Max Shachtman


WP Letter
on Unity

(October 1945)

From Fourth International, Vol.6 No.11, November 1945, pp.349-350.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

October 4, 1945

National Committee,
Socialist Workers Party,
116 University Place,
New York, NY

Dear Comrades:

To facilitate the consideration of the question of the unification of the Socialist Workers Party and the Workers Party at your Plenum, we want to summarize here the views we have already set forth in our written communications to you and orally at the two discussion meetings already held by your sub-committee and ours.

The National Committee of the Workers Party proceeds from the following premises:

The Socialist Workers Party and the Workers Party represent two tendencies in the revolutionary Marxist, or Fourth Internationalist, movement. Between the two Parties, there is, however, sufficient agreement on basic principles and program to warrant and make possible their fusion into a united Party. The differences between the two on a number of theoretical, political and organizational questions, the nature and scope of which are well-known, are permissible within the framework and in the ranks of a single revolutionary Party. Furthermore, the main political difference which led to the split in the SWP and the formation of the WP more than five years ago, namely, the question of the defense of Stalinist Russia in the war, does not have the same acuteness and prominence today that it had then, the SWP having declared recently that its main slogan in this question has receded into the background.

The unification of the two Parties is thereby rendered politically and practically possible at the present time. Such a unification, accomplished on a sound and healthy basis, would serve the best interests of the working class and of our common cause. It would give the movement for revolutionary socialism a great forward impulsion in this country and stimulate the movement of our co-thinkers and co-fighters throughout the world.

In our discussions, the delegation of the Socialist Workers Party pointed out that its Committee had not yet taken an official position on the question of the unity of the two Parties and had not yet decided whether or not it wanted unification or considered it desirable. The delegation did not, therefore, make any proposals in the name of the SWP on the question of unity, or on the basis upon which it could or should be accomplished. It limited itself largely to obtaining information from us with regard to the viewpoint of the Workers Party.

Nevertheless, we are able to record a point which is important not only from our standpoint, but from the standpoint of the consideration of the question of unity itself. As we pointed out in our last letter to you, the reply sent by your party to our National Committee Resolution on Unity lent itself to ambiguity in the matter of the basis for unification. It could be interpreted to mean that the SWP took the position that before unity could be accomplished between the two Parties, there would first have to be discussion and then agreement on the decisive and important political and programmatic questions. We replied by saying that the political differences between us were sufficiently well known on both sides; that they could most probably not be composed in one, two or three discussions between sub-committees; and that in any case, we took the position that these different views could very well be permitted, contained and freely discussed within the ranks of one revolutionary party. At the first conference between the two delegations, this ambiguity seems to us to have been largely dispelled. Two circumstances give us this impression. The first is that the political differences between the two Parties were not raised by your delegation for discussion, were not proposed for discussion, and no indication was given that such a discussion, and above all, an agreement on the political questions, was considered an indispensable pre-condition of unification. The second is that the National Secretary of the SWP, in response to our direct question, declared that he could grant, abstractly, in a general way, that the differences between the two Parties were of a character and scope as made possible their coexistence within a single Party; and declared further that the present differences between the two groups could be considered “frozen.” A more precise and formal confirmation of this view, would in our opinion, considerably narrow the field of difference between us on the question of the basis for unity and on the character of the United Party.

While granting abstractly the possibility of fruitful co-existence of the two tendencies within one Party, the delegation of the Socialist Workers Party repeatedly stressed the question of the concrete practicability, feasibility, of a fusion. It referred several times to the fact that the SWP comrades had uppermost in their minds the question, “Will it work?”, that is, will the unification work out profitably for the movement in practise, in the concrete? Reiterating the view expressed in the letter of the SWP to our Party, the delegation pointed out that a unification followed immediately by an intense factional fight and perhaps another split, would not be a solid unity or a worthwhile unity from any standpoint.

These considerations were set forth by the SWP delegation with particular reference, it seems, to one of our proposals. We find it necessary to repeat and motivate it here, inasmuch as on the one side it has been endorsed by our Committee both before and after its presentation to the joint conference of the two Parties, and on the other side, because it became the principal topic of discussion at the first joint Conference.

In opening the discussion at the first Conference, our delegation put forward orally the views presented in our letter to you. In reply to the question as to how, more concretely, we envisaged the actual unification, we added: For us it is not a question of maneuvering, bargaining, or deception of any kind. We recognize the numerical superiority of the SWP, which means that unless and until altered by the majority of the membership of the united party, the predominance in leadership and policy in the united Party would fall to the comrades now composing the SWP, with the comrades now composing the WP making up a disciplined minority with all the necessary rights and facilities at its disposal to provide the means of changing the policy of the united Party by democratic process.

However, our delegation added, the Workers Party, representing a distinct and different political tendency, or ideological grouping, from that represented by the SWP, required and was justified in having, inside the united Party, an internal educational bulletin of its own in which it could freely defend, disseminate and develop its particular point of view on a number of theoretical and political problems of the movement. We proposed that the right of any minority to publish and disseminate such an organ inside the party – a right fully consonant with the best traditions and principles of democratic centralism – be recognized on both sides, thus obviating in advance any recriminations and friction that might otherwise be produced if and when such an organ was published. We pointed out further that the present party discussion bulletin, if published in the same way in the united Party, could not be considered an adequate substitute for a bulletin of our own, inasmuch as the comrades of the WP believed that they could not place sufficient confidence in the present auspices of the SWP bulletin to warrant a withdrawal of our proposal for a bulletin of our own and a joint recognition of the right of ourselves, or of any other minority, to publish one at its own discretion and on its own responsibility.

