Max Shachtman &
E.R. McKinney

To the Convention of the SWP

What Are the Facts on Unity?

(11 November 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 45, 11 November 1946, pp. 4–5.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

To the Delegates of the Convention of the Socialist Workers Party
To all Members of the Socialist Workers Party

Dear Comrades:

The leadership of your party has finally taken a clear-cut stand in opposition to the fusion of the Socialist Workers Party and the Workers Party into a united section of the Fourth International. Its position is set forth in the statement by the Political Committee of the Socialist Workers Party, Revolutionary Marxism or Petty-Bourgeois Revisionism? (SWP Internal Bulletin, August 1946)

In this letter to you we intend to take up, point by point without evasion or diplomacy, all the questions directly relating to unity which are dealt with in the statement of your PC, as well as those which it fails to deal with. We ask you to give patient attention to this letter even though it is a long one. We feel no need to apologize for its length, however, not only because the statement of your PC is likewise extensive but because the problems involved in the unity question are of the most vital importance for building up in this country,’ and, indeed, throughout the world, a strong, healthy, proletarian, democratic revolutionary Marxist movement. Before we can seriously establish an attitude toward each other, it is indispensable that we each know the positions of the other on the fundamental questions involved. That requires a knowledge of the positions, not as they are said to be, but as they actually are. Whatever the merits of your PC statement may be, it gives us a welcome opportunity to state or restate the position of our own party on all the important questions that relate to our proposal for unity.

The Trotskyist movement in the United States split into two parts immediately after the national convention of the Socialist Workers Party in April 1940. The two principal differences which caused the split were, first, the slogan of “unconditional defense of Russia” in the war, upheld by the then majority and rejected by the Minority, and, second, the regime in the SWP which the Minority criticized as bureaucratic conservatism.

Rightly or wrongly – that is not the question at the moment; we shall return to it later – the Minority was profoundly convinced of the tremendous harm that would be inflicted upon the movement by the exclusive presentation of the position of the majority on the Russian question. It was just as much convinced of the correctness of its own position and the need of presenting it to the radical working class public. That is why it insisted upon the right of publishing an organ of its own, after the convention, which while defending the party and its line in every sphere would diverge from it on the question of defense of Russia. This demand, while extraordinary, was not, however, unprecedented. The convention majority rejected it.

Under ordinary circumstances and given a normal party regime, the Minority would undoubtedly have submitted to the decision of the Majority. However, the Minority believed that the circumstances were not ordinary and the party regime not normal. In its view, the avowedly exceptional demand which it made was being converted by the Majority into a convenient pretext for ridding itself of a substantial body of inconvenient and very embarrassing critics. The events that followed immediately after the convention only served to confirm the opinion of the Minority.

A Bureaucratic Demand on Minority Group

At the very first meeting of the PC after the convention – after the newly elected National Committee had assigned the various comrades of the Majority and Minority to their various posts and responsibilities – the Majority confronted the Minority with a resolution which has no precedent whatsoever in the history of our movement. To find its equal you must look in the annals not of the early Stalinist movement but of the Stalinist movement in its worst period. This resolution did not charge the Minority with any overt act against the party, not even with any act of indiscipline, not even the violation of the most insignificant rule or statute of the party. The first part of the resolution of April 16, 1940, provided “that the Committee accepts the convention decisions and obligates itself to carry them out in a disciplined manner.” We did. not vote for this resolution and we did not vote against it – we abstained from the vote.

It is not necessary for us to justify our abstention here. You may consider that we were entirely wrong in abstaining. But who can contest our inviolable right to have voted on this motion as we saw fit? Any member of the party at all times has the right to vote for or against a proposition or to abstain in the vote. If a majority can at any time dictate to a minority that the latter must vote for any proposition of the former, then obviously you no longer have a party but a mechanical voting machine operated from above.

Yet, it was precisely this elementary right that was contested by the majority at the same meeting of the PC. The second part of the resolution it submitted provided that anyone who fails to vote “for,” is automatically suspended from all party posts and rights in such a manner as to make the “suspension” equivalent, to all intents and purposes, to an expulsion – an expulsion or “suspension” without so much as a trial or hearing! And inasmuch as the Minority in the PC failed to vote “for” the first proposition it was declared automatically suspended from all posts and rights in the party. The same procedure was immediately practiced against all the supporters of the Minority in the party branches. The SWP was effectively split!

Have you ever heard of such a procedure in all the history of our movement? Have you even ever been told by the party leadership that this is the procedure it followed toward the Minority in 1940? You know the answer to both questions. The first part of the infamous resolution was finally made public by the SWP leadership in the introduction to Trotsky’s In Defense of Marxism by Hansen and Warde. Why did they stop with the first part? Why didn’t they make public the text of the second part in that introduction? Why has it never been made public anywhere else? Does your leadership feel a sense of shame at this blatant aping of the Stalinist principle that the price of membership in the party is a vote “for”? Does it feel that the publication of the second part of the resolution would give a truer picture of how the split in 1940 actually came about? That its publication would help dispel many of the legends which it has woven around the circumstances of the split?

Your PC statement speaks at great length about the 1940 split. Why does it not give all the facts? Why does it not quote from its April 16, 1940 resolution, or even refer to it? He who does not have the whole of the relevant facts cannot reach the whole of a relevant judgment. Demand that the resolution be made available to you in full! You are entitled to it.

We have already spoken of the two main causes of the split. But it was the April 16, 1940 resolution which actually precipitated the split. The plan of the Majority to get rid of the critics of the party regime was clearly evident before then. The course and tone of the Majority reflected a predetermined line for our expulsion. This required no special perspicacity on our part to anticipate an attempt to get rid of us on one pretext or another, although, we admit, we did not anticipate that the measure would take such an outrageous form. We have no desire, therefore, to conceal the fact that we prepared for any eventuality so that no measure taken against us would catch us by surprise. Nevertheless, it must be emphasized that this effective expulsion of the Minority took place without any charge whatsoever of indiscipline; that it took place before we had published the first issue of Labor Action; that it took place before we published the first issue of The New International under our own auspices. Our expulsion was clearly the result of a plan to get rid of critics of the party regime on one flimsy pretext or another.

