MIA: History: ETOL: Documents: International Communist League/Spartacists—PRS 3
A Letter to American Trotskyists:
Too Little, Too Late (Memorandum on the
Problems of Building a Revolutionary 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 Revolutionary Age Vol. 3, No. 4 (1974/75). Revolutionary Age was the irregular journal of Fraser’s supporters after the 1968 split in the Freedom Socialist Party.
It would be redundant to independent radicals to observe that the movement is dispersed. Nevertheless, I must say it, because that is the starting place of this memo. This condition is brought about by the degeneration of its major parties, the Communist Party and the Socialist Workers Party, the disintegration of SDS [Students for a Democratic Society], and the ebb tide of the class struggle. At the same time, the radicalization of the ’60s, principally in the ghetto and on the campus, has left a residue of high social consciousness. Dozens and perhaps hundreds of revolutionary-minded groups, grouplets, leagues, and thousands of unorganized individual radicals, are seriously debating what to do next. This condition objectively demands a massive regroupment of revolutionary forces and the formation of a new party. This memorandum is designed to be a contribution to the discussion of how this may be accomplished.
The evolution of an aspiring revolutionary party is determined by the reciprocal relations of four basic elements:
THEORY. The understanding and ability to use creatively Marxist political economy and historical/dialectical materialism.
STRATEGY. The foresight and ability to put the organization in a position to struggle effectively for political hegemony over the proletariat in a constantly changing situation. From strategic concepts flow most of the decisive tactical elements: fusions and splits, the United Front, opponents work; support and critical support, entries or partial entries, etc.; mass organization orientation.
PROGRAM. The political program. The evaluation of current political problems facing the working class and proposed solutions, designed to heighten political consciousness. This applies not only to the formally adopted resolutions, but to the daily life and work of the organization, its leadership and organizational principles.
SOCIAL BASE. That social sector from which the organization derives its basic support and to which it has its main sensitivity. The extent to which it successfully seeks that social base in non-privileged sectors of the proletariat will be decisive to its development.
Any one of these categories can become decisive in determining the direction of motion and the final product, because all are interacting.
The CP Degenerates to Reformism
For instance, the Communist Party after 1929: Despite its developing mass influence and militancy, it had come under the complete domination of the Soviet secret police (GPU), and found its social base in the Soviet bureaucracy. The first consequence of its change of social base was the erosion of theoretical concepts, and wild strategic gyrations. The strategic failures on an international scale led to defeats (Germany, Spain) which strengthened the reactionary character of the social base—the Soviet bureaucracy. The outcome of this process led finally to programmatic degeneracy, eventually to reformism; in no way qualitatively different from Social Democratic reformism.
The interrelationship between these categories is elaborately demonstrated and developed in the founding documents of the Trotskyist movement: “Criticism of the Draft Program,” “The Strategy of World Revolution,” etc. (contained in The Third International After Lenin).
The Socialist Workers Party
More pertinent to those seeking to profit from the problems of the past is to examine the history of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) from the criteria outlined above. More pertinent, because the SWP was a native movement, and because it was the best of the Marxist-oriented formations to emerge from the turbulent class struggles of the ’30s. It had, however, basic defects at the time of its formation in 1938, which it is necessary to examine. For this, I will have to rely on my recollections. I entered the Trotskyist movement shortly after the fusion of the (Trotskyist) Communist League of America and the (Musteite) American Workers Party (AWP), forming the Workers Party of the U.S. in 1934.
At the time of its formation the SWP had a dual social base: 1. Middle-class intellectuals. 2. Two white craft unions: the Sailors Union of the Pacific (SUP) and the Minneapolis Teamsters (eventually designated Local 544). In this discussion I shall ignore the question of the intellectuals’ influence, because this was solved in the 1940 split when the Shachtmanites left: solved only for the period under consideration, however, as the SWP has lost its working-class orientation and become essentially petty-bourgeois in both composition and social base.
The 1934 Teamsters’ strikes in Minneapolis were, in terms of elementary class struggle, classics. The General Strike, masterminded by V.R. Dunne and J.P. Cannon, combined a well planned and brilliantly executed civil war with a phenomenal rise in social consciousness. This strike put the CLA on the political map and created the magnetism which drew the Musteites and the Socialist Party militants toward it, developing new strategic possibilities.
