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Along the Road to the First Hundred

by Frank Lovell

The Bulletin in Defense of Marxism had an unusual beginning, unlike any other political journal that I know of BIDOM was born of necessity, and its early contributors responded as duty dictated. The initiators were few in number. They represented only one tendency among the Trotskyists who had been bureaucratically expelled from the Socialist Workers Party in 1982 and 1983, and others slated for expulsion in early 1984. The Trotskyist movement in the U.S. seemed then to have been decimated, its political mission abandoned. Altogether there were about 150 Trotskyists purged from the SWP out of a total party/Young Socialist Alliance membership of around 1,500. And these expellees were not in agreement on what to do.


Inside the SWP those still considered “orthodox Trotskyists” by the party leadership, which at the end of 1981 had openly repudiated the Trotskyist theory of permanent revolution, were hounded daily to demonstrate loyalty to the apostate party functionaries. The purge took the form of frame-ups, each suited to individual circumstances and all transparently fraudulent. On May 14, 1982, three members of the Minneapolis branch were expelled for organizing themselves as “the Cannon-Trotsky Faction” and for circulating a letter to party members which said in part, “We believe the party leadership has attempted to crush democracy inside the party.” Among the three were Harry DeBoer and Jake Cooper, union leaders in the 1930s and defendants in the infamous Minneapolis Smith Act trial on the eve of World War II. Both were among the 18 SWP victims who were jailed during the war. The third “factionalist” was Gillian Furst, active in the women’s liberation movement of the time and in Irish solidarity work. Her husband, Randy Furst, had been previously expelled for persisting in angry denunciation of the SWP’s condoning the renting of non-union buses for the 1981 Solidarity Day labor demonstration in Washington, D.C.

Throughout the year the “central leadership” of the SWP kept constant watch for infractions of “party norms” by unsuspecting members thought to be potential oppositionists. In November 1982 Anne Zukowski was expelled by her eight-member Minnesota Iron Range branch, acting as a “trial body” under instructions from the SWP national office. She was charged with revealing party information to a non-party member of the YSA. Charges were filed under article 8, section 1 of the SWP’s organizational principles: “at no time are members of the SWP free to organize or participate in tendencies in the YSA based on positions not adopted by the party’s leading bodies, unless a specific decision to allow SWP members in the YSA to do so has been made by appropriate bodies of the party.” No evidence was submitted to show that any violation of this particular “principle” had ever occurred. Zukowski was expelled nonetheless. Her name was on a secret purge list.

Harassment of this kind continued without letup until all on the purge list had been forced out of the party, either by resignation or expulsion. Two of the SWP’s most able trade union activists, Walter Lippmann in Los Angeles and Ray Markey in New York, were driven out. Lippmann was expelled on a flimsy excuse, and Markey resigned with a blistering letter that reviewed the record of expulsions to mid-1983 and accused the entrenched party leaders of converting the SWP into “an irrelevant sect.”

Michael Smith was an early expellee, kicked out for writing about party problems to a friend in another branch. In the course of his trial he protested against the secret taping of a telephone conversation between him and a top party functionary assigned to conduct the witch-hunt. Smith was then accused of exposing the party to FBI investigation because he had revealed the practice of making secret tapes of phone talks, strongly implying that Smith could be collaborating with the FBI. Such was the character of the frame-up technique inside the SWP at the end of 1982.

The Opposition

Under these circumstances the Trotskyist oppositionists on the SWP National Committee had maintained or reconstituted their organized tendencies following the 1981 SWP convention: Nat Weinstein and Lynn Henderson of the Trotskyist Tendency and Frank Lovell and Steve Bloom of the Fourth Internationalist Caucus. Both tendencies tried to explain and expose the bureaucratic practices of the party officials who had usurped organizational control of the party, but these efforts were strictly limited to members of the National Committee because of restrictions imposed by the party leadership. This prevented the opposition from reaching the SWP ranks.