As we saw it, and as we said at that time, an expulsion or split of the party should have and could have been averted if the Majority, had been genuinely and intelligently concerned with maintaining unity. That is the case even if every characterization of the Minority held true – that it was “petty bourgeois,” that it was “yielding to the pressure of bourgeois public opinion,” etc.

During the Brest-Litovsk period of the Russian Revolution, the so-called Left Communists, headed by Bukharin, Radek and others, published their own independent press and attacked the party and its leadership in the most violent and unrestrained terms. That was at a time when the fate of the revolution literally hung by a hair. Lenin characterized the Left Communists as “petty-bourgeois phrase mongers” and the like. He had good grounds for this designation. They formed a bloc, for all practical purposes, with the Left S.R.s, a non-Marxist, petty-bourgeois current. He spared them as little as they spared him, but he proposed no organizational measures against the clear violation of the party statutes by the Left Communists. He did not propose a formal banning of their independent press and party committees. Although not an advocate of unity-at-all-costs, Lenin was sincerely and wisely concerned with unity. He had confidence in the power of his own views, confidence that they would persuade at least the bulk of the Left Communists in good time. When Bukharin refused to serve on the Central Committee because of the differences, Lenin insisted that he remain a member, right in the face of the fact that Bukharin had set up a “rival” press and “rival” party committees. Before too long not only did Lenin’s views triumph but his method triumphed as well. The breach was healed; party unity was restored; the crisis was overcome with a minimum of damage.

Naturally, the situation in the SWP in 1940 was not identical with that of the Bolshevik Party in 1918. Everything must be examined with due regard for the differences in proportion. But if anything, Lenin’s method was even more clearly indicated for 1940 in the United States than for 1918 in Russia. The fate of the revolution in the United States did not hang by a hair in 1940!

An Indictment of the Cannon Regime

Why was the Minority so insistent in its proposal that, if defeated at the convention, it have the right to publish a periodical of the kind we have described? In a letter of February 20, 1940, to the Cleveland conference of the opposition Comrade Trotsky wrote us that “the future Minority can ask for certain reasonable guarantees for its ideological existence and we believe that the future Majority should grant these reasonable guarantees in order to prevent a premature and not unavoidable split.” The difficulty, however, lay in the fact that the Minority believed that the presentation of its point of view on the vital question of the Russian defense slogan to the radical working class public was necessary in order to moderate the disastrous consequences of the Majority position on this question; that only in that way could the Minority remain loyal to its ideas and the interests of the working class and thereby to the Fourth International itself. But not only that. The trouble lay. further in the fact that the Majority not only offered no “reasonable guarantees,” but that our bitter experience during the dispute in the party had already removed any grounds that we may have had for placing confidence in any “guarantees” of genuine party democracy that the Majority might give us. The reason for this conclusion cannot be better stated than by quoting from a document issued by the Minority on March 9, 1940:

“Is there the slightest ground for believing that the Cannonites would grant us, if we prove to be in the minority at the convention, those ‘reasonable guarantees for ideological existence’ of which Trotsky speaks? For what reason should any party member place the slightest confidence in the loyalty or in the adherence to the principles of party democracy of the Cannon clique? (1) It sought at the very beginning to prevent a discussion entirely, calling it a ‘luxury we cannot afford.’ (2) When it was finally compelled to open a discussion. Cannon moved that it be confined to one membership meeting of the New York local. (3) Although the last Political Committee meeting steam-rollered through a motion ‘recommending’ another discussion-debate membership meeting of the New York local (we proposed to refer the question to the City Committee, whose record in organizing the fullest and most democratic discussion is flawless, and which has since organized the meeting ‘recommended’ by the PC), the same Cannonite PC has never voted to ‘recommend’ the holding of a discussion-debate membership meeting of the Minneapolis or Flint locals. Just the contrary. The Cannonite controlled Michigan-Ohio District Committee has just sabotaged to death the district membership meeting at which official representatives of the two groups were to debate before the Youngstown-Cleveland-Toledo-Detriot-Flint membership. (4) The Internal Bulletins have been progressively ‘weighted’ against the Minority’s documents and articles, especially in the latest issues. Now the Bulletin is, in effect, completely suspended. (5) The Socialist Appeal was denied to the Minority in the pre-convention period on purely Stalinist grounds. Instead of a discussion in its columns, the Cannonites have devoted themselves in editorials and articles to a dirty, insinuatory, underhanded and disloyal polemic against us without our having the opportunity to reply. (6) A petty, typically Stalinist censorship of articles has been introduced against the Minority in the Appeal, specifically against the column of Comrade MacDonald who was not even allowed to quote the official Stalinist statement that the Kremlin does not aim to Sovietize Finland. (7) Even the New International was closed to the Minority, on the most hypocritical and demagogical grounds. The last issue was filled with the Cannonite position without a word appearing from our side. At the last minute, a decision is made to make the coming issue of the New International a ‘discussion’ number, which will appear just in time to greet the delegates after they have been elected. In this ‘model’ discussion number, at least two-thirds of the space is to be given the Majority position. This decision is presented as a ‘concession’ to the Minority. Fraudulent claim! Its purpose is not the preservation of the democratic rights of the Minority, but the preparation of the split. On the eve of driving us out of the party, the Cannonites are ‘preparing the sympathizers’ of the party by making public, among other documents, Trotsky’s fierce attack on the Minority, From a Scratch to the Danger of Gangrene. Trotsky’s authority and prestige are being used in the hope of ‘discrediting’ the Minority, of psychologizing the party sympathizers into accepting the already-prepared expulsions.