The 1936-37 Maritime strike (its West Coast segment) gave us the opportunity for decisive intervention in support of the militant struggle of the SUP against the conservative policies of the Stalinist-led unions.
Regardless of the militance and even historical significance of these episodes, the narrow social base which they supplied the SWP at the time of the emergence and turbulent development of the CIO was to produce devastating consequences in other categories—Theory, Strategy, Program—as I shall demonstrate.
The Sailors Union and the Teamsters
Both of the unions of our social base were pitted against the CP. In Minneapolis, the Stalinists weren’t a real danger, as we were powerfully situated. They were mainly a political nuisance. But in the SUP there was a struggle—“to the death”—with the Longshoremen (ILWU), the Marine Cooks and Stewards (MC&S) and finally the National Maritime Union (NMU).
The Lundberg machine which effectively ran the SUP was based on three semi-privileged groups of coastal seamen. 1. The Matson Shore gang: seamen who stayed in San Francisco and did maintenance work on the large Matson fleet. 2. Steam schooner sailors: working the coastal trade bringing lumber from the Pacific Northwest to California (steam schooners were being rapidly replaced by modern ships, however the trade retained its designation). 3. The Alaska run, largely based in Seattle. After the 1936-37 strike these sailors, working a short season (approximately May to October) made fabulous wages loading cargo from the Alaska canneries—overtime, double-time and triple-time, etc. They could usually make much more in five to six months than an off-shore sailor could make in a year. Most of them were in home port half the year and frequently during the season.
The relative stability of these groups gave them a preponderant influence on the affairs of the union, at the expense of the off-shore sailors, who represented the majority of the union. These conditions also applied to the Marine Firemen (MFOW).
In many of the issues of the struggle of the SUP against the CP, the former demonstrated a superior militancy on the elementary level of union issues. However, its fanatical anti-Stalinism sounded more like anti-communism, and had distinctly reactionary connotations. The SWP was a political spokesman for the SUP, and our comrades became experts in the struggle against Stalinism in the unions.
Expertise at Anti-Stalinism
Most prominent in this field of expertise was Tom Kerry. In support of SUP policy, he led the fight against Walter Stack and the CP group in the MFOW, finally driving them from the offices they held. He accomplished this largely in the capacity of editor of the West Coast Fireman. He was also associated with the West Coast Sailor and the Seafarers’ Log. After coming to New York he guided a “progressive” opposition to the Stalinist leadership of the Painters Union, which was successful in dislodging them.
By pursuing our specialty we came to the edge of disaster twice in the Auto union.
Both of the unions of our main social base were strongly committed to the AFL—partly because the CP was the dominant political force in the CIO. In this circumstance we drifted rather unconsciously, I think, into a kind of pro-AFL attitude which obscured to the party the fundamentally dynamic quality of the CIO. This prejudice was sustained until 1940-41 when the Minneapolis Teamsters, under fire from the high bureaucracy, went over to the CIO. It must have been partially this prejudice, plus a growing Stalinophobia, which was responsible for our first crisis.
When we got our first foot-hold in the UAW, we offered our services to Homer Martin, President, in his struggle against the Stalinists. But Martin was headed straight for the AFL, where he soon went, attempting to set up a dual union. Cannon tells (in The Struggle for a Proletarian Party) how V.R. Dunne and other men in the field extricated our Auto group from this disgraceful policy in 1938, by challenging the central leadership in New York.
But we were in for yet another “bloc” crisis. For most of World War II, Walter Reuther, as head of the General Motors division of the UAW, had played a better role than most others, particularly the CP; and after the war we sometimes joined forces with him.
However, after the strike wave of 1945-46 Reuther took a right turn, and we found ourselves in his caucus as he was carrying a reactionary war against the controlling Thomas-Addes caucus which was energized by the CP. This struggle pointed toward the campaign by the CIO hierarchy to wipe out all CIO unions which were under the influence of radical elements: Farm Equipment Workers, Mine Mill and Smelter, United Electrical Workers, etc.