In anticipation of the constitutionally required 1983 convention the opposition tendencies formed a bloc based on a common program in defense of party democracy and a number of basic programmatic positions on which they had agreement, hoping in this way to elect a strong opposition delegation. But the party functionaries, including the handpicked National Committee, countered by canceling the convention. Instead, they organized an “educational conference,” in early August, under their control at Oberlin College and mobilized the SWP membership to attend for the purpose of anti-Trotskyist indoctrination. At a plenum of the SWP National Committee following this 1983 conference the four NC oppositionists were suspended on the excuse that they had failed to properly report the dissolution of their convention electoral bloc. After that the purge was intensified until by mid-January 1984 all on the original purge list were finally out of the SWP.

This background information is essential to an explanation and understanding of the launching of the new Trotskyist organization, Socialist Action, at a conference of expelled SWP members in Chicago, October 29-30, 1983. Following this conference Bulletin in Defense of Marxism appeared in late November, issue No. 1, December 1983.

Division and Controversy

BIDOM was controversial from the beginning, the result of long standing differences between the two opposition tendencies inside the SWP. The Trotskyist Tendency of Weinstein and Henderson was convinced soon after the 1981 SWP convention that the prospect of winning opposition forces inside the party was dim. They knew the purge would lead inevitably to their expulsion. They advised the formation of a new Trotskyist party, one that would compete with the SWP in the mass movement (unions, minority groups, organizations of social protest, etc.). They argued that the new Trotskyist party with a clear class struggle program and a fresh start could easily out distance the declining and moribund SWP. Consequently, they were anxious to get out of the SWP, bring all supporters with them, and launch the new party as soon as possible, instead of wasting valuable time inside the SWP. This is what the majority at the founding conference of Socialist Action hoped to accomplish. They hoped that if they adopted carefully written resolutions that could be interpreted as the programmatic and organizational basis of a new revolutionary party such a party would thereby come into being, with the help of hard-working and well-intentioned comrades, of course.

The Fourth Internationalist Caucus of Lovell and Bloom, advised by the veteran SWP leader George Breitman, had a different perspective. We urged all supporters of our caucus to try and stay in the SWP as long as possible, to recruit among SWP members to the basic program of Trotskyism which they had subscribed to when they joined. Under the harsh conditions already described this was not easy, but we believed it would benefit us in the long run to try in all ways possible to remain in the party. We argued that it was necessary to conduct an ideological struggle against the revision of Marxism introduced by the SWP leadership, and that in order to do this we had to challenge the new theories and document our struggle on all the disputed issues of the time, especially the political character of the Castro regime in Cuba and derivative questions.

When BIDOM first appeared a fairly large number of Trotskyists had not yet been expelled from the SWP. For example George Weissman and Breitman, both widely known in the radical movement as among the most articulate representatives of American Trotskyism, remained in the party. But not for long. Their names were high on the purge list, and in the first week of January 1984 both were visited and notified that charges of disloyalty were being filed against them. Weissman’s appeal against his unjust expulsion describes the rationale and method used. He was visited by three SWP members representing the Political Committee. They told him that they were authorized to ask questions “about a matter that had arisen at the state convention [of the SWP] in California during a report on Socialist Action.” He was told that he was suspected of having an “affinity” for Socialist Action, and that this was grounds for his expulsion from the SWP. This had been rehearsed by the inquisitors and was used as a standard routine. If not this then another excuse would undoubtedly have been found at that time to expel from the SWP all remaining known Trotskyists. But it was clear that the founding of Socialist Action coincided with and facilitated the culmination of the SWP purge.

At the Beginning

These are the circumstances that conditioned the premature birth of BIDOM. The need to launch an ideological campaign against the systematic undermining of basic Marxist concepts by the assemblage of self-styled scholars at Pathfinder Press, directed by SWP secretary Jack Barnes, was urgent. The Fourth Internationalist Caucus had documents of the struggle inside the SWP waiting to be published. An effort to reach members of the SWP, for example through a magazine of Trotskyist theory (in defense of Marxism) had been projected at the conference in Chicago that launched Socialist Action, but the majority there showed little enthusiasm for it. And the leaders of the Trotskyist Tendency who had turned their backs on the SWP were less enthusiastic. The Fourth Internationalist Tendency had not yet been organized. Only a handful of comrades who were committed to the principles of Marxism and supported the strategy of the Lovell/Bloom caucus in the SWP could then be mustered. We talked about the possibility of getting out a magazine with such limited resources, financial and human. We had a small legacy bequeathed by Anne Chester for this purpose. But we lacked technical equipment. And, more importantly, we lacked technical skills and the necessary personnel. About all we had was determination, combined with ignorance of the magnitude of the task we were about to undertake.