“Who can seriously ask the Minority to place the slightest confidence in the Cannonites after this? What are the ‘reasonable’ guarantees they offer? Their reply to our resolution on Party Unity simply does not offer nay. Trotsky speaks of the ‘exceptional’ situation. Cannon replies: Submit and shut up!

“That is one of the main reasons why the Minority insists on the right of either group, if if is not victorious at the convention, to publish a political organ if it so desires.”

No, we did not contend then and we do not say now that the regular statutes of the party provide for the issuance of any public organs by a Minority of the party. Statutes, however, do not exist as an end in themselves. They should be enforced, at all times, but enforced intelligently and always with an eye to the best interests of the party. To grant any group of comrades the right to a public organ of its own and every time it decides that it wants one, merely in order to try to preserve party unity or some measure of party unity, in contrast to a definitive split, would obviously be absurd. We take no such position and we never did. It is necessary to weight the choices with the most scrupulous objectivity.

To go by the pure party statutes in a case where a Minority insists on its special demand and the Majority rigidly insists upon the letter of the statutes, obviously means a definitive split, probably of long duration. Obviously, this is an evil. To yield on the formal aspects of the statutes in the same case certainly means a loosening of the party cords. Here too obviously there is an evil. But such a loosening may, given a wise and politically self-confident majority, avoid a complete disruption of those bonds and lay the basis fori re-examining them at an early stage. The weighing of the two must be undertaken in order to arrive at a scrupulous decision on which is the greater evil and which is the lesser.

Can any serious and objective comrade say now – especially now in the light of the six years development of the two groups – that the 1940 majority arrived at a scrupulously objective decision? On the one side there was a decision which could have healed the breach in a round-about and even painful way; on the other side was the split of the Trotskyist movement into almost two equal parts. Surely, you cannot deceive yourselves into really believing that the Minority was composed of “worthless petty-bourgeois scum.” Naturally, we had some petty-bourgeois riff-raff in our ranks. Every minority that launches a fight against, among other things, bureaucratism attracts to its side a certain amount of petty-bourgeois or dilettante camp followers. Whoever knows the history of the Trotskyist struggle against Stalinist bureaucracy knows this to be a fact. We get rid of these camp followers without much difficulty. But the overwhelming bulk of the Minority was made up of devoted revolutionists, capable of enduring struggle against the class enemy and for revolutionary socialist principles; it was made up of comrades who played no small role in founding and building up the Trotskyist movement in this country and elsewhere and in acting as its most loyal and not least competent defenders. It had the support of what your PC now acknowledges to have been almost 50 per cent of the party – and even a greater percentage of the youth, a support which it was not easy to gain in the face of the great authority enjoyed by our only real opponent, Comrade Trotsky. Faced with a choice of trying to retain unity with this considerable and important section of the Trotskyist movement, on the one hand, and a split with “a line of blood between us,” as your leader said, on the other hand, the Majority did not hesitate. It decided on the cold, calculated split.

Those are the facts of the split, for which we are ready to take pur share of the responsibility, even though it is now a more or less outlived question – but only our share.

What was the course of the two parties and their respective leaderships after the split? We did not conceal our old differences with the SWP. We did not artificially create new ones, nor did we artificially suppress those new differences on extensions of old differences which arose in the course of the class struggle. We sought at all times to engage your parity representatives in public discussion, without, it is true, much success. With due regard for loyalty in debate, such as we always insist upon in our own inner party discussions, our polemics against your party position were often very lively and even bitter. Yet, at all times, we sought to maintain a fraternal attitude toward the SWP, as an organization of the Fourth International. Regardless of how you judge the practical expediency of our proposals, you must know that we repeatedly proposed to your party leadership practical collaboration and united fronts on one question after another even though nine times out of ten your leadership did not find it necessary so much as to reply to our proposals. We never engaged in picayune maneuvers or cheap diplomacy toward the SWP. We never concealed our views or our criticisms, and all our proposals for united activity, be it in the Minneapolis case, the fight for second class rights of The Militant or a dozen other cases, were forthright and unequivocal. We bent over backward to avoid the intensification of a hostile relationship between the members of the two parties.

Your party leadership took the opposite course. It tried to ignore our existence altogether, but without much success. It studiously ignored every proposal for collaboration as much as it possibly could. It sought (and still does seek) to create the most bitterly hostile personal attitude between its membership and ours. For all practical purposes it instigated and encouraged the odious system of “non-fraternization” between comrades of the SWP and of the WP. It felt so unsure, of its own ideas and of the “infectiousness” of our ideas for any SWP comrade who came in contact with them, that it left few stones unturned to prevent such contact. Apprehension that such fraternal contact would cause a reconsideration of the split and the differences that caused it, also prompted the SWP leadership to pursue this course of deepening the hostility toward the WP.

At the October 1941 Plenum conference of the SWP, in pursuance of the same course, which we readily acknowledge has been a consistent one, your leadership adopted a resolution declaring that the condition for winning the Stalinist workers or any other group of workers “is the prohibition (!) in our own ranks of any sentiment of conciliation toward the degenerated petty-bourgeois clique of Shachtman and company.” Where did your leadership borrow the language and method embodied in the phrase “prohibition of any sentiment of conciliation?” Where did it borrow the method which resulted, only recently, in bringing four young New York comrades up on charges for the crime of “fraternizing” with members of the Workers Party? It is only where ideas are weak and hard to defend that their proponents find it necessary to resort to “prohibitions” against ideas which are strong and easy to defend.

New Minority in the SWP Fights for Unity

The attitude of your leadership toward a possible reunification, which has not varied in any respect from the day of the split down to the present day, was expressed with brutal candor by your party leader in his article of January 1945 (SWP Internal Bulletin, April 1945, p. 19):

“If we keep thinking without stopping half-way we must recognize that our estimate inexorably leads us either (1) toward reconciliation and unity, or (2) toward a deepening of the split. The discussion is not completed until that question is decided and reasons given for the decision.

“We, on our part, assume that the course toward deepening of the split is necessary and correct; our attitude flows from that.”

