MIA: History: ETOL: Documents: International Communist League/Spartacists—PRS 3
Why We Left the Socialist Workers Party
Source: Prometheus Research Library, New York.
Transcription/Markup/Proofing: John Heckman, Prometheus Research Library.
Public Domain: Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line 2006/Prometheus Research Library. You can freely copy, display and otherwise distribute this work. Please credit the Marxists Internet Archive & Prometheus Research Library as your source, include the url to this work, and note the transcribers & editors above.
From an undated pamphlet issued by the Freedom Socialist Party. Richard Fraser co-signed this June 1966 document with Clara Kaye, Frank Krasnowsky, David Dreiser and Waymon Ware.
On behalf of the former Seattle Branch of the Socialist Workers Party, and other SWPers who supported the Marxist evaluation of the Negro Question developed by Richard Kirk, we present this statement explaining why we left the SWP—that party to which most of us have devoted our entire lives since our youth.
Origin of the Kirk-Kaye Tendency
Our political group, known within the SWP as the Kirk-Kaye tendency, was formalized at the 1957 convention of the party, when we opposed the unprincipled adaptation of the SWP to the pacifist-reformist leadership of the Negro struggle. Adulation of Dr. King replaced a revolutionary approach to the question within the party, and heralded a process of degeneration which reached a decisive stage at the 1963 national convention of the party.
In that year, the SWP proclaimed a boycott of the southern struggle; condemned leftward-moving SNCC as “reformist/integrationist,” and turned toward Elijah Muhammad and the Black Muslims as the “most dynamic” section of the Negro movement.
In regard to other areas of the class struggle, the 1963 convention rejected the perspective of socialist regroupment and deepened its hostility towards all the new leftward-moving organizations on the political scene; the perspective of political revolution in China was reaffirmed; party organizational procedures were formally “tightened up” while an ongoing purge of critics of the leadership was accelerated.
Our tendency opposed this course. We particularly resisted the slanderous identification of the southern militants with “tokenism,” and the all-out support of Negro separatism.
Our counter-resolution to the convention, “Revolutionary Integration,” called on the SWP to permit its Negro cadre to intervene in the living struggle for equality with a Marxist program. We developed our thesis that the Negro movement for equality is a unique and central phenomenon of the class struggle in the United States, integrally connected with the proletarian struggle for socialism.
The SWP Espouses “Black Separatism”
The SWP leadership rejected the interconnection of the Freedom Now and socialist movements. The ease with which the SWP slid over from adaptation to Rev. King to glorification of Mr. Muhammad expressed the basically false theory—inherited from the Communist Party—that the Negro Question in the U.S. is only a variation of the National Question in Eastern Europe.
This theory maintains that the Negro problem can be solved by “self-determination” and racial separation. Thus, all policy problems of the Negro movement can be solved without strenuous analysis and thought, for the SWP leadership says in effect that whatever the Negro leadership does is good enough for the Negroes and good enough for the SWP because whatever policy is most prominent at any stage has been “self-determined.”
The SWP’s confusion of the mood of black nationalism with the politics of separatism bore bitter fruit when Malcolm X engineered a split in the Black Muslims. Malcolm was clearly oriented toward combining the ghetto struggle with the southern movement and with socialism. He denounced the Muslims for their basically reactionary character, and consequently felt the wrath of Mr. Muhammad’s goons. The SWP, supporting Muslim unity, was caught in its own trap. It became both the supporter of Malcolm and the defender of his enemy and probable murderer.
The SWP, now discredited in the Negro community, presents the ludicrous spectacle of an all-white party with a black nationalist program.
Our Perspective on the Unfolding American Revolution
The logic of the SWP’s position on the Negro struggle led to a de facto isolation of the party from the struggle, for black nationalism itself stands aside from the main thrust of the Negro struggle—the fight against segregation. We now felt impelled to publish within the party an analysis of the basic reasons for the party’s sectarianism on this and other vital questions.
Since 1957, we had responded to severe changes occurring in the party program by formulating our own position on a number of domestic and international issues. We believed that the party was departing from the dynamic course dictated by the spirit and letter of Leninism and Trotskyism, and that it was stagnating into conservatism.