It is to the credit of Clarke and Cochran that we were able to reverse this policy and pull out of the Reuther caucus. A continuation of this policy would have hopelessly compromised us. I recall that during the National Committee debate in the summer of 1947 which broke the bloc with Reuther, Clarke remarked (in comment upon eulogies about our successful struggles against the Stalinists in past years), “Yes, we fought the Stalinists well in the MFOW and elsewhere, but I have a feeling that perhaps we fought them too well.” (Among all the progressive and militant bureaucrats for whom we did our sanitizing jobs against the CP, I don’t recall one who didn’t turn against us once the Stalinists were whipped. They were to wind up more often than not in the camp of reaction.)
Clarke and Cochran came into that NC meeting a minority, but finally Jim [Cannon] supported them and the day was saved.
Generally speaking, our criterion for political advancement among the militant and progressive workers was anti-Stalinism. The idea was that progressive unionism combined with anti-Stalinism was by itself an almost automatic transition to socialist consciousness.
The conception found its theoretical expression in the erroneous perspectives of our labor party propaganda during the entire period from 1938 to 1948. It was postulated by Dobbs that the labor party, based on the trade unions, beginning as a reformist party, would become so jolted by crises and the radicalization of the workers that it would take power, nationalize the means of production and, in effect, establish the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Theory and Strategy
The strategy of the Trotskyists before 1938 may justifiably be characterized as flexible. The fusion with the Musteites (1934) and the entry into the SP (1936), whatever the ultimate consequences of the latter, represented a serious evaluation of political trends and efforts to face them realistically.
We Are the Party!
However, at the time of the formation of the SWP (1938) Cannon proclaimed new doctrines. As we left the SP Cannon said: This is our last maneuver, barring the possibility of a labor party development. We shall have no further orientations toward other political tendencies. We are the one and only party. The Stalinists are finished. We don’t have to worry about them—just fight ’em.
At this time the CP still exercised a clear political hegemony over the radical working class in both the mass production industries and Marine Transportation!
We had registered important trade unionistic successes in the SUP, the MFOW, and the Midwest Teamsters, and in these areas we had politically discredited the CP. However, the contradiction between union militancy and political conservatism, and the great successes on a narrow social base, seemed to warp Jim’s judgement, and induced him to negative strategic conclusions. He thereby elevated tactics to a pre-eminence over strategy, and congealed the party in a rigid mold of “we are the one and only,” which denied us the flexibility necessary to take advantage of opportunities in the CP milieu: the temporary left turn of the CP in 1940, the development of the New York Labor Party and the Progressive Party, and the crisis created by the Twentieth Congress and Khrushchev’s revelations.
Organizing the Revolution
The second of Cannon’s proclamations stated that ours was only the task of organizing the revolution, Theory and Program had been all worked out and laid down by the Masters. It was finished. It was not our responsibility to make new analyses of the changing reality, but to follow the blueprint and organize the revolution. We all understood that this meant that the problems of meeting new realities theoretically was not so much a matter of concrete analysis, but of applying formulae. Thus we began to replace Theory with Doctrine, and took a further step in destroying Strategy by elevating the Organization question along with Tactics to this exalted level. Although we worshipped at the shrine of Theory, it was the theory created by others— principally Trotsky—and which provided us with a Doctrine.
A Cult of the Organizer arose (of which I must admit I was a charter member), which had the sad consequence of creating the super formula-organizers among the young Shachtmanites who had come with us from the SP.
I might say parenthetically that the ultimate product of this school of formula-theorizing and formula-organizing was Jim Robertson. Having a strong personal liking for him and a high regard for his ability, I must nevertheless say that Robertson and his organization (Spartacist League) have only appropriated these worst aspects of Cannonism and Shachtmanism and drawn them to their final, ultimate and logical but utterly ludicrous conclusion.
Origins of Racism and Male Chauvinism
in SWP Support to the Sailors Union
In the struggle against Stalinist influence among seamen, the SUP and finally the MFOW pitted themselves most viciously against the MC&S, a predominately black union. There is no denying that most of the Syndicalists, with whom we were allied and whom we supported uncritically, were racists, including Lundberg, the unquestioned leader.