The conduct of the SWP leadership throughout the past year and a quarter since the question of reunification was first raised can be understood – and all its maneuvers, evasions and diplomatic tricks can be understood – only if you understand the real line of the SWP leadership as expressed in the above formula; “The course toward deepening the split is necessary and correct; our attitude flows from that.”

All the letters sent us on the unity question by the SWP leadership, all the motions and resolutions it adopted on that question, the two discussion meetings in which it engaged with us – all these, from start to finish, were nothing but “tactical maneuvers” calculated to serve “the course toward deepening the split.” This is not hard to demonstrate.

The initiative in reopening the question of unity between the two parties was taken more than a year ago by the SWP Minority led by Comrades Goldman and Morrow. The proposal to take so much as the first steps toward eventual unity was harshly and promptly rejected by the party leadership. In his speech to the New York SWP on July 25, 1945, Cannon dealt the proposal the following categorical rebuff:

“The proposal for ‘unity with the Shachtmanites’ is not a concrete and realistic proposition for our party at the present time. The attitude of the Shachtmanites – an attitude which springs from political considerations – rules it out. And the formula of the Minority is especially inept, untimely and unrealistic.” (SWP Internal Bulletin, August 1945, p. 25)

The Detroit plenary meeting of the National Committee of the WP reacted quite differently to the initiative taken by the SWP Minority. Without diplomacy or evasions or equivocations, it adopted by unanimous vote a resolution in favor of discussing the question of unity with the SWP. In doing so, it did not find it necessary to do violence to any position it had taken in the past.

Why not? What had changed? The resolution of our National Committee declared frankly that “our estimate and criticism of the official regime maintained by the representatives of the Majority in the SWP has not been changed.” But, as we reminded you before, it was not the question of the regime in the SWP, or rather not that alone, that caused the split in 1940. The question of the regime assumed decisive importance in causing the 1940 split only in connection with the vital important political question of the active propagation of the slogan of unconditional defense of Russia in the war. As has been indicated above, the Minority would have been quite prepared to subordinate itself without question even to that regime, which it characterized as bureaucratic, if the political question at issue was an “ordinary” one, one that did not have in its eyes the decisive importance of the Russian question. What was new in the middle of 1945 was precisely the fact that the slogan of unconditional defense no longer had the same decisive significance so far as the SWP was concerned – at least that is how it appeared to be formally. Our resolution took note of this fact when it said:

“The principal ground given in the resolution (of the SWP Minority) for unification of the two parties, is that the main political question in dispute in 1939–40, which led to the split in the SWP and the formation of the WP, namely, the difference over the slogan of ‘unconditional defense of the Soviet Union,’ is today no longer as acute and topical as it was when the dispute first arose; and that the two parties today have a similar position on the main task in Europe, namely, defense of the European revolution from the threat of Stalinism and Anglo-American imperialism.

“(2) The National Committee also takes note of the fact that the SWP itself has officially taken the view that the slogan of ‘unconditional defense of the Soviet Union’ does not, at the present time, occupy the prominent position it was given af the beginning of the war, that it has receded into the background.”

At the same time that we noted the diminution in the antagonism between the two positions, we also noted, with the same frankness that has characterized our conduct throughout this whole question, that

“... We still have important differences with the SWP on a number of political and theoretical questions! However, the range of these differences does not go beyond what is permissible within the ranks of a single revolutionary party.”

Consistent with the above, our resolution concluded that

“... The interests of uniting the Fourth Internationalists In the United States on a sound foundation are more important than the regime in the SWP.

“(5) The Workers Party is therefore prepared to discuss the question of unity with the Socialist Workers Party.”

In the face of this clear-cut resolution, which we immediately communicated to the SWP, its leadership could no longer evade formal measures – or, more accurately, formal and empty gestures – in response to the initiative of the SWP Minority and the support given it by the Workers Party. It opened the door to a “discussion” of the unity question by a thin little crack only in order to slam it all the tighter when it seemed convenient to do so, only in order to “deepen the split.” When you see how this was done, you will understand that the latest statement of your PC against unity is a document of such political hypocrisy, misrepresentation and malice as has few equals in the history of the movement.

How They &lquo;Opened the Door” to Unity

After the receipt of our resolution, your PC wrote us its first letter on the question. It boiled down to the following: It is in favor of discussing the question of unity; it would like to hear from us “more precisely and more concretely” our view of “how the unification should be brought about and what form it should take”; it would like to know if we would abide, in the united party, by the principle of subordination of a minority to a majority; and it would like to have some assurances that the unity would be serious and durable and would not be followed by another split.

Was your PC aware then, as it is now, of the theoretical and political differences between us and the SWP? Of course! Aware of every single one of them! Aware of the depth and scope and significance of every single one of them! They know our positions from our press and our political documents which they carefully read, and they knew them then. They have known them so well all through the past six years that they have repeatedly attacked them and dissociated themselves from them – rightly or wrongly, ably or badly. If this is true, and it cannot but be true, it is decisively important to bear the following point in mind:

Knowing these differences, knowing their significance and, what is no less important, knowing that we had no intention of abandoning our positions merely upon request, your PC nevertheless considered it possible to open up discussions with us on the question of unity.

What is the meaning of this? It. clearly means that, your PC did not take the position that the theoretical and political differences between us are of such a nature as to preclude, automatically. And in advance, the possibility of unity. It was not the theoretical and. political positions of the WP that concerned it in the contemplated discussion, that constituted a question mark in its mind, that constituted the possible obstacle of unification. Not at all There is no indication of that. All they were concerned with learning from us in the discussion was whether or not we had such practical proposals to make for unification as would in the eyes of your PC, make the unification possible and desirable.

This is further confirmed in the speech to the New York SWP on September 2, 1945, in which Cannon, speaking for the PC declared:

But now, when the Shachtmanites write us a letter and say that they want to discuss unity, and that the very basis upon which they justified their split for five years – the kind of a party we have, our so-called ‘regime’ – could be subordinated; then the PC could not do otherwise than say: Very well, we will examine your propositions; we will discuss unity with you.