George Breitman was skeptical, but he said to me, “Well, Frank, if you want to go ahead with this I’ll help you.” and that is how BIDOM got started. At that time we didn’t even have the name of the magazine. But we had a few willing comrades, anxious to get started and try and make something happen. Evelyn Sell designed the cover and proposed the name. While we were selecting the proper items for the first issue, Steve Bloom was also busy finding a printer in Brooklyn who could photocopy and staple the magazine. It had 38 pages and front and back covers. The first press run was 200, which had to be supplemented by another 100 or so. We mailed copies to a list of SWP friends and sympathizers, and to some ex-SWP members and all expellees. On the front cover we solicited “requests, materials, financial contributions,” and we had a return address which would remain unchanged through the following 99 issues.

We thought the first issue looked pretty good and hoped others would like it. But we wanted most of all to reach readers who would welcome and appreciate its contents. We announced our intention to continue in the Marxist tradition, to identify with the program and policy of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, and to launch an ideological campaign against the SWP-Barnesite revisionism of Marxist principles. We fully expected at that time that this ideological campaign would be taken up by other sections of the FI and by the United Secretariat.

The contents of BIDOM No. 1 were five items: “Statement by Members of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International Invited to Attend the SWP National Committee Plenum,” August 8, 1983 (where the four NC oppositionists were suspended); “Sound the Alarm!” by the four suspended SWP National Committee members, drafted September 7, 1983; “The Political Purge in the American Socialist Workers Party,” a statement adopted by the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, October 1983; “Declaration of 19 members of the United Secretariat” (on the SWP purge); “Resolving the International Crisis of Revolutionary Leadership Today” (draft resolution submitted to SWP National Committee plenum by the four suspended NC members, before their suspension, August 6, 1983); “New International Slanders FI,” translated and reprinted from Quatrieme Internationale, December 1983.

The Documentary Record

This was the first public announcement with documentary materials on the struggle inside the SWP. Most alert radicals knew that some thing was going on by what had been published in the Militant, Intercontinental Press, International Socialist Review, New International, and other Barnesite outlets. But this was the first release of opposition documents. A quick response came from some of the curious, but the most enthusiastic responses came from members and close sympathizers of the SWP and from the growing ranks of expellees. In due time we also received encouragement from Trotskyists in several other countries, from as far away as China and India and, eventually, Japan. From here in the U.S. we have in BIDOM files a note of January 14, 1984, from Dayne Goodwin of Salt Lake City, Utah, with a financial contribution. At the same time we heard from Bill Breihan in Milwaukee, requesting more copies. Adam Shils, a supporter of our caucus while still in the SWP Chicago branch, sent a letter of congratulation. These are three examples of early reactions to the first issue of BIDOM. All three of these working class militants mentioned here would eventually become identified with BIDOM, and involved in the continuing production of it. These early words of encouragement were most welcome at the time because we needed reassurance that there was a genuine interest in the complete documentary record of our ideological struggle against the SWP revisionists. That record is only now available in its entirety, completed with the publication in September this year [1992] of the three-volume set In Defense of American Trotskyism. We expect that these books will receive the same appreciative responses that greeted the emergence of BIDOM from the crevices of the SWP.

Louis Sinclair, the bibliographer of the complete works of Leon Trotsky (in all languages) was probably the first, certainly among the first, to hail the appearance of BIDOM. When the first issue reached him at his home in Glasgow, he immediately sent back one of his typically cryptic notes wishing BIDOM a long and expansive life. He had his reasons. While researching Trotsky materials, in New York and at the Harvard library in Boston, Sinclair had encountered SWP “leaders” of the Barnes school long before any of them began to explain publicly “Trotsky’s differences with Lenin,” and he was quickly convinced that they were anti-Trotskyists and would eventually destroy the SWP. He was not shy in expressing his perception and prediction to Breitman and others. Consequently, he felt vindicated in his judgment of the Barnesites by the documents that were being published in BIDOM. There must have been another reason for Sinclair’s enthusiasm as well. That was his close association and collaboration with George Breitman on the 14-volume collection of Trotsky’s writings, edited by Breitman. The friendship and respect between the two was mutual. Breitman had recommended Sinclair’s Leon Trotsky: A Bibliography as “essential reading for all serious students of Trotsky’s work.” They also shared common opinions of the weakness and limitation of the SWP leadership in 1980, although Breitman was less harsh.