This proposal, as your delegation will report to you, constituted perhaps the main burden of our joint Conference, at least of its first session. Upon further consideration by us of the arguments advanced by your delegation, we find it necessary to reiterate our stand. It was our impression that most of the arguments advanced applied not merely to the harm that would allegedly come to the Party from the discussion of Party problems in a bulletin of our own, but equally to a free discussion conducted in any other form. We are unable to subscribe to any viewpoint that says or suggests that every ideological grouping or tendency is automatically a faction or must necessarily become one; or that every political or ideological discussion is automatically a factional fight or must necessarily become one. In our view, agreement with such a conception means one of two things: If every political or theoretical discussion is a factional discussion and means a factional fight, the revolutionary Party must be engaged in permanent factional warfare; and if this is so, and factional warfare must be averted at all costs, then discussion must be disallowed, and then in place of a living revolutionary Party freely developing its theory, program and political line we will have a monolithic sect. Our conception of the basis for unification, and therefore the basis of the revolutionary party, is radically different from this.

Your National Secretary pointed out, in the discussion, that there was no question of principle involved in our proposal. The publication of a minority organ inside the Party has been allowed before and even the issuance of a public organ by a minority cannot be dealt with as a matter of immutable principle, he declared. To take no more than one example, he added, the Oehlerites in the old Communist League of America and in the old Workers Party were freely permitted to publish an organ of their own inside the Party. What was involved, in his opinion, however, was the significance of our proposal concretely, in the given case. The question of unity could not be solved, he said, by the SWP rejecting our proposal or by the WP insisting on it. It should rather be considered as a “symbol,” and from this standpoint it appeared to him that the proposal would or might adversely affect or nullify the positive aspects of the unity.

For the reasons already set forth in our conference sessions, we cannot accept this point of view or share these apprehensions. We have not taken a position for unification lightly. We do not contemplate the abandonment of our independent organization, leadership and press lightly, but only because of the progress for the movement that a healthy unity would represent. We look upon a factional war the morning after unity as an absurdity. But we are compelled to add that we regard as equally absurd any suggestion that a free exchange of opinions on party problems, a free and fruitful and necessary discussion of such problems – which we look upon as the life-blood of a revolutionary party, and not as a “special” feature of party life or as a “luxury” accorded from time to time – is the same thing as a factional war or is in contradiction with any of the practical and daily needs of party work in the class struggle.

Finally, even if the publication of a separate organ inside the party by a minority is considered “abnormal” – a viewpoint we do not share – it must also be said that there are very few examples in our history of the union of two organizations which, for all they have in common, nevertheless have such a divergence of views, that is, of the union of two such distinctive tendencies as our two Parties now represent. In that case, it seems to us utterly unrealistic to attempt, in the problem of our unification, to apply “normal” criteria (as some comrades consider them to be) to an “abnormal” (i.e., a more or less unprecedented) situation. If some comrades find it necessary, we can establish our own “precedent” in this matter.

We do not wish to dwell at length again on our proposals for practical collaboration between the two Parties now. Naturally, the area of collaboration and its character and limitations will differ in accordance with the position taken by your Plenum on the basic and primary question, the question of unity. We are prepared for collaboration in either case. If you find that unity is either undesirable or unfeasible at the present time, we are nevertheless prepared to enter into practical agreements with the SWP for united activity in all indicated fields. The nature of the agreements would then be of one kind. If, however, your Plenum decides that unity is not only desirable but feasible and soon realizable, the practical collaboration we should then engage in would be of another – a closer and more harmonious – kind. It would then also represent both a practical preparation for the unity of the two Parties and a realistic test of its workability.

Finally, we point out, the question of our views on the stage of development and the perspectives of the revolutionary Party in the United States, and of our views on the Stalinist Party, also arose toward the end of our second joint session. We find no need to reiterate what was said on these questions from our side, or to elaborate on it. Some of what was said represents our Party’s views; some, however, represents only individual views, as was made clear in the discussion.

Those members who find it necessary to examine our views on these or other questions, will find them stated with sufficient clarity and amplitude in the volumes of our theoretical organ and in the files of our Party bulletin, both of which were supplied to your delegation in the most complete possible form. Our views on the stage of development of the movement in this country today, of its tasks (in the general sense), and perspectives, on the question of a party cadre, of tendencies in the revolutionary Party, of party democracy and related questions, are best and most recently set forth in the documents presented to and adopted by our Active Workers Conference a little while ago.

In view of the foregoing, we reiterate the position that our Party has taken on the question of unification, and make the following requests of your Plenum:

That the National Committee of the SWP, upon examining the relevant documents and discussing the reports before it, adopt an official position on the question of unity to be communicated to us for our immediate consideration. It is difficult for us to see how any further progress can be made in the discussion and realization of unity between the two Parties if your sub-Committee designated to meet with us continues to be in a position where it cannot and does not make any proposals of its own on the question of unity, where it cannot express itself definitely on proposals made by us, and where it is even unable to declare that the SWP has decided in favor or in opposition to unity itself.

That the National Committee of the SWP, in adopting an official position, expresses itself at the same time on. the series of proposals made by us for the basis on which the unification should be achieved and for the method to follow in achieving it.

Lastly, that the National Committee of the SWP, in its deliberations on unity, consider again the question of practical collaboration between the two organizations and adopt concrete proposals, either in agreement with our own or else as a substitute of our own for us to consider.

Any relevant questions that remain unelucidated, or that require amplification, we are prepared to deal with during your deliberations, either by letter or orally before your Committee. For that purpose, our Committee’s delegation is being held at your disposal upon your request at any time during your sessions.


Fraternally yours,
National Secretary, Workers Party

Max Shachtman
Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 14.9.2008