Are we for unity, Goldman demands, or against unity? We say we will see. We will see what develops from this sudden change of position of the Shachtmanites after five years. If if is sincere, if it represents a real change toward us and a really serious and honest approach toward reunification on the basis they rejected before we will reexamine it closely before giving a definite answer. That is the only attitude the party leadership can take at this stage of the developments.” (SWP Internal Bulletin, September 1945, p. 18)

Read this twice over. Compare it with the latest statement of your PC which so categorically rejects unity with the Workers Party. Why is unity rejected in this statement? Because the WP holds a position on a whole series of theoretical and political questions, the sum of which makes it a “petty bourgeois organization both in its composition and the class roots of its ideology” and therefore incompatible with membership in the Fourth International or any of its sections.

It is simply necessary to ask: When did your PC discover all this? Only a few weeks ago – or has it known this horrible fact all along? Has it known it at least since it received our resolution in favor of discussion of unification more than a year ago? We will not belabor the obvious. Our position and our activity in the past six years is not a recent discovery by your PC. We have not cancelled out this activity in the last few months nor have we liquidated our theoretical and political positions in that time. Is it not clear that the reasons now given by your leadership for the undesirability and impossibility of unity were likewise present and known a year ago? If these reasons are valid now as conclusive arguments against unification, they were, they must have been, just as valid a year ago and more. If your PC is so categorical against unity now, why was it not just as categorical a year ago? Our “betrayal” of Russia does not date from yesterday but from 1940. Our “crime” of “splitting” was not committed in the last year but more than six years ago. Our “betrayal” of China (and India and half of the rest of the world) is a “crime” of long and well-known standing. Our alleged abandonment of the revolutionary socialist perspective in Europe is not something new, is not something recently dug up by the archeologists of your PC. The same holds true of all of the other sins listed to demonstrate the impossibility of fusion.

Why, then, we repeat, was your PC ready to sit down to discuss the question of unity with us a year ago, but now finds it absolutely excluded from the standpoint of revolutionary Marxism? Why did Cannon a year ago find it impossible to answer Goldman’s question as to whether he was for unity or against it, and replied instead: “We will see”? What was there to see a year ago? Our theoretical and political positions? Our record of activities during the war? They were already “seen,” your leadership knew exactly what they were.

Cannon’s Duplicity in the Negotiations

The answers to our questions are obvious and annihilating. Ostensibly your leadership was ready to discuss unity with us only for the purpose of learning whether it was practically feasible. Actually, your leadership was ready to discuss unity a year ago only for the purpose of going through the motions, only for the purpose of warding off the pressure for unity which was growing inside the SWP and throughout the Fourth International. In other words, only as a deceitful maneuver.

Is further confirmation of this utterly obvious fact required? The two conferences between the representatives of your PC and ours, held in September 1945, provided further confirmation. At no time during these conferences did your representatives ask us to state the political and theoretical differences we have with the SWP. Why should they? They knew them then as well as they know them now. At no time did the representatives of your PC so much as hint that what stood or might stand in the way of an eventual unity was the position that we had taken on the theoretical and political questions in dispute. At no time did your representatives suggest even in the remotest way that they considered us a group or tendency whose political and theoretical positions or activities in the class struggle made unity impossible or undesirable. We repeat, at no time!

What was discussed at these conferences? Almost at the very beginning your representative, Cannon, said and repeated: “We can consider the differences frozen.” That is, the differences between the two parties are known; in the united party they may eventually be reconciled or take different forms, but right now it is pointless to discuss them inasmuch as there is no practical possibility of either side convincing the other of the correctness of its position – “the differences are frozen.”

We agreed with this formula unhesitatingly.

What was discussed, and what the SWP representatives asked us to present, was our concrete program of proposals for effectuating the unity.

Cannon’s first question dealt not with differences but with our concept of how the national committee of the united party would be constructed, the proportion of seats alloted to each grouping, etc.

The SWP representatives made no proposals – concrete or general. We did. What were our proposals? We acknowledged out of hand the numerical superiority of the SWP. We left open the question, for discussion, of alternative proposals for the physical achievement of the unity, whether by a joint representative convention or by the members of the WP entering the branches of the SWP. We declared in advance, without being prodded, that in the united party, and for the whole next period up to the first regular convention of the united party, the date of which would be agreed upon in common, we considered ourselves in advance to be a minority. We would therefore lay claim only to minority representation in the National and Political Committees and all the other bodies and institutions of the united party. We acknowledged in advance that in the united party, the present SWP would have decisive control of party policy, party work, party press and all other party institutions. We declared our readiness to dissolve our own party; to give up our independent work and institutions; give up Labor Action, The New International and all our public activity. We pledged ourselves to the principle of the minority subordinating itself to the majority. We gave all the necessary assurances that following the unity there would be an intensive and indefinite period of common work to build the party, that we would not and were not so stupid as to think of opening up on the morning after the unity a factional fight, let alone planning a split, if for no ‘other reason than that such a plan would irretrievably discredit Its authors.

What more could we offer as assurance of the possibility and desirability of unity and of our seriousness, with regard to it? What more could be asked of us?

Did your representatives, upon hearing this specific and concrete program of proposals, state or even suggest or even hint that these proposals had no importance? That what stood in the way of the unity was our social composition or our “petty-bourgeois ideology”? That what stood in the way of the unity were our views on Russia, or Europe, or the Stalinist party, or the trade union question, or the labor party question, or military policy, or our concept of the party, or our attitude toward the Fourth International, or any one of the rest of the questions which form the sum and substance of the arguments against unity contained in the last PC statement?

No! Not one word! Not one hint of all that!