The record of the ideological struggle inside the SWP and the publication of a Trotskyist theoretical journal was and is most important to us who are engaged in the revolutionary socialist movement because we are always confronted with the need to explain ourselves and justify our cause. We must be able to say where we came from and keep unblemished the record of our past. This was one of the deep divisions between BIDOM supporters and Socialist Action builders from the beginning. We tried to explain that it is better to fight at every juncture for the gains made by our predecessors, rather than walk away and try to start over again with nothing to show for past struggles. We believe that the struggle to build the socialist movement in the U.S. is continuous, that those in the vanguard must explain where they came from, and that past struggles are the essential schooling and necessary preparation for coming battles.

More Encouraging Responses and Other Kinds

Each succeeding issue of BIDOM continued to publish more documentation on the struggle inside the SWP, and to analyze the shifting political course of the party. Our primary audience was the SWP membership. And we constantly sought ways to circumvent the prejudice against us and against Trotskyism that was deliberately and subtly fostered by the Barnesites. This was in addition to the organizational barriers erected between us and the SWP membership, prohibitions against speaking to us or reading our magazine or allowing us in their public meetings and bookstores. From the start we mailed BIDOM to the home addresses of all SWP members we knew, and to the branch headquarters. What came back was mostly silence. We received only one angry denunciation, and this from an ex-SWP “leader” in Salt Lake City, who said he had left the party because he was tired and demoralized. He urged us to follow his example and quit politics. To offset this we received several anonymous notes of encouragement and a few changes of address with requests for future issues of BIDOM. There were also the exceptions of SWP comrades who began supplying us with internal party directives and discussion material. In some instances it was several years later that we learned who these comrades were.

During its first year BIDOM seemed almost exclusively preoccupied with internal affairs of the SWP and the responses of the party to the shifting political situation in the U.S. and internationally. A half dozen or so expellees of our tendency attended the site of the 1984 SWP convention at Oberlin, Ohio, in August of that year. All SWP members were cautioned not to talk to us, and one who did was summarily expelled and physically removed from the convention’s housing facilities. She came to our hotel to tell us what happened and to express satisfaction in the fact that the SWP did not at the time have state power. We continued to show our slogans for party democracy and invited private discussion with party members. During this past year Glen Munroe sent me a personal letter to say that our early efforts were not wasted, that he and several others became aware for the first time at the 1984 SWP convention that something was seriously wrong with the party.

Additional Dimensions

The impression that BIDOM in the beginning was devoted entirely to SWP politics and problems of democracy inside the party is not completely accurate. We had our own problems that had to be resolved, and these were reported in the pages of our magazine. BIDOM No. 3, February 1984, carried a “call for the Fourth Internationalist Tendency,” signed by Naomi Allen, George Breitman, and George Saunders. The next issue, No. 4, announced that FIT had been organized nationally at a conference in Minneapolis on the weekend of February 3-5. BIDOM then became the official publication of FIT, its first editorial board being Naomi Allen, Steve Bloom, George Breitman, Frank Lovell, Sarah Lovell, Bill Onasch, Christine Frank Onasch, George Saunders, Evelyn Sell, Rita Shaw, Adam Shils, Larry Stewart, Jean Tussey, and George Lavan Weissman.

Coincidentally with the formal organization of FIT we began recruiting new members, facilitated in large part by the “mopping up” of the SWP purge in January 1984. Seven of the most experienced and politically active members of the Minneapolis branch were expelled as a group. They identified immediately with BIDOM and hosted the founding conference of FIT. Their trial statements and accusations of frame-up were published in BIDOM No. 2, January 1984. Dave Riehle, one of the Minneapolis group, quoted James P. Cannon from the “Platform of the Communist Opposition, 1929,” comparing the SWP Barnesites to the Stalinists of the 1920s in the U.S. Communist Party. Cannon had said, “All talk of party democracy in the face of suppression on all sides and wholesale expulsion of comrades for their views is a swindle.”