In what proved to be a vain effort to arrest this general drift, we submitted to the 1965 national convention an extensive Political Resolution dealing with the current stage of the crisis of U.S. imperialism and the consequent strategy and tactics needed for the realization of our revolution. We sought to orient the party toward the Negro struggle as the crux of the American Revolution, and toward China as the key to the colonial revolution and the major policy-problem of the international revolutionary movement. The Resolution also called attention to the essentially anti-capitalist nature of the struggle of women and youth today, and concluded that the road to the American Revolution did not lie directly through the trade union movement, but followed the course of the struggles of the most oppressed wherever they broke out. We said it was the destiny of these struggles outside the labor movement to become the vitalizing currents that would eventually move the labor movement and become the vanguard of the revolutionary movement as a whole.
We called for a commitment to the struggles of women under capitalism, and for the formation of a truly independent revolutionary youth movement.
The SWP Becomes Monolithic
The convention rejected our perspective and tactics. Indeed, rank and file consideration of our Resolution was virtually impossible as the long-honored internal democracy of the party had by then been destroyed by a protracted “tightening up” campaign. The majority was hostile to all criticism and any new proposals emanating from outside the leadership. The proletarian principle of minority representation on all leading bodies was abandoned and the very right of factions to exist was denied in a new Organizational Resolution submitted by the leadership and adopted by the convention.
The majority simply refused to debate the issues in dispute and discussion was effectively proscribed. Instead, we were threatened and denounced over local administrative practices. This type of unprincipled politics was fast becoming characteristic of the party leadership.
We concluded from this experience that the SWP had become a doctrinaire party, mired in a “holding operation,” i.e., a prolonged state of suspension based on the assumption that nothing significant can happen until the revival of the trade unions and the emergence of a Labor Party. The SWP was ossifying around conjunctural evaluations of 25 years ago, and neither changes in national or world conditions, the isolation and disasters resulting from its own mistakes, nor the loss of its basic cadre of revolutionary Negroes, women, unionists and intellectuals could shake its complacency.
The Last Struggle—Over Anti-War Policy
The policy of the SWP leadership in the anti-war movement brought our differences to the breaking point.
After standing aside from the anti-war movement during its critical formative stages, the SWP decided in mid-1965 to plunge in—for an organizational raid.
We made one last attempt to prevent a disaster for Trotskyism in the U.S.
We protested against the single-issue, anti-political policy of SWP and YSA, which led them into the presumptuous demand that the Thanksgiving NCC [National Coordinating Committee] conference in Washington, D.C. center its deliberations around the party’s peculiar and confusing organizational proposals, rather than around questions of program and principle. This course was unprecedented in our movement. We denied the SWP characterization of the left wing of the anti-war movement as “Stalinist.” We condemned their fearful refusal to proclaim clear support to the National Liberation Front and their super-cautious and outdated policy on the draft, which prevents effective opposition to it.
We advocated a proletarian anti-war policy that would solidarize the party with the revolution in Vietnam, with working-class Negro youth who are the key victims of the draft, and with the radical wing of the anti-war movement.
The SWP Substitutes Organizational Attacks for Political Debate
The party’s policy in the anti-war movement had never been subject to rank and file discussion. Comrade Kirk, a member of the National Committee for 25 years, requested a debate on the issue within the N.C. He flew to New York to participate in it, and discovered that the chief results of his protest were punitive organizational measures directed against him personally, against the Seattle Branch as a whole, and against other supporters of the tendency. Such measures are understood within the party to be a prelude to expulsion.
Under such circumstances, the resignation we had contemplated for some time became inevitable.
The SWP’s estrangement from the Negro struggle and its refusal to intervene politically in the anti-war movement or in the present rebirth of interest in socialist thought have removed it for this period from the epicenter of revolutionary activity and ideology in the U.S. We would welcome a turn which would reverse this tragic degenerative process, but we cannot wait for this possibility. There are more vital things to do in the class struggle than conduct a futile and debilitating internecine organizational struggle over tertiary administrative issues. Since every political difference and discussion is now muddied and prejudiced by an organizational smokescreen thrown over it by the party leadership to obscure the principled issues in dispute, the party can no longer contain critics. And revolutionaries who are not critical cannot maintain for long their revolutionary quality.
In resigning, we reaffirm our commitment to Marxism, to Leninism and to Trotskyism, and we have set forth these immediate objectives:
(1) To join with other independent socialists in the Pacific Northwest in the creation of a new revolutionary socialist party here.
(2) To continue collaboration with our colleagues throughout the country, with the object of making our views known to the various components within U.S. radicalism.