What then, produced the only subject of serious discussion at these conferences? None of the points listed above. The only point which your representatives suggested or declared would constitute an obstacle to the unity was the only demand we made, namely, that inside the united party the Minority would publish an internal educational bulletin of its own in which its views on the disputed questions would be set forth. That is all that was discussed between us at these conferences, that and nothing else. Your representatives indicated that it was not so much that they would consider it an obstacle to unity as it was the membership of the SWP itself that would regard it in that light. Here, too, we did not diplomatize, we did not pretend. When we were asked why we felt it necessary to have a bulletin printed in the united party, why we could not be content with a regular party bulletin edited and controlled by the Majority, we replied frankly, in line with what We had already openly indicated in our plenum resolution, that rightly or wrongly, the leadership of the SWP did not enjoy our confidence as an adequate protector of the democratic rights of a minority; that we based this lack of confidence upon past experiences which had not yet been eliminated.

In return for our frankness, our readiness to answer any and every question and to answer it to the point, we received from your representatives only evasions, diplomatic formulas, quarter-commitments, buck-passing along the line of “We are here only to explore, we have no authority to say anything, we must refer this to the NC, it is the membership alone which has authority to speak, etc.”

Was our demand to publish an internal bulletin of our own a real obstacle to unification? It is impossible to take this seriously. During the dispute in the SWP Trotsky and other comrades, in the interests of maintaining the threatened unity of the party, proposed that the then Minority be allowed to have just such a bulletin. A hundred times before in the movement minorities have issued internal bulletins of their own. Even Cannon pointed out in the conference with us that in the old Communist League of America in this country the Oehlerite faction had an internal bulletin of its own. No action was taken or proposed against it on this account; action was taken against it only after the Oehlerites distributed their bulletin in public. No, the reaction of your representatives to this demand of ours was nothing but the seizure of a pretext for breaking off the discussions on unity and sabotaging its achievement.

Twenty-Eight Pages of Political Evasion

This too can be proved. Following these two conferences, the SWP Minority again took the initiative to remove any obstacle, real or pretended, to unification. It addressed a letter to the Workers Party asking us to withdraw the demand for an internal bulletin and to confine ourselves to the perfectly elementary demand that the right of any minority to issue a bulletin of its own be recognized on both sides. We acceded to the proposal of the Minority. We were determined to remove any real obstacle to unification, especially provided it appeared to be such an obstacle in the eyes of the membership of the SWP. We thereupon communicated to your PC our decision withdrawing the demand to publish a bulletin of our own in the united party. We requested instead that the right of any minority to issue a bulletin be recognized, pledging ourselves at the same time not to exercise this right in the united party, at least for the first long period of its existence, in order to give the united party the benefit of the most favorable conditions conceivable for its smooth, harmonious development and growth. This communication was ignored by your leadership, that is, it ignored our decision to remove the only obstacle to unity that it had indicated to us in the discussion conferences. It goes without saying that the withdrawal of our demand, like so many other pertinent and revealing points, is likewise ignored in the anti-unity statement of your PC. It is another one of those many facts of the unity period that not even the most skillful demagogue can exploit for his own purposes.

Let us recapitulate the whole period of the attempt to unify the two parties.

Our party proceeded, from the time the SWP Minority first raised the question formally, with a clear-cut position in favor of unity and a clear-cut program on how to achieve it. Your party leadership proceeded from the very beginning with an intransigent opposition to unity, along the course of deepening the split, and without relenting in their systematic efforts to instill into the party membership the most violent prejudices and antagonisms against the Workers Party and against the idea of unity with it.

Our party responded promptly and unambiguously to your leadership’s demand that we “indicate more precisely and more concretely your view of how the unification is to be brought about and what form it should take.” You will nowhere find indication toward this end by your leadership, concrete or general, precise or vague, because it never gave any.

In order to eliminate the most deep rooted but honest suspicions about our intentions, apprehensions that all we meant by unity was a vulgar maneuver, our party offered to give up every single aspect of its independent existence and to accept in advance the status and obligations of a minority in the united party. If this had been a maneuver not seriously meant by us. it could have been exploded and we could have been hopelessly discredited by the simple device of taking us at our word and demanding that we make good in practice. That is precisely what your leadership did not do and it did not do it precisely because It knew that we could be taken at our word and that we were ready to make our word a reality. Your leadership, on the other hand, began with the conviction that it is necessary to deepen the split and it has ended with the proposition that it is necessary to deepen the. split. What it did in between, in the name of an avowed readiness to discuss with us the unification of the two parties, was therefore only pretense, only a maneuver, only a stalling for time until a more propitious moment would arrive for it to restate categorically its fierce hostility to the establishment of a united party.

Our party at no time assumed the hypocritical air of naive ignorance about the existence of differences between us and about the significance of these differences. It knew what they were at the beginning and it knows what they are now. But it likewise knew the points of agreement between the two parties in the field of theory, program, tradition, methods. Knowing all this it was able to say at the very beginning that “on this plane, the plane of basic program and principle, the two parties are close enough in their positions to require and justify immediate unification, on grounds similar to those which made their membership in one party possible and desirable in the period prior to the split.” (Letter of the WP to the SWP, September 15, 1945.) No evasion there, no equivocation, no artificial magnification of differences, no concealment of differences, no concealment of the estimate of these differences in the light of the unity proposal. Your party leadership, from the very beginning, went through an elaborate but pitifully transparent pretense. This is a harsh accusation but the facts leave us no alternative. Either your leadership did not know what the differences were between us, or it did know. If it did not know, then surely the conferences between us were intended to establish what these differences were. You know that this is not what the conferences took up. Your leadership made it plain there that they not only knew what these differences were but that they considered them “frozen.” If they did know what the differences were, then it was possible and necessary for it to say frankly and openly and without hesitation that given the breadth and depth and significance of the differences as it understood them, unity was out of the question and discussions on the proposal for unity were entirely superfluous, time-wasting, and dangerously misleading. That is, your leadership could and should have said from the very beginning what it has found the courage to say now in the statement of your PC, because so far as our theoretical and political differences are concerned, they know no more about them today than they knew a year and more ago. Diplomacy and maneuvers are required in dealing with the class enemy. Diplomacy and maneuvers practiced against the membership of a revolutionary party – and it is against you, comrades, as well as against us, that these were practiced – is a typical bureaucratic crime.