More Writers and Some Staff Members

Growing circulation of BIDOM helped bring new recruits to FIT, some former SWP members and others still in the party periphery. Among these first recruits were some writers and former party organizers, including Tom Barrett, Laura Cole, Carl Jackson; and others came later. I have written elsewhere that Bill Onasch moved to New York later (in 1987) and finally managed to move us into an office on Union Square. In the meantime articles by Samuel Adams, Dave Riehle, and others on the unions had begun appearing and BIDOM was gradually expanding.

Before it was a year old BIDOM was beginning to take on the character of a theoretical political journal preparing to survey the world scene. BIDOM No. 15, January/February 1985, carried several articles, “Toward the 1985 Congress of the Fourth International”; an article by Ernest Mandel, “Road to ’Socialist Democracy’”; and a feature From the Arsenal of Marxism, “How Trotsky and Cannon Saw the Fourth International.” At this time Paul Le Blanc began submitting articles on a regular basis. He had been collaborating with George Breitman on Marxist research prior to that.

This marked the beginning of BIDOM’s second year. The following notice appeared: “During our first year we published 14 issues of the Bulletin in Defense of Marxism, but at irregular intervals. Starting with this issue, No. 15, we will appear as a monthly journal. In order to regularize the schedule of printing and mailing, this issue, mailed in the middle of January, is dated January/February 1985.” This showed progress on the management side, and promised future regularity. The typography had also begun to change for the better. BIDOM No. 11, September 1984, had appeared with some pages printed in two columns, justified. This marked the beginning of a change from the electric typewriter we began with to the computer, introduced by Steve Bloom. But at this time, and for some time to come, Sarah Lovell continued to paste up the pages by hand. It took modern technology a while to catch up to BIDOM. Not until No. 42, June 1987, were we able to find a print shop in our price range. That was when BIDOM began to look like a “real magazine,” as one of its readers said. But it wasn’t so much the “look” of the magazine as its content and the continually increasing number of writers and variety of subject matter that attracted new readers all the time and held the first subscribers. It was as if our subscription list grew almost by word of mouth, one subscriber telling others about the magazine.

A noticeable change in interest occurred in the first year when BIDOM began to carry analyses of developments in the antiwar movement, women’s liberation struggles, and in the unions. Of course, the main interest in this magazine from the beginning was the struggle inside the SWP, the struggle in defense of Marxism from which its name derives. But no magazine could survive for long on the publication of political documents from struggles within a small group of radicals, even such a group as the SWP with its historic connection to Trotsky and the Fourth International. BIDOM attracted writers with related interests but a broader range commensurate with the inherent potential of the struggle for democracy within the SWP. That’s what made the difference during the first year. And I think that is why Breitman said at the time that every issue of the magazine was a miracle. But he contributed to the miracle each time because he was constantly on the lookout for the material, current and archival, that gave new content to the magazine and added to its literary and political quality.

One of the new writers whose name first appeared in BIDOM No. 15, as the magazine began its second year, was Chester Hofla. Hofla was not prolific. He wrote only six articles for BIDOM during the year, all of them having to do with developments in the SWP. I am sure he contributed to no other publication. Hofla was one of several pen names used by Breitman during his nearly 50 years as a radical journalist. Recently one of the first subscribers to BIDOM who had noticed the new writer, Chester Hofla, when his first article appeared, and subsequently learned that this was Breitman, asked me why Breitman would want to use Chester Hofla, such an odd-sounding name. I had no answer to that question because I never heard Breitman mention it and I never thought to ask him. I am sure it wasn’t because he thought BIDOM would benefit especially from the addition of another new writer or wanted to avoid the impression that the magazine was produced by only a small number of people. But he usually had a reason. He used pen names for different subjects under different circumstances. I think he tried to find a voice that suited both subject and circumstance. He used Albert Parker and Philip Blake at different times when writing about the oppression of Black people and racism in World War II. I suppose these names occurred to him as suitable to the kind of person who was addressing these subjects at the time. Likewise it may have been that Chester Hofla was the name of that person who had something to say about the machinations of the SWP leadership in a different way than Breitman would say it, and his odd name seems to complement the odd nature of the subject matter. More than one reader must have noticed the articles by Chester Hofla without ever knowing he was related to Breitman, but this is one of the ways BIDOM acquired its unique character which accounts partly for its ability to survive through most of the past difficult decade.

