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The New International, September 1945


The Question of Unity

Documents of the Socialist Workers Party and the Workers Party


From New International, Vol. XI No. 6, September 1945, pp. 184–186.
Transcribed & marked up by Damon Maxwell for ETOL.


Editor’s Note – The first document is a resolution of the minority in the SWP presented to the Political Committee of that party. The second is a statement on the document by the National Committee of the WP.

1. It is now more than five years since the groups which we designated as the “petty-bourgeois opposition” left the party. Immediately after the split they organized the Workers Party under the leadership of comrades with many years of experience in the revolutionary movement. After five years, we note that their activities in the labor movement continue unabated. They publish a weekly agitation paper. Labor Action and a monthly, New International; put up candidates in elections; conduct fraction work in trade unions, etc. They took with them in the split 40 percent of our membership; their present activities indicate that they have retained a substantial portion of this number and recruited new elements.

2. Assuming that the Workers Party is but one-third the size of our party, we cannot ignore the possibility of reunification of the two forces on the ground of their allegedly sparse numbers. Unification would result in a 25% increase of our forces. More important, unification would return to the party cadre elements who are the product of decades of Marxist training and experience and whom we cannot hope to recruit elsewhere.

3. Our attitude toward re-unification must be based on a political estimate of the Workers Party. This means not to repeat what we said about the minority at the time of the split, but to analyze without prejudice the history of the Workers Party and the character of its program and present activities.

4. With the exception of the important questions of the nature and defense of the Soviet Union, the Workers Party remains on the fundamental programmatic basis of the Fourth International. Its propaganda, agitation and activities are based in the main on the program of transitional demands adopted by the Founding Conference of the Fourth International.

5. The acid test of a workers’ party is its attitude toward imperialist war. Without the slightest hesitation and with no opposition in its ranks, the Workers Party took a Leninist position toward its own imperialist bourgeoisie. It has maintained that position throughout the war. Some comrades deny that this is an acid test of the revolutionary character of the Workers Party; they point to the anti-war position of Martov in World War I and of the Young Peoples Socialist League in this war, as examples of centrists and/or non-revolutionists who oppose imperialist war. The speciousness of this argument is that it ignores the fact that Martov and the Y.P.S.L. remained in parties dominated by social-chauvinists, whereas the Leninist character of the Workers Party’s position includes its recognition of the principle that Leninists must have their own party and cannot remain in one party with social-chauvinists.

6. The comrades of the Workers Party have shown that they remain loyal to the proletarian revolution. On the American scene the Workers Party has followed the same general course as our party: against the no-strike pledge and against class collaboration through the War Labor Board, for a Labor Party, etc. On questions of the European revolution, it has likewise followed the same course as we, and similarly on tasks of liberation of the colonies, etc. Today the similarity of the two parties’ programs and activities has become still closer, with the disappearance into the background of the question of the defense of the Soviet Union, and the appearance in the foreground of the urgent need to defend the European revolutions against Stalin, a question on which the Workers Party is in complete agreement with us. It is inevitable that militant workers will not understand our separation into parties which they deem to be similar in fundamental program and immediate aim. Nor can we justly deny to these militant workers the essentially revolutionary character of the Workers Party.

The Question of Russia

7. The Workers Party position on the Soviet Union is that it is a bureaucratic-collectivist state. However, this does not constitute an insuperable obstacle to unity. Within the Fourth International there have for some years been currents rejecting the concept that the Soviet Union is a degenerated workers’ state Nobody has claimed that the Fourth International must expel comrades who believe that the Soviet Union is a bureaucratic-collectivist state or a state of capitalist restoration.

8. Yet there are comrades of the Political Committee who, while agreeing to the principle that differences on the Soviet Union are no bar to unity within the Fourth International, nevertheless argue that the comrades of the Workers Party do not belong in the Fourth International because they are “revisionists.” But revisionists in the classical sense refers to reformists of the type of Bernstein, who distort Marxism for the purpose of giving up the class struggle and the proletarian revolution. The “revisionism” of the Workers Party is obviously not to be confused with Bernsteinian revisionism; the former is a revision of the Marxist theory of the state in the sense that the WP theory of bureaucratic-collectivism is not compatible with the Marxist theory of the state; but we must recognize that the Workers Party agrees with us against Bernsteinian revisionism on the necessity of carrying on the class struggle to proletarian revolution, and denies that it has abandoned the Marxist theory of the state, whereas revisionists make no bones about their abandonment of it. Only those bewitched by words can fail to distinguish between Bernsteinian revisionism which has no place in the Fourth International, and the “revisionism” of those who differ with us on the Soviet Union but who do have a place in the Fourth International and actually have a place in several of the parties of the Fourth International.