Lundberg was—at least in these early days—a militant and a consistent one in the framework of craft unionism. He would probably have laid down his life for the SUP. He fiercely hated the shipowners, the government and the “Commies.” He never hesitated to tie up a ship on a half-way reasonable beef. He was fearless on the picket line and a tough negotiator—and he had a sense of humor.*
*In a negotiation session, after the shipowners had laid down proposals for tightening up working rules, penalties for violations, etc., Lundberg arose and quickly took down his pants, revealing his penis. The opposing negotiators were taken aback and he explained: “If ve going to work like horses, ve gonna look like horses,” fracturing the session.
Lundberg had built the SUP in a split and a war with the AFL International Seamen’s Union (ISU). When he was refused a national charter by the CIO, who gave it to the CP-controlled NMU, he negotiated an agreement with the Executive Committee of the AFL to take over the remains of the moribund ISU and re-charter it as the Seafarers’ International Union (SIU). As he was signing the Charter, William Green said something to the effect that “we are taking a chance with you, Harry, you know, you’ve been no angel”; to which Lundberg replied, “I did not know that the Executive Committee of the American Federation of Labor vass composed of angels.”
But his racism was most pronounced. At one time Revels Cayton, Secretary of the MC&S, came to the Sailors Hall, apparently on a conciliatory mission. He was met at the door by Lundberg, who threw him bodily down the stairs with the following (approximate) salutation: “Get out and stay out—nigger black son of a bitch!”
The hostility between the two unions, which lived together in isolation aboard ship, brought on racial tensions in which the racism of the Sailors and Firemen was usually present.
In the whole history of our West Coast Maritime group, I never heard of anyone in the group having a friend or “contact” among the black MC&S. Various speculations were expressed as to why the CP had all the influence there. The most peculiar of these views, apparently generally accepted, was that this circumstance was of no consequence because inevitably the Cooks and Stewards, mostly black, were historically bound (as a kind of peasantry) eventually to follow the “proletariat” represented by the deck-hands and black gang (firemen).
Transportation workers in general and particularly seamen have always been among the most outspoken and habitual male chauvinists in the working class. This is probably made inevitable because of the segregated male character of the industry, combined with political backwardness. Among seamen this was aggravated by the long periods of segregation and the semi-itinerant nature of their employment. Their characteristic term for woman was “bag”; their principal female contacts, prostitutes.
Given the uncritical support which we gave to the SUP and its Syndicalist leading core, plus the overwhelming pressure not to appear “different” from the working class in spite of being political, it is understandable how, in the absence of brutally clear theoretical training and understanding, some of even the worst characteristics of seamen would mold themselves into our members. And by virtue of the importance of this milieu as one of our main points of social support, many of these characteristics began to rub off on the party membership generally.
One of the consequences of this negative evolution was the eager acceptance of the 1939 Resolution on the Negro Question proposed to the National Convention by Johnson. It was an intensely nationalistic document, advocating the most extreme forms of self-determination and racial separation. Although it was not adopted by the Convention but referred to the National Committee, where it was somewhat modified, the party was substantially indoctrinated by this resolution.
There was, from the beginning, a tendency to ignore the problem of the emancipation of women. One of the products of our maritime policy was to exacerbate and crystallize this tendency, whereby the party completely turned its back on this question and virtually adopted the theory and practice of male supremacy.
At a later time, their dedication to women’s liberation was probably the principal reason that the Weiss group was driven out of the party.
Of course, when the movement for women’s liberation burst forth, the party was willing to jump on the bandwagon; but it brought with it an opposite tradition and inadequate theory.
By the time the women’s movement got underway, every theoretically capable woman leader in the party who had not already submerged herself to purely organizational and/or family duties had been driven out of the party or quit.
The party had effectively avoided any discussions of the woman question, and those women who had been concerned with the subject were—one way or the other—kept silent. Evelyn Reed, an amateur anthropologist who dabbled in politics, and who had consistently supported the male chauvinism of the SWP leadership against women concerned with the development of revolutionary theory on the “woman question,” was suddenly projected into a position of political leadership.
The SWP therefore could approach the women’s liberation movement only from a purely opportunistic standpoint. It consistently placed itself at the service of the liberal wing of the women’s movement in opposition to every attempt to give it a revolutionary, proletarian or socialist orientation. Its cadres thus served as the socialist cover for the reformists. This corresponded to the SWP’s conviction that the woman question was only a liberal reformist issue and that the main task was to recruit a few women from the movement to socialism, rather than to advance the movement toward socialist and class consciousness.