Harsh Blows and Hard Work

There are other reasons why BIDOM has survived. There had to be something especially hardy about it because it suffered severe blows almost from the beginning through loss of experienced and talented comrades, the very ones we counted on most. Larry Stewart died of cancer in October 1984, at the age of 63. He was a veteran of the Trotskyist movement, having joined the SWP before World War II and long before being drafted into the Jim Crow army. He was a Black militant and, for most of his life, an industrial worker. When he retired he was a member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, helping the SWP to organize a Black workers opposition to the corrupt leadership of the car haulers local in Newark. His later expulsion from the SWP aroused his fighting spirit. At the time of his death he was writing for BIDOM. George Weissman, Larry’s friend of many years, died in the spring of 1985. George Breitman died a year later, April 1986. Such losses could not have been sustained except for the power of the political cause BIDOM was created to serve, and it was destined to survive some of its most important creators.

I attribute the regular monthly appearance of BIDOM in the period following Breitman’s death to the hard work and dedication of Sarah Lovell and Steve Bloom. They were mainly responsible for selecting, soliciting, editing, typesetting, and proofreading all the copy for each succeeding issue; and in addition to that Sarah kept the financial records, stuffed the envelopes, took the mail sacks to the Post Office, and answered most of the mail. She filled several untitled positions at BIDOM: business manager, publicity agent, subscription director, and all-around trouble shooter.

International Appeal

In December 1986 BIDOM No. 36 introduced the revealing Baitalsky memoirs series about the survival of a Trotskyist in the Soviet Union under the Stalinist terror during the 1930s and ’40s, until the bloody dictator’s death and after. This series ran for more than five years, concluding in BIDOM No. 83, February this year. Marilyn Vogt-Downey joined BIDOM’s staff of writers when this series began, and in addition to translating the Baitalsky book has contributed extensive analyses of recent developments in the former Soviet Union. At the conclusion of the final chapters of this work, she noted that “those who have followed the story of Baitalsky’s life each month have had an irreplaceable experience because many of the chapters had an almost uncanny relevance to each month’s unfolding events in the USSR itself.”

BIDOM’s editorial board added a list of International Contributing Editors five years ago (September 1987), including FI leader Ernest Mandel. This was due in part to BIDOM’s expanding foreign readership and its growing popularity abroad, especially in several FI sections. During the nearly nine years of its continuous publication BIDOM has remained consistent to its original purpose, stated in issue No. 1. At the halfway point of its existence (BIDOM No. 50, March 1988) to the present juncture, this magazine could restate the same goal proclaimed in every issue before and since: “We have dedicated this journal to the process of clarifying the program and theory of revolutionary Marxism — of discussing its application to the class struggle both internationally and here in the United States. This vital task must be undertaken if we want to bring an end to the domination of the U.S. imperialist ruling class and of establishing a socialist society based on human need instead of private greed.”

At that time one of BIDOM’s devoted readers in Britain volunteered to do an index of the first 50 issues. Since then it has continued to carry debates on theoretical questions and analyses of major events in the world, especially in Russia and Eastern Europe. The penetrating analysis of Russian political economy, “The Disarray of Social Forces and Political Perspectives for the Russian Workers Movement” by Nikolai Preobrazhensky in BIDOM No. 99, is a most recent example. Soon after this appeared a request was received for permission to translate and publish it in French, along with an inquiry as to its publication in Russia. What is badly needed now is an index of BIDOM No. 50-100, as requests for previously published material and references are often made.

BIDOM No. 78, October 1990, carried the FIT call “For the Reconstitution of a United Movement of the Fourth International in the U.S.” Following that call representatives of the former FIT were engaged almost continuously with Socialist Action, and others in the Solidarity project (which publishes the magazine Against the Current), in efforts to achieve unity among Trotskyists in this country who identify with the United Secretariat of the Fourth International. From time to time BIDOM has reported developments on this front, and now these efforts have culminated in members of FIT joining Solidarity and BIDOM becoming an independent Trotskyist journal. This holds the promise of a new beginning for the Trotskyist movement in the U.S., with BIDOM continuing to be an authentic voice of American Trotskyism.

September 25, 1992

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