(3) To advocate, support and participate in a revival and regeneration of Marxism in the U.S., and in a fundamental reorganization of socialists in a new revolutionary socialist party, able to unite the Negro vanguard with the socialist radicals. We believe this to be the indispensable formula for the foundation of a genuine revolutionary socialism in this country.
The following is the gist of the program we have developed and fought for within the SWP for many years. We are presenting it now publicly for the first time for the consideration of all revolutionary socialists and all mass movement militants and radicals.
I .For a Revolutionary Marxist Approach to the Negro Struggle
The connection between the proletarian struggle for socialism and the Negro struggle for equality is INTEGRAL and proclaims the unfolding of the permanent revolution in the U.S.
The fascist-like police states of the south are structurally basic to the capitalist political economy of the U.S. The struggle against segregation, therefore, threatens the entire nationwide social system. This fact demonstrates the impossibility of achieving equality under U.S. capitalism, and it further transforms the demand for integration into a transitional revolutionary demand. This in turn guarantees the emergence of a revolutionary left wing that will contend for leadership against the reformist/tokenists in the civil rights movement.
The development of all-black organizations expresses and cultivates the pride and self-reliance of the most oppressed, and opens new avenues in the struggle for freedom. But these so-called “nationalist” formations do not result from any inherent drive toward national separatism, but from organizational needs and from an internationalism that identifies the Negro struggle with the colonial revolution. The demands of the essentially proletarian masses express the historic needs of the working class as a whole in the struggle against capitalist exploitation.
No amount of all-black independence can overcome the terrible isolation of the Negro masses from the white working class and the socialist movement. What is revealed here is the backwardness of the labor movement and the theoretical bankruptcy of the established left. This isolation is a mortal danger both to the freedom struggle and to the struggle for socialism, since each is impossible without the other.
The Negro struggle is the central question of the American Revolution and the Negro movement is the vanguard sector of the entire working class. That is why the Negro movement is the first target of reaction: racism and the southern system are the launching pads of American fascism.
The Negro movement must be encouraged to develop a Marxist program and cadre that can unite the ghetto masses with the southern struggle into a powerful revolutionary force, and there can then be forged a working alliance among the Negro vanguard, socialist revolutionaries and the militants in the white working class.
This is the key to the American Revolution.
II. For Solidarity with the Chinese Revolution
The Chinese Revolution upset the international class peace agreed to at Potsdam and Teheran. This great revolution confirmed once again the validity of Trotsky’s thesis of permanent revolution by demonstrating that the national revolution in backward countries cannot achieve its goals of national independence, national unification and economic growth without going over to the stage of socialist revolution.
China’s experience (not lost on the Cuban revolutionaries) established China as the key to the colonial revolution and the principal target of world imperialism.
At first in practice, and then in an ideological polemic against the Soviet bureaucracy, the Chinese CP opposed the policy of class collaboration with world imperialism as expounded and practiced by both Stalin and the current Soviet leadership. The international debate which ensued, forcing world Communism to examine the issues, began the creation of revolutionary tendencies who opposed the reformist leaderships throughout the Communist movement. The necessary prerequisites were thereby established for an international revolutionary regroupment.
Still, the progressive character of the international role of the Communist Party of China is severely limited by the residue of Stalinism. The Khrushchev revelations about Stalin at the 20th Congress of the CPSU revealed the cracks in the Soviet bureaucracy which might have been exploited by the Soviet workers to the point of political revolution against the entire regime and the reinstitution of proletarian democracy in the Soviet Union. But the Chinese Communist Party by its public adulation of Stalin and Stalinism struck a severe blow at the democratic aspirations of the Soviet proletariat and thus helped to re-cement the power of the bureaucratic caste in the Soviet Union.
The CPC stubbornly maintains Mao’s theory—not fundamentally different from Stalin’s—that the national revolution in colonial countries can be carried to fruition by a joint dictatorship of the proletariat and the native bourgeoisie—in spite of the CPC’s own experience which refutes this theory!
The disastrous results of the policy flowing from this theory are to be seen in Indonesia. The Chinese leadership must share responsibility for the policy followed by the Indonesian Communist movement, a policy in no way distinguishable from that of the CP in China in the twenties in respect to the Kuomintang and Chiang Kai-shek, and a policy that produced the identical end: massacre and utter rout.