It must not be imagined that J.P. Cannon did not become aware of the sad state of affairs in the party created by the anti-theoretical doctrine which he had advanced. In a conversation with him dealing with problems of our maritime work, I mentioned the resistance we were encountering in moving West Coast seamen to the East Coast where they were desperately needed. His only remark was “We didn’t make communists out of them.”
Jim tried to begin a remedy in the creation of the Trotsky School, designed to dignify Marxist scholarship in the party. Every year a group of leading activists were to be selected for a six-month study course—full time and at party expense—on the fundamentals of Marxist Political Economy, Dialectics and Historical Materialism.
Beginning in 1946, it was, indeed, a fine Marxist school, but it was allowed to degenerate into an indoctrination seminary and then quietly passed on. It had no profound effect on the party; it was too little and too late. All it accomplished was to create a few malcontents who, after a rigorous study of the first volume of Capital and the method of Historical Materialism and research, realized the shallow and non-Marxist method of virtually the whole party leadership.
It had a profound effect on me, however, and I became one of the malcontents. This resulted in a fourteen-year struggle to “reform” the party which, along with others, I gave up as hopeless.
From Leadership in Black Liberation to Failure
The first disastrous effects of the degenerative process I have described were to be felt during the period from 1942 to 1948 around the problem of assimilating black workers into the party.
During World War II the Trotskyists were the only ones who did not desert the black struggle. Most prominently the CP, which had always held a large influence in the ghetto, was most treacherous in its fanatical support of the war, the government and the demand for domestic peace. They renounced and even condemned all struggle except for a second front and to sell war bonds.
Black workers were demanding a piece of the war industry employment, defending themselves militantly against police and racist attacks in the northern cities and around southern army bases, and resisting persecution and discrimination in the Army and Navy. Almost alone among the socialist parties, the SWP militantly defended them. Consequently the SWP newspaper, the Militant, became a popular paper in the ghetto, and soon black workers and some professionals began to stream into the party. We never had it so good.
The party faced two basic contradictions as it attempted to cope with this development. The first was in Theory and Program. The party leadership had been indoctrinated in the 1939 resolution, which was arrogantly nationalistic, calling for self-determination and separation, and characterizing the struggle for equality as reformist, and implicitly anti-revolutionary. But the blacks coming into the party were militant integrationists and had enough of separation, and rightly considered the demand for self-determination to be a justification for segregation.
The second contradiction was in the realm of Strategy and Tactics. The SWP, having substituted tactics for strategy, developed a trade-unionistic conception of the black struggle. We had been skillful and successful in trade union work, and in the absence of a concrete analysis, the tactical and strategic problems of any mass struggle should follow the trade union blueprint.
I shall discuss this second contradiction first, because if we had solved this strategic-tactical problem as it was offered to us, it might have eventually overcome the deficiencies in Theory, Program and Social Base.
The problem arose in this way: A prominent black doctor in Detroit had been awarded a commission in the Navy on the basis of his professional qualifications, never having seen him. When he went for induction the Navy took one look at him and told him it was all a mistake. His draft board then ordered him inducted into the Army. He put up an historical fight against it and, with our support and help, won the case.
He became our foremost spokesman in the black community, and wrote a regular column in the Militant under the name Jackson. He built a tremendous black SWP in the Detroit ghetto, composed principally of militant workers. I don’t know if anyone knew how many members he had, but I heard estimates as high as “over 200.”
In any event, he wasn’t satisfied that the propagandistic life of the SWP, supplemented by union politics, was adequate for this formation, which was beginning to assume the characteristics of a mass movement. In 1946 he came to the Political Committee with the proposal to create a new and independent black movement for the day-to-day struggle for equality. The Political Committee referred the problem to the Trotsky School (held at the Grass Lake Summer Camp near Detroit), plus all N.C. members visiting the camp or in the area.
There was some justification for this change of venue, as there were several members of the N.C. at the school (including myself), the director of the School, William Warde [George Novack], was a member of the P.C., and there were always N.C. members visiting the Camp. However, it was characteristic of the SWP that the central leadership almost invariably chose to have very little to say on black liberation, abdicating this responsibility to “specialists.”