If the Trotskyist movement in the United States today continues to be divided into two rival sections, the responsibility for that rests solely and exclusively upon the shoulders of the leadership of the SWP. That conclusion is inescapable.


To all that has been outlined above, the statement against unity adopted by your PC (28 printed pages) does not make one single reference. The record of more than a year of discussions and proposals on the question of unity, embodied in numerous documents, is not only not evaluated but is simply not mentioned. So far as your PC statement is concerned, this record just does not exist. This silence is inexcusable but not incomprehensible. We understand it perfectly.

The statement confines itself to a presentation of the theoretical and political differences between the two parties. It attempts to establish the conclusion that “the Workers Party is a petty-bourgeois, centrist, in-grown sect, moving ever swiftly away from Marxism toward left social democracy.” For your PC, this conclusion is meant to be synonymous with a categorical rejection of the idea of unity with the WP.

For all our criticism of it, we welcome this presentation of the differences. It is indeed high time that your leadership attempted to come to grips, directly and systematically, with the views of the WP. It is high time that you, the membership of the SWP, become acquainted with the views of the WP. Up to now our views have been concealed from you by your leadership, or else your leadership has grossly misrepresented them to you. For this we require no more proof than is amply provided by your own leadership. It is a fact that we establish with deep regret but it is a fact.

In its letters to the Workers Party of April 10, 1946, your National Secretariat presented us with a list of questions on our position, drawn up in motions adopted by your PC on April 9th. These questions, eleven in number, are aimed to elicit from us a statement of our position on a whole series of questions in dispute between us for the past seven years. We responded readily to the request of your Secretariat, as you can see from our letter of April 30th, which is reproduced at the end of the bulletin containing the anti-unity statement of your PC. But in this connection the question arises: Why did your leadership require from us a statement of our position? Doesn’t it know what our position is? Naturally, it does. One of the motions of your PC refers to the “above list of questions which in our opinion are in dispute between our party and the WP.” A statement of our views, therefore, is not required by your leadership, inasmuch as it knows what these views are and knows that there is a dispute between us on them. Obviously, then, the statement of our views is necessary for the clarification of the membership of the SWP. If that is the case, and we certainly believe it to be, it follows clearly enough that the membership of the SWP is unacquainted with our position. Its failure to be informed about our views is not due to any lack of effort on our part. It is due only to the persistent efforts of the SWP leadership to conceal our views from you.

And if the SWP membership requires a statement of our views for its clarification, how shall we regard the argument made by your representatives in the two discussion conferences we held with them? There they indicated that it was not they who were hostile to the idea of unity but rather the rank and file of the SWP. If that is true, we must ask what is the basis for the hostility – that which we know really exists as well as that which is merely alleged – toward unity with the WP? Is the hostility based on a violent disagreement with our views? But you can disagree, or agree, only with those views that you know. Otherwise, it goes without staying, you cannot be a serious revolutionist, but only an instrument in the hands of leaders who simply tell you what to be for and what to be against. Unfortunately, the request of your Secretariat for a statement on our position on all the questions in dispute to serve “for the information of the party members” and for the “clarification” of the differences, leads to the absolutely inescapable conclusion that the membership of the SWP has not been informed pf our views and is not clarified about them. We repeat, this is not merely our assertion, but an avowal made by your own leadership.

So we ask again: How can comrades who are not informed or clear about the views of another group be hostile to these views and be opposed to unification with the group that holds these views?

We recognize unhesitatingly that many comrades of the SWP today are opposed to unity with the WP. We know that this position is due primarily and above all to the prejudices systematically instilled into the membership by the SWP leadership, and to the equally systematic concealment and misrepresentation of our real views. That is why, comrades, both the SWP Minority and our WP proposed, at the very beginning, that before the actual unification is undertaken we go through a preliminary period of close collaboration between the two parties, their leaderships and their memberships in all fields of practical work in the class struggle, so that all the false prejudices and antagonisms, no matter where they exist or who holds them, might be dissipated in joint comradely activity and so that the unification, when it did take place, take place under the most auspicious and promising conditions. This proposal too, we remind you, was rejected by your leadership.

Our readiness to unite with the SWP in spite of the differences that exist does not, of course, mean that we are not ready to discuss these differences. The very contrary is the case.

The statement adopted early this year by our PC on the resolution on unity of the European Secretariat (January 1946) declared:

“We want to emphasize right at the outset, so that there can be no possible misunderstanding, that we are and have always been for the most thoroughgoing discussion with the SWP on all theoretical and political questions that are in dispute between us. We welcome such a discussion, whether it if conducted in accordance with a ‘list’ or not: We shall participate in it, to the best of our ability, in order to make clear, again, just what our position is on the questions in dispute and just wherein we differ with the positions of the SWP. As in previous discussions conducted in the press of the two organizations, this new one will once more make clear not only wherein we differ but also the framework of our agreement.”

An adequate presentation of our views on all the questions dealt with in the statement of your PC, and consequently a refutation of the views officially espoused by the SWP on these questions, would take us beyond the compass of this letter. However, we consider such a presentation and refutation of the highest and most immediate importance. Upon receipt of the statement of your PC, our party promptly set itself the task of drawing up a comprehensive document in which all the questions in dispute will be dealt with exhaustively so that everyone concerned and interested will have before him in a single document a statement of the views of the WP and its criticism of the views of the SWP. This document we hope to have in your hands, and in the hands of our international movement as well as in the hands of the militant working-class public, in a very few weeks.

The Struggle for Unity Continues Nonetheless

We urge upon you as careful an examination of the document that we are preparing as you should give to the statement of your own PC. Thus we will fulfill our duty toward you and you will fulfill your duty toward yourselves as thinking revolutionists.