The CPC’s favorable references to Stalin result from this chronic contradiction in both their theory and practice.
China’s internal life, however, differs sharply from the Soviet model. Clearly absent is the immense privileged bureaucracy, wielding arbitrary authority through an all-powerful secret police. The concentration camps and blood purges that are the hallmarks of Stalinism are also absent. The expanding role of the workers and peasants in economic planning and control has resulted in a consistent economic growth and a realistic potential for greater proletarian democracy.
The Chinese Communists are sensitive to the growth of bureaucracy in China. But they cannot ultimately prevent its growth so long as they remain blind to its origin and history in the USSR. While the very symbol of bureaucratic privilege and tyranny—Stalin—continues to be idolized in China, they will hover on the verge of retrogression and degeneration.
Likewise, their Stalinist heritage prevents the CPC from playing a decisive role in the reorganization of a worldwide revolutionary international.
III. For Serious Politics in the Anti-War Movement
The capitalist class has a fundamental stake in the war in Vietnam and will not withdraw short of a military/political defeat or virtual civil war at home. The only way that the American people can stop this war is through a mass political movement of the working class.
Vanguard elements of the anti-war movement feel their isolation from the working class to be a basic weakness of the movement; they seek alliances with the proletariat and specifically with the Negroes, that section of the working class already in motion. As a consequence of a serious effort to stop the war, anti-war militants are groping for fundamental solutions to social problems. They seek to unite Negroes, the poverty-stricken, draft resisters, radical unionists, socialists, etc., into a broad political movement.
Revolutionary Marxists should help them find the correct road to political unity by demonstrating the necessity of independent anti-capitalist politics that connect the war to the other evils of the system. Political ventures short of such a program are doomed to eventual capitulation to the Democratic Party and other forms of class collaboration politics.
The liberal plea for “Negotiations” with the Vietnamese Revolution must be exposed; the only principled slogan is “Withdraw U.S. Troops Now.” But a demand for withdrawal that is devoid of a meaningful economic analysis of the cause of war, even this slogan fosters the illusion that the anti-war movement by itself will pressure the U.S. out of Vietnam. The notion that simply more activism and more protesters can end the war is an essentially pacifist proposition. This unrealistic and anti-political approach is a dangerous conservative barrier to the political development of the anti-war movement.
IV. For a Revolutionary Approach to the Woman Question
We place the struggle for women’s emancipation on the level of a first-class theoretical and programmatic question.
As the first tendency in the history of American radicalism to formally incorporate this question into our basic program, we proclaim our resistance to the creeping paralysis of male supremacy which by now has become an ingrained practice in the entire labor and socialist movement, and a growing danger in the civil rights movement.
The leading role of women in the fight for civil rights, in the anti-war movement, in civil liberties campaigns, etc., is not accidental, but results from the special dynamic developed by women as an oppressed sex, seeking liberation for themselves and for all other victims of discrimination.
The feminine mystique, along with racism, remains the Achilles heel of the labor movement and a significant factor in the history of union degeneration. Women’s equality must be raised as a transitional slogan whose dynamism flows from the pivotal location of the Woman Question in U.S. life, where the oppression and special exploitation of women is a burning injustice that intersects with every other political question and social movement.
V. For Revolutionary Unification and the Regeneration of Socialist Thought
Conditions for a meaningful discussion of Marxist ideology and for the creation of a united revolutionary socialist party have rarely been as favorable as they are today.
The essentially anti-capitalist character of the Freedom Now and anti-war movements draws the militants from both movements together in a search for political unity. The end of the Stalin era and the current Sino-Soviet dispute have weakened old prejudices and created an atmosphere favoring political discussion in the socialist movement. The crisis of capitalism, demonstrated by the permanent war policy of the Democratic administration and its hypocrisy in civil rights and anti-poverty, has forced one-time liberals and pacifists into a serious consideration of Marxism. An entire generation of radical youth, disgusted by its inheritance, and enthused by the courage and determination of the colonial revolutionists abroad and the Freedom fighters at home, is seeking more effective methods and ideas for the struggle against capitalism.
Revolutionary Marxists must accelerate and help give form to this growing need for a new socialist movement. We must add to the energy, inventiveness, and boldness of the New Left the most important qualities of the Trotskyist Old Left: Marxist ideology, a proletarian orientation, experience in the class struggle, and the recognition of the need for a centralized, disciplined and thoroughly democratic revolutionary party.