The meeting was quite a gathering. Jackson made his proposal and the roof fell in on him. All the brains at the meeting landed on him with the following line: We predicted correctly in the early ’30s that, as the working class began to come to union consciousness, it would first come to the traditional and established organizations in the AFL. They did just that, and the CIO was formed first within the AFL. While we had a correct evaluation of the problem, the CP was hung up with their dual-union policy of Red Trade Unions.
So, they said, the Negro movement will inevitably go to the NAACP first, and your proposition is equivalent to the Stalinist Red Trade Union policy. You must take your militants and go to the NAACP.
There were three black members at the School, but none of them nor myself had a word to say. Myself, because I didn’t know enough about it to have an expressible position. The black comrades, Joe Morgan, Milton Richardson and Ernie Dillard, were probably intimidated by the force of the attack.
I was very uncomfortable during this discussion and the trade-unionistic tirade by the smart ones, and determined to get to the root of the problem, which I found could be done if you just try a little. The fallacy of the majority opinion—although it should be obvious—I will summarize here:
1. The trade union movement is an exclusively class movement. The movement for black liberation is multi-class, and the classes have different and sometimes opposing interests.
2. The working class movement of the 1930s was a movement of a class just coming into elementary consciousness for the first time in modern history. The movement for black liberation has been in almost continuous existence in one form or another on a massive scale for long over a century. In modern times witness the Garvey movement, the World War II March on Washington Movement, the Black Muslims, CORE. None of these messed with the NAACP.
3. The NAACP is and always has been a middle class movement which rarely represented the working class except in court. (It did, however, during the class upheaval of the ’30s, establish a good reputation among auto workers when Walter White—then president of NAACP—pulled the black workers out of the Ford-Dearborn plant: an action which effectively broke the back of the corporations’ resistance to union organization.) In spite of the untiring work of Herbert Hill in building a labor department, the NAACP was and remains the property of and instrument of the black middle class.
It was exclusively concerned with legal problems and opposed to mass action. All attempts to “reform” it (mostly by radicals) ended in disaster. It took the Montgomery bus boycott to shake it up somewhat, but even then it was totally inadequate for a mass movement. This is why Randolph bypassed it in the formation of the March on Washington Movement.
In 1946 the militant workers refused to go to the NAACP; and, although Jackson had an entirely legitimate proposal, and had the forces to begin it, at least on a local scale, he was overwhelmed by the obvious majority pressure and gave up. He left the party soon after this and his movement dispersed.
Later that year, when I had had time to think the thing out a bit, I made a protest of the policy to the School. I was greeted with silence. Too little and too late.
Nearly twenty years later Jackson came to a social event in New York during our National Convention in 1963. This was at the height of the popularity of the Black Muslim movement, which the SWP was courting. I recalled that Grass Lake meeting to him, saying that I wished we had accepted his proposal, particularly in light of the Muslim development, which merely filled the vacuum created by our failure. He said, “Yes, it is a shame. We could have had all that.”
Theory and Politics
Our movement held itself together through years of adversity and persecution by the profundity of Trotsky’s writings, the best expression of Marxist theory of the era.
However, we were never able to open up Marxism to the black revolutionaries. When confronted with our proposition that the problems of race relations in the U.S. could be solved through racial separation, they said—if that’s Marxism, it’s not for me.
So, even while many were coming in, many were always going out.
Black Nationalism Abets White Chauvinism
However, the nationalist theory had other negative results. It would be no discovery to observe that the white working class is saturated with race prejudice. However, on occasion, either in the necessity of class solidarity in struggle or in profound conviction of the need for revolutionary change toward socialism, the militant white worker is prepared to rid himself of this obnoxious and self-destructive prejudice. But when you tell him that racial separation is a necessary part of the class struggle, this gives him an opportunity to hold on to his prejudice as a virtue. This has happened.
Probably the most disastrous of all the consequences of the nationalist theory was in the problem of interracial marriage. The party operated upon the following theorem: If the black movement will, when it matures, become a nationalist-separatist and anti-white movement (like the Garvey movement), any black revolutionary who marries whites will be ostracized.
During the years under consideration, 1942-48, ours was an interracial party, and in these circumstances close personal relations developed interracially, both in the organization and its periphery. Such relations sometimes easily developed into marriage. The leadership did everything it could to discourage this practice, from friendly reasoning, to pleading, to pressure and social ostracism.
