor and socialist movements by bureaucratism. Every one of us lays greater store by workers’ democracy than ever before. Our party is proud of the fact that bureaucratism is not tolerated within its ranks in any form or for a single instant. Our party is proud of the fact that it looks upon the free discussion of party problems, party principles and policies, not as an “occasional” affair, or as a “luxury,” but as an integral part of its daily life, as an indispensable element in its development. The unity in action which we have achieved is based in large part upon the most jealous maintenance of party democracy.

We propose to you:

Join ranks with the Workers Party!

Let us be more concrete. We propose to you:

That the YPSL shall fuse with the Workers Party and operate as its youth organization. The terms of this relationship are of course fully subject to discussion between us. We ourselves hold to the principle of complete organizational autonomy for the youth organization which is linked with the party politically.

We know that many of you have significant differences with the Workers Party, particularly on questions relating to historical estimations, more particularly on the question of historic Bolshevism or Trotskyism and of aspects of the Russian Revolution. To us, this is the least disturbing aspect of the problem of our relations. In our party it is possible to discuss these historical questions, and even their topical political implications, in a free, comradely and scientific manner, free of bigotry, heresy-hunting and threats of excommunication. For our part, we welcome such discussions, not only between organizations but inside our own movement. We ask only that those with whom we discuss likewise refrain from intolerance and bigotry, and confine themselves to the methods which are in the best tradition of revolutionary Marxism.

Both of us have the same problem to solve, the same task to perform. There must be built up in this country – and, with our aid, also internationally – a strong, effective, serious revolutionary socialist movement, its roots deep in the working class; its activity constant, disciplined, consistent; its inner life a model of the democratic social order to which we socialists aspire.

We propose to you that we solve this problem by performing the task jointly, in one movement. We are not concerned with petty “maneuvers,” with “clever tricks” in regard to the militants of the YPSL. Our proposal is made to you openly, with candid recognition not only of what unites us but what still divides us, with the sincerest wish for the closest union of the best revolutionary socialist forces in the country.

The fusion of the YPSL and the Workers Party would not mean that our job is accomplished – far from it. But it would mark a real leap forward in the building of the movement to which we are both devoted, with the most fruitful results in the immediate future. The decision is in your hands.


With revolutionary socialist greetings,
Max Shachtman
National Secretary

Max Shachtman
Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 8 June 2016