9. Another argument against unity is that the “petty-bourgeois” opposition has continued to move further and further away from us since the split. This abstract spatial metaphor is not a valid political proposition. It is true that several political differences have arisen in the past five years between the position of our party and that of the WP, but neither singly nor together are they a bar to unity. There are differences on the question of material aid to China; on some phases of our military policy; on our attitude to the Stalinist parties; differences on the national question in Europe during the Nazi occupation may also still exist to a certain extent. But differences on all these questions must be expected with comrades in our own or sister parties of the Fourth International. They are not questions upon which difference of opinion can be expected to lead to a split, assuming the disputants to be genuine Bolsheviks and sensible. On some of these questions we had differences in our own ranks and no serious factional struggle resulted. Moreover, many of those in the WP who differ with us on these questions would be influenced by our arguments were they to be in our party; much of these differences can be laid to the existence of two separate parties. Perhaps also many of our comrades would be influenced by the arguments of the Workers Party comrades if they returned, but this is natural and to be expected. He who objects to unity on the ground of these differences and possible future differences will only find satisfaction in a monolithic party, a party without differences, which in reality would not be a party at all.

10. Another argument against unity is that the very fact that the “petty-bourgeois opposition” split from us shows they do not belong in the same party with us. This argument amounts to saying that once we have split there should never be unity again. It is completely alien to the method of Trotsky, who so often attempted to heal splits in the parties of the Fourth International. Following earlier unsuccessful attempts by Trotsky, our French comrades have recently succeeded in healing a nine-year split with the Molinierists. Our Belgian comrades have again offered unity to the Vereecken group, with whom they have more long-standing and far deeper differences than we have with the Workers Party. The fact that the comrades of the WP split from us is irrelevant to the question of unity now.

Factor in the Split

11. The Political Committee insists on continuing to characterize the WP as “petty-bourgeois” and to use that as an argument against unity. “When did they change?” is the argument against those who say that unity is possible now. A date is demanded of us: We cannot give it, but we can indicate precisely in what the change consists.

(a) Our characterization of them as “petty-bourgeois” was based mainly on the fact that we considered they had yielded to bourgeois-democratic pressure in abandoning the defense of the Soviet Union during the period of the Stalin-Hitler pact when bourgeois-democratic public opinion was hostile to the Soviet Union. But had they continued to yield to democratic public opinion, they would not have adopted a Leninist position on the war, a position which indicated that the comrades of the WP were capable of resisting far greater pressure than was exerted during the Stalin-Hitler pact.

(b) In the split Burnham was the ideological leader of the petty-bourgeois opposition. But Burnham left the WP and with him also a small group influenced by his anti-Marxist theories; likewise, Macdonald, an anti-Bolshevik, did not find himself at home in the WP. The departure of these elements was an important factor in permitting the group to remain on the fundamental position of the Fourth International instead of taking the path first indicated by Burnham.

(c) During the war the petty-bourgeois elements in the WP found jobs in industry and many of them had their first experience in fighting in the ranks of organized workers. They undoubtedly made many mistakes because of inexperience, but we cannot deny their seriousness of purpose and their devotion to the labor movement. We can also expect that the large number of their members drafted into the army have undergone a significant transformation through their experience with masses in the war.

These are the specific changes which answer the formalistic question as to when the WP ceased to be a petty-bourgeois group.

12. Even if it had remained a petty-bourgeois group, that would be no principled obstacle to unity, for even when we characterized them as a petty-bourgeois opposition the party was willing to keep them in its ranks. Although the organizational question was raised in the form of an indictment of the Cannon regime as a bureaucratic-conservative tendency, and although that question played an important role in the struggle culminating in the split, the basis of the struggle was the question of the defense of the Soviet Union. Under the guidance of Trotsky, we took the position that a split on this question was not justified; that it was possible and desirable for the minority to accept discipline in action and to strive further to win the majority of the membership to its point of view. Trotsky proposed that the minority be given guarantees that factions would not be prohibited; that no restrictions would be imposed on factional activity other than those dictated by the necessity for common action; that the minority could choose to have an internal bulletin of its own or a common one with the majority. The minority demanded the right to publish a public newspaper agitating against the party position. This right the majority rejected as irreconcilable with Bolshevik procedure. The split occurred because the minority violated the convention decision denying it permission to publish a public organ.