In this document you will find a reiteration of the views that we have put forward since the question of unity was posed and which we repeat here:

In spite of these differences, we of the Workers Party believe that unity is possible, desirable and necessary. Unity of the Trotskyist movement in the United States would give a great impulsion to the self-confidence and growth of our still very weak Fourth International. Unity here would make it possible for the new party to take a leap forward in the class struggle in this country, which has opened up such splendid opportunities for the growth of the class consciousness of the proletariat and of the influence of the revolutionary Marxists in that proletariat.

We can be and are in favor of unity, in spite of the differences that exist between our parties, because we have a different conception of the party than your leadership has. We do not deny it. On the contrary, we want to underline this difference. We are consciously trying to build a party which is based firmly on the principles and traditions of revolutionary Marxism and which, precisely because of that, provides for the most genuine and not merely formalistic party democracy. Party democracy, from our point of view – and we consider that point of view to be in absolute harmony with the best traditions of the authentic Marxian movement – calls for the strictest observance of discipline in action precisely because, given the firm principled, foundation of the party, it provides for the freest interplay in the party of all opinion which stands on the basic principles of Marxism, and consequently provides for genuinely free and critical expression, discussion and debate.

We reject categorically and indignantly all those who hold that Bolshevism was not democratic, that the genuine Bolshevik Party was in the remotest way comparable to its present day Stalinist antithesis. That is why we aim to build a Bolshevik party, for only in a Bolshevik party is it possible to have that free and fruitful interplay of ideas even when those ideas take the form of tendencies and even factions. That is all that is meant by those of our comrades who employ the term an “all-inclusive revolutionary party,” that is, an utterly Bolshevik party in which true party democracy is cherished with the same passion that monolithism is abhorred.

Your leadership, on the other hand, is opposed to unity with us precisely and above all because of our conception of the party which, we do not hesitate to say, we would seek to instill into the very blood of the united party if it came into existence. It is nonsense to think that the opposition to unity is based on the differences between us on the Russian question, the national question, or the other questions which are dealt with in the statement of your PC. We do not say this because these questions are not important. They are of tremendous importance, they are of vital importance, but in the eyes of your leadership they fade into unimportance compared with the question of its conception of the party. It has the conception of a monolithic party. That is. what it means when it speaks of a “homogeneous” party. That conception acquired currency and supremacy in the Communist movement after the usurpation of leadership in it by the Zinoviev-Stalin faction, after the death of Lenin, after the launching of the reactionary struggle against “Trotskyism.” The Zinovievist preachment of a “homogeneous” and “monolithic” party marked and symbolized the beginning of the end of Bolshevik Party democracy – and what that end is we all know. We cannot consider it a mere coincidence that the leader of your party, the one who sets its tone and course, was one of the principal “Bolshevisers” in the Zinovievist style in the Communist movement of a score of years ago. It is not his course then that is so reprehensible; it is his repetition of his course today in the Trotskyist movement that is reprehensible.

The statement of your PC continually sneers at our party for being a “discussion club,” not because it is against a discussion club but because it is against discussion which upsets the comfortable routine of the party bureaucracy. It sneers at the fact that we “tolerate” so many differences of opinion in our ranks, because Its ideal is a rank and file which has no differences with the leadership and a leadership which, “arranges” its disagreements by clique decisions. If sneers at the fact “there is no dearth of answers” to the many problems that beset a living revolutionary party like ours, because its ideal is a party in which there is not and cannot be more than one “answer.” Your leadership betrays its bureaucratic Zinovievist monolithism in every line of its attack on our conception of a revolutionary party.

That is why your leadership is so obdurate in its opposition to unity. It knows the consequences – to its own concepts and its own regime that would follow from living and working inside one party with hundreds of devoted, serious, able, thoughtful and critical revolutionists, who have views of their own and know how to advance them.

That these are the reasons why we have no confidence in your leadership from the standpoint of protecting the principles of genuine party democracy, we have always said forthrightly. We must repeat it here. We want no misunderstanding on this score.

Unity is desirable. Unity is necessary and unity is possible only if it is imposed upon the leadership that has stood and still stands in the way. Unity imposed upon a reluctant membership would not be worth a scrap of paper. But unity can be achieved by imposing it upon a reluctant leadership, whose bureaucratic concepts must be subjected the needs and interests of the united revolutionary movement in this country.

What could be done toward the accomplishment of this task we have done and will continue to do. On the unity question we do not withdraw a single proposal that we have made. Now it is up to the members of the SWP and of the whole international to assume their responsibilities in the accomplishment of this task. That is how the matter stands today.

Your PC statement has set up new criteria for membership in the Trotskyist movement. They are calculated to perpetuate and deepen the split in the United States. But that is not all. If your leaders seek, as they will, to impose these criteria upon the Fourth International as a whole, we are in for a period of splits and disaggregation in the worldwide movement. A serious application of these new utterly sectarian and authentically bureaucratic criteria means immediately splitting the British, the French, the Spanish, the German, the Italian, the Greek and other sections of the International. It means the “re-construction” of the International in the image of a narrow-minded faction, at the best, and clique, at the worst. This is a warning, and a warning that every serious comrade will reflect upon twenty times before he commits . himself or allows his party to commit itself to these new criteria aimed at preventing the unity in this country and of inducing the split into all others.

For the sake of unity, we were ready to sacrifice a good deal. These sacrifices we are still prepared to make. But under no conditions were we prepared yesterday, are we prepared today, or will we be prepared tomorrow to abandon our political and theoretical views and our right to advance them and above all sacrifice our conception of a revolutionary Marxist party based on real party democracy. That conception is the only conceivable basis upon which unity with us is possible. We cannot state this more categorically. As with all our views, this one too we shall hold to and fight for to the end.


With best party greetings,

Max Shachtman                      Ernest R. McKinney
National Chairman                National Secretary
for the Political Committee of the Workers Party of the U.S.

Max Shachtman
Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 17 July 2020