Milton Richardson, our candidate for Governor or Lieutenant Governor in one of our post-war elections in New York, married white. She was socially ostracized and he was highly pressured. He finally left the country a broken man.
Joe Morgan was hounded out of the Party.
Louise Simpson, candidate for New York Lieutenant Governor in about 1944, married a white sympathizer. When persuasion was to no avail, harassment began, and became so intolerable that the husband threatened to go to the NAACP with a grievance. Jim finally told one of the offenders in the leadership to for Christ’s sake leave those kids alone. Finally, at the 1949 Convention, an announcement was made by the N.C.—through the presidium—that the SWP does not oppose interracial marriage. The damage, however, had already been done. It was just too little and just too late.
When Dobbs’ daughter married Clifton DeBerry and finally moved to New York, they were, of course, tolerated, and probably escaped the pressures exerted upon other like couples. However, this occurrence did not ameliorate the problem in New York to any appreciable degree, even spreading westward when Tom Kerry invaded Los Angeles in the ’50s—witness the case of E. Banks.
Under the impact of all of these factors, our black membership eroded. False strategic concepts, false theory and program made it impossible for the SWP to change its social base, a factor which might have prevented the ultimate degeneration which eventually overcame it.
As a result of accumulated grievances and frustrations the last substantial group of black members left in anger at the 1948 Convention. As Dobbs expressed it to me (as I was negotiating to get one of them back), “They shit on the floor as they left.” One of the ironies of this situation was that it was at this convention that the first resolution on the black struggle which made any sense was adopted. Johnson had just come back to us and had modified his 1939 position drastically and produced a fine literary document. However, it was superimposed upon the Party, and bore no relation to the real problems that the Party had encountered and failed to solve. While being objectively a refutation of the 1939 resolution, it didn’t say so; we never disassociated ourselves from this horrible document. Consequently most of the leadership and the old timers in general, who had been indoctrinated in the old resolution, saw in the new one only a temporary tactical compromise with the overwhelming militancy of the movement demanding equality. There were, too, a few statements in the new one justifying this view.
Because of this, I at one time erroneously laid our failures to this resolution. At any rate, it also was too little and too late. The SWP returned almost to its original pristine purity with a few dark-skinned members for window dressing.
The leadership was constantly plagued with demands to explain the loss of its large black cadre. The leaders replied with a series of bromides which explained nothing and were, of course, at the expense of the dear departed. However half-true some of these explanations may have been, the problems and experiences I have related contain the basic truth.
The Bitter End
The substitution of Doctrine for Theory, Organization for Strategy, Tactics for Program, and the continued narrowness of social base had a cumulative effect on the SWP. In the mass movement we rarely had an independent policy, and the prolonged blocs with anti-communists —Lundberg, Paul Hall, Reuther, Curran, Roerback, etc.—led us into opportunistic phases.
Adventurism soon followed, destroying our forces as we tried to extricate ourselves from compromising positions. The notable exception was in the UAW, where opportunism continued unabated. Cochran, the mentor of this work, succumbed to the prevailing tendency of the old-time militants of the ’30s to continue to maneuver between power blocs and take it easy politically. This led to the formation of a politically liquidationist tendency which destroyed our UAW work in a split.
These cycles of opportunism and adventurism resulted in eventual disaster in the mass movement and had a conservatizing political effect on the Party policy, which finally came to rest in its present condition: political opportunism, a fetish for legalism, and a demand for conformity and respectability replaced the class struggle.
The national disaster was intimately related to the collapse of the Party’s revolutionary international outlook, as revealed most of all by its approach to the Chinese Revolution. This revolution was the longest and most bitterly contested civil war of the modern era, beginning as a proletarian revolution (1925), retreated into an anti-imperialist war with the Japanese invasion (1931), but re-emerging in a victorious proletarian revolution in 1949.
Mao Tse-tung was in both overt and covert opposition to Comintern policy, beginning in 1927 (he was thrice expelled or suspended from the Central Committee). Finally, in 1935, he gained ascendancy and finished a process of remaking the Communist Party along Leninist lines.
This was the formula for the final victory—an essentially de-Stalinized Communist Party.
