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Labor Action, 17 February 1947


Oscar Williams

A Review of a New Workers Party Pamphlet
Written by Albert Goldman

A Record of the Unity Negotiations
Between the WP and the SWP


From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 7, 17 February 1947, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The publication by the Workers Party of Albert Goldman’s pamphlet, The Question of Unity Between the Workers Party and the Socialist Workers Party is an important event in the development of the Fourth Internationalist movement in the United States.

This pamphlet contains a complete record of the abortive “discussions” and “negotiations” for unity between the two parties. All the official statements, all the relevant documents are printed here and the arguments of both sides are given in their own words. In short, we have here in one pamphlet all the material that is needed for advanced workers everywhere to examine both parties and decide for themselves which one does act in a democratic fashion, which, one does speak out honestly and unambiguously on the questions at issue.

It is not without significance that the only record on the important question of unity thus far should have been published by the Workers Party. The Workers Party tried honestly and out of deep conviction to achieve the unity of the two Trotskyist parties in America, Its position on the proposal for unify made by the minority within the National Committee of the SWP was clear and without any reservations. A reading of all the documents leaves no room for doubt that the Workers Party came out four square for unity and did its best to accomplish that end. It is, for this reason that the WP has no hesitation about publishing the complete record – its own position and the words of the spokesmen for the SWP.

The SWP then reacted to this proposal by refusing for almost a year and a half to take any position on the question. The leaders of the SWP deliberately evaded adopting any formal position and at the same time in ambiguous terms implied they were for or against unity, depending on the audience they were addressing at the moment. Thus when addressing a statement to the Trotskyist parties abroad, Cannon and his followers attempted to leave the impression that they were seriously concerned with unity and looking forward to the day when it could be brought, about. When speaking to the membership of his own party, Cannon left no room for doubt that he did not intend to tolerate unity between the two organizations. The climax of Cannon’s first speech to the membership were his words, “Deepen the split.” Although never expressed in writing, his followers understood very well that these words expressed the real attitude of the leadership to the question of unity.

The Importance of Unity

Albert Goldman, the author of this pamphlet, was for many years one of the leading members of the Socialist Workers Party. In his essay, he indicates why it was that the SWP minority found it necessary to leave the SWP and join the WP.

The whole question of unity had a significance that reached beyond the immediate importance of unity. The reaction of both organizations to the proposal of the SWP minority was a realistic indication of the attitude that both groups had toward the question of building a party and told better than any convention resolution just what kind of party they were trying to build. As Goldman states in his pamphlet:

“Rejection of unity by the leaders of the SWP was not the result of an honest conviction that unity is incorrect but rather of a fear of having too many independent revolutionists within the party. The rejection of unity was to us final proof that concepts and methods of organization completely alien to Bolshevism had been introduced by Cannon and his followers and that what they want to build Is a monolithic Instead of a revolutionary party.”

This was the conclusion that the SWP minority reached at the end of its struggle on the unity question. It should be understood that to admit this fact was very difficult for most members of the minority. Cannon’s charge, at the beginning of the factional struggle, that the minorityites were simply agents of the Workers Party, was a pure falsehood in the style of the Stalinists. Goldman does not exaggerate when he states at the beginning of his pamphlet that most of the minorityites had given years of effort to building the SWP and were completely devoted and loyal members. It required the most forceful of events to convince the members of the minority of this conclusion and finally to decide that their efforts as revolutionists could be most effectively spent within the ranks of the Workers Party.

Goldman explains the reasons for the minority proposal. It should be noted that nowhere, in the complete printed record, has any spokesman for the SWP tried to deny the objective benefits to be gained by unity of the two parties.

The SWP leaders could never find any facts to deny the reality that in regard to the entire struggle against American capitalism during the course of the war, both parties had almost the identical program. It was impossible for them to deny that unity would do away with the wasteful duplication of effort entailed in the publication of two weekly newspapers, two monthly magazines. And finally, it was impossible for them to deny that unity would do away with the confusion sown among the workers and caused by the rivalry of two groups presenting the almost identical program.

It is true that there are differences which exist between the two parties. There were and are disagreements on such questions as the evaluation of the Russian state and others. But here the SWP minority and the WP stated from the beginning that such differences are compatible in the ranks of one party. Time and again, the leaders of the SWP refused to answer the question of whether or not such differences as did exist between the two parties were compatible in a unified party.

Instead of answering this very real question, the reaction of the principal leader of the SWP was to tell the members of his party that the WPers were “renegades” and that it was necessary to “deepen the split.” This, it should be noted, was in response to the conservative proposition of the SWP minority that the party should merely go on record as favoring the idea of unity and to investigate the possibilities of achieving it.

The next position of the SWP was to drop, at least publicly, the “deepen the split” policy and to say that it was now necessary to “wait and see” and finally, to have a “thorough discussion where we can probe the differences.”

Finally, in April, 1946, almost a year after the question had first been raised, the SWP adopted its motion listing questions which had to be discussed by the two parties which had to be “probed to the bottom.”

The very listing of the questions indicated clearly that the SWP leadership did not take its own proposition seriously. Important as some of the questions were, it was obvious that they were not relevant to the question of unity. The SWP was well aware of the WP’s position on the split of 1940 – it was the SWP minority and the WP contention that unity was possible and desirable in spite of a difference on such a question. The same went for all the other questions on which there was disagreement.

Since each party was aware of the other’s position on all the questions listed and since no one believed that any discussions would serve to convince the other, the real question still remained; were these differences compatible within the ranks of a unified party?

A study of the documents printed in this pamphlet shows that the SWP policy was in practice, to sabotage any possibility of furthering unity and in its documents, to avoid adopting any position and so to pretend to people both in America and abroad who were unfamiliar with the situation in America, that they really were concerned with the possibility of unity.

In November 1946 the SWP, at its national convention, rejected the proposal of unity. Goldman expresses the point of view of the Workers Party when he states at the conclusion of his pamphlet that this is a severe blow to the Trotskyist movement. Nevertheless, we did not and do not give up the possibility of events at a later stage forcing the SWP to reconsider their attitude to unity. It was because the SWP made the practical possibility of this remote at the present time that the SWP minority found it necessary to join the Workers Party and to help to build the kind of democratic party which is in the best interest of the revolutionary movement.

This attractively printed pamphlet will be of great help to revolutionary workers trying to study the complicated question of what kind of revolutionary party to build. Above all, the members of the Fourth International in all countries will welcome this pamphlet because it tells the complete story of why the two Trotskyist parties in America have been unable to unite.

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