From Fourth International, Vol.6 No.11, November 1945, pp.349-350.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
EDITOR’S NOTE: We are printing in this issue two documents pertaining to the problems of unity between the Socialist Workers Party and the Workers Party. The first is the resolution adopted by the Plenum of the SWP on the unity proposal of the Workers Party. The second is the letter of the Workers Party to the SWP Plenum, which sums up the opinions and position of that party on the unity question.
Fourth International will publish in forthcoming issues a number of articles relating to the differences between the SWP and WP on the most important questions in dispute. This discussion is now the indispensable precondition for the eventual definitive settlement of the unity proposal.
1. The proposal for unification made by the Workers Party to the Socialist Workers Party comes after more than five years of bitter hostility and struggle between the two organizations.
2. The split in 1940 was preceded by a protracted factional fight which involved not only the position of the Fourth International on the Russian question but the most fundamental questions of our movement: Marxist theory, tradition, political program, methods of party-building, the party regime, etc. The issues in this historic struggle have been explained and amply documented in the two books: In Defense of Marxism and The Struggle for a Proletarian Party.
3. Our characterization of the petty-bourgeois tendency represented by the faction which later became the WP was not predicated solely upon their view of the nature of the USSR and their attitude toward its defense but upon their rejection of the theory, methods and traditions of Marxism, a rejection which was rooted in their social composition and direction. Trotsky wrote: “We, too, have attempted above to prove that the issue concerns not only the Russian problems but even more the opposition’s method of thought, which has its social roots. The opposition is under the sway of petty-bourgeois moods and tendencies. This is the essence of the whole matter.” (In Defense of Marxism, p.59, our italics.)
4. The 1940 split which gave birth to the WP was a heavy blow aimed at the Trotskyist movement in the United States, and throughout the world. The petty-bourgeois faction split our party at a time of grave social tension and crisis preceding the entry of the United States into the war, when every revolutionist had the responsibility of remaining at his post and adhering without compromise to the positions of the Fourth International. This split broke away 40 per cent of the membership from our party and served to disorient and miseducate many potentially excellent revolutionists. During the ensuing five years the WP has pursued the policy of irreconcilable antagonism toward the SWP with the object of discrediting, undermining and overthrowing it as the vanguard of the American working class.
5. Despite this, the SWP has not only recouped the numerical losses suffered in the split, but under the adverse conditions of the war has made considerable gains in numbers, influence and prestige. It has become genuinely proletarian both in membership and in its predominant leadership. It is deeply rooted in the mass labor movement. Its ranks have become ideologically homogeneous and steeled in the fires of the class struggle.
6. As a result of the successes scored and the experiences undergone during the war, the ranks of the SWP face the coming period with unlimited confidence in the prospects of the party and its eventual development into the mass revolutionary party of the American workers. The objective conditions are extremely favorable for the rapid growth of our party. The profound revulsion of the peoples all over the world against the consequences of the war; the resultant radicalization of the masses; the growing militancy of the American workers expressed in the present national strike wave – are bound to accelerate the expansion of our party in all spheres. The response of the workers to The Militant, the steadily rising rate of recruitment, the establishment of new branches, and the extension of our influence in the key unions are sure signs of this trend.
7. The Workers Party, by contrast, has shown no ability to grow and attract workers in significant numbers. It has gained no significant influence in the labor movement. The disproportion in the numerical strength of the two parties is growing from month to month.
8. After more than five years of warfare against the SWP in an attempt to supplant it, the Workers Party has come forward with the proposal for uniting the two organizations. This action marks a significant turn in their policy and opens a new stage in the relations between the two tendencies.
9. In view of this change in the situation, the Political Committee of the SWP expressed its willingness to consider and discuss the question of unification in all its aspects. Its reply of August 27, 1945 to the letter of the WP stated that “unity would be a good thing if it is firmly based and leads to the strengthening of the party and the building up of the party. On the other hand, a unification followed by a sharp faction fight and another split would be highly injurious to the party.”
10. Unifications like splits are the most serious steps in the life of a revolutionary party. Neither the one nor the other should be undertaken light-mindedly or precipitately, without the most scrupulous survey of all the circumstances and the most careful calculation of the consequences. The advantages and disadvantages of such a move must be carefully appraised in the light of the tasks and perspectives of the party at the given stage of its development. A poorly-prepared and ill-considered unification could easily paralyze the work of the party, provoke a new outburst of factional animosity, and lead toward a new split.
11. The PC pointed out in its letter: “We have always proceeded from the point of view that programmatic agreement on the most important and decisive questions is the only sound basis for unification.” That has been the basis of all previous unifications in the Marxist movement. It is clear that such a basis for unification does not exist in the present instance. Both parties acknowledge that the programmatic differences which led to the 1940 split have not been moderated but that, on the contrary, some of them have been deepened and new important points of divergence have developed in the interim.
12. Thus we are confronted by the proposition of uniting into a common organization two tendencies with sharply divergent political points of view on many questions and sharply conflicting theories of party organization. This proposed unity without programmatic agreement, in fact with acknowledged disagreements between the two tendencies, has no precedent, so far as we know, in the history of the International Marxist movement. In preliminary discussions between representative sub-committees of the two organizations, the delegates of the WP emphasized their intention to come into the united party as a separate and distinct tendency. They stated, furthermore, that they would insist on the right to publish their own discussion bulletin under their own control.
13. Can we contemplate, nevertheless, a unification of the two organizations despite the important differences that exist on political and organizational questions? In other words are the differences compatible inside of one Leninist party? We have taken the position that this question cannot be determined by any abstract rule; it can only be answered concretely. Five years ago, the faction which later became the Workers Party decided that the differences were not compatible with remaining inside of the SWP. In the five years that have elapsed, life again proved the differences incompatible, as the WP carried on unremitting warfare against our organization, our principles, our methods, our leadership. Has the WP sufficiently changed to make these differences compatible inside our party today? In other words can a genuine unity be effected with the WP, as distinct from a purely formal unity which would actually mean two parties under one roof with a new split in prospect? This can only be answered with sufficient concreteness after the most thorough-going discussion and probing of all differences to the bottom.
14. The extraordinary nature of this unity proposal makes it all the more imperative that all the programmatic questions in dispute be thoroughly clarified and all the differences between the two parties probed to the depth so that not the slightest ambiguity remains. This preliminary work of ideological clarification and demarcation is the indispensable precondition for any definitive disposition of the proposal for unity and a correct settlement of the relations between the SWP and WP.
15. To this end, this Plenum of the National Committee convened for the special purpose of considering this question therefore resolves:
Last updated: 21.4.2005