However, the SWP, unable to analyze theoretically and concretely the revolutionary current in the U.S.—black liberation—was hardly in a position to do so with far-away China. Thus it was forced to rely upon doctrine. Its guide was the Resolution of the founding Congress of the Fourth International (1938) on “The War in the Far East and the Revolutionary Perspectives.”
However, this document, not written by Trotsky, was basically false, including gross misrepresentations of the actual developments in China. Alleging that the “Stalinist” leaders had turned this grandiose agrarian movement, despite its historic battles, back into the fold of the Kuomintang, the key passage is as follows:
“What remained of the Chinese Communist Party after Chiang Kai-shek’s forceful liquidation of the peasant soviets, has publicly surrendered the last remnants of its revolutionary policy in order to enter a ‘People’s Anti-Japanese Front’ with the hangman of the Chinese revolution. The Chinese Stalinists have formally liquidated ‘ Soviet China,’ handed over to Chiang Kai-shek the remnants of the peasant Red armies, openly renounced the agrarian struggle, explicitly abandoned the class interests of the workers. Publicly embracing the petty bourgeois doctrines of Sun Yat-sen, they have proclaimed themselves the gendarmes of private property and, in conformity with Stalinist practice everywhere, the enemies of the revolution.”
The monstrous lies and distortions of this key statement are too obvious for comment in this article, and, irrespective of the fact that its author, John Liang [Frank Glass], later essentially repudiated this thesis, the SWP has remained glued to it in their constantly-reiterated Hate China campaign.
Vietnam and China
The total misunderstanding of the Chinese Revolution could not help but reflect itself in the practical work of the Party. This was most obvious in the SWP’s refusal to give public support to the Vietnamese Revolution. The SWP/YSA expended enormous energy in the service of pacifism around the slogan “Bring the Troops Home Now.” But they would never face up to the basic question of whose side are you on? They flatly rejected the proposition that it was our political duty to proclaim that WE ARE FOR THE VICTORY OF THE NATIONAL LIBERATION FRONT, THEIR CAUSE IS JUST. Among other objections, they said it would be against Trotsky’s “Proletarian Military Policy,” worked out for World War II.
I recall a heated debate on this subject. I don’t remember whether it was at the 1965 Convention or at the N.C. Plenum where they boiled me in oil. I tried to explain that we couldn’t fall back on the old doctrine for WW II because this was a different kind of war. I was refuted by M. Alvin, who accused me of trying to make WW II look good (implying that I was moving toward the Stalinist supportive position on WW II). I mention this because it was typical of the SWP leadership, when confronted by political criticism, to label or insinuate something sinister about the criticism and the critic.
It was proposed by a minority in 1966, I believe, that we adopt Lenin’s policy of revolutionary defeatism, which would demand that we come out openly for the victory of the NLF. They would have none of it. However, I am not overcome with sympathy for this formulation. In reality the situation was not so complicated. When workers are on strike and the National Guard is called in, one doesn’t have to be a Marxist-Leninist to determine whose side one is on. All it requires is a little bit of class solidarity.
Likewise, when an imperialist army invades a colonial country struggling for independence and freedom, it is over-dignifying the shabby politics of the SWP to have to go to doctrine to become a partisan of the NLF. All that is required to take this elementary dignified course is more elementary, and a quality that the SWP has lost —a sense of solidarity with the oppressed.
Many young revolutionaries who have experienced the SWP only in its recent years of degeneration didn’t like the way the Party operated organizationally (they certainly have a point there), and tend to concentrate their attention on this aspect of the problem.
This is a one-sided approach, however, the organizational question being basically derivative. The fate of SDS should sound a warning. I do not mean to say that the organization question will solve itself, and will flow automatically from higher principles. There is much legitimately to be said about what we want a new party to look like organizationally, especially in contrast to the old ones. Problems of freedom of discussion and criticism, the right to challenge, public discussion of party problems, personal relations between members, educational principles and methods, the sanctity of leadership, and all the criteria of organization, deserve special examination.
There is one thing for sure, however. Nearly every Marxist-oriented organization claims to operate on the basis of Leninism: democratic centralism. But in all cases every principle of Leninism has been turned upside-down and wrongside-out, until its basic tenets have been buried. Leninism must be re-discovered and—if found adaptable to our problems and conditions—adapted and used.