13. It is clear from the facts that led to the split that either the elimination by history of the question of the defense of the Soviet Union or a willingness on the part of the comrades of the WP to accept the conditions proposed by Trotsky to avoid the split should lead to a serious attempt at re-unification.

14. The question of the defense of the Soviet Union has not been eliminated by history, but it is no longer the burning question that it was in 1940. The burning question today is the defense of the European revolution from Stalin, on which both parties agree. This creates the possibility of working together again in one party. No one can say if and when we are likely to bring to the fore again the slogan of defense of the USSR. The variant of a fairly long term of peace between the imperialists and Stalin is more likely to occur than the variant of war. At any rate, it is necessary to invite the WP comrades to re-enter our ranks, offering them the same conditions that we were willing to offer them in order to avoid the split.

The Issue of Unity

15. How the WP will react to such an invitation is not certain. The important thing is to work out a correct line for our party on this question: to invite the WP to unite with us on the same conditions we offered in 1940. We shall benefit no matter what attitude the WP takes. A refusal on its part can be utilized to tear away some of their supporters within and outside their party. Acceptance means increasing our membership by several hundred among whom are capable comrades with many years of experience in the revolutionary movement. It means eliminating a party whose existence side by side with ours causes much confusion.

16. An attitude which condemns those who split to permanent separation from the party regardless of their loyalty to the revolution, is incompatible with the true spirit of Bolshevism. In the course of building a Bolshevik party, sharp differences of opinion, even bitter struggle and splits, are almost unavoidable. Unification after a split, when tempers have cooled, when events have eliminated or pushed to the background the cause of the controversy, is just as obligatory as refraining from splitting. We correctly characterized the split as a criminal blunder against the movement, but that does not justify us in forever barring the door to those who left us.

17. The unwillingness to unite with comrades who have different opinions has nothing in common with Bolshevism. Such unwillingness bases itself on the concept of a monolithic party whose leaders, while granting formal democratic rights of discussion, do not in reality, conceive differences of opinion and discussion of the differences as a method of building a healthy Bolshevik party. They do not have confidence in their ability to convince intelligent revolutionists: they depend upon blind followers. Building the party to them is to create a machine with a membership that is docile and accepts unquestioningly the directives of the leaders. The question of unification with the comrades of the WP is thus of enormous symptomatic importance in determining the kind of party we want to build. The party’s decision will be a touchstone indicating the direction in which we shall henceforth move.



Statement of the National Committee of the WP

1. The National Committee of the Workers Party takes note of the fact that a minority group of the Socialist Workers Party, led by Comrades Goldman, Morrow and Williams, has presented a resolution to the Political Committee of the Socialist Workers Party in favor of the unification of that party with the Workers Party. The principal ground given in the resolution for unification of the two parties is that the main political question in dispute in 1939–40, which led to the split in the Socialist Workers Party and the formation of the Workers Party, namely, the difference over the slogan of “unconditional defense of the Soviet Union,” is today no longer as acute and topical as it was when the dispute first arose; and that the two parties today have a similar position on the main task in Europe, namely, defense of the European Revolution from the threat of Stalinism and Anglo-American imperialism.

2. The National Committee also takes note of the fact that the Socialist Workers Party itself has officially taken the view that the slogan of “unconditional defense of the Soviet Union” does not, at the present time, occupy the prominent position it was given at the beginning of the war, that it has receded into the background.

3. The Workers Party stands for strengthening the forces of the Fourth International in all countries, the United States included. Therefore, it also stands for the unity of the Fourth Internationalists in this country in a manner and on a basis calculated to give the greatest assurances of healthy progress.

4. We are obliged to record our disagreement with the motivation for the modification of the Socialist Workers Party’;s position on the defense of Russia in the war. It is also well known that we still have important differences with the Socialist Workers Party on a number of political and theoretical questions. However, the range of these differences do not go beyond what is permissible within the ranks of a single revolutionary party. Furthermore, our estimate and criticism of the official regime maintained by the representatives of the majority in the Socialist Workers Party has not been changed. The fact that these representatives are now so categorically opposed to unity with the Workers Party, as well as their opposition to any united action with the Workers Party, is confirmation of our estimate. Nevertheless, the interests of uniting the Fourth Internationalists in the United States on a sound foundation are more important than the regime in the Socialist Workers Party.

5. The Workers Party is therefore prepared to discuss the question of unity with the Socialist Workers Party.

6. However, our National Committee proposes that, in order to test the practical possibilities of living and working together harmoniously in one united Party, as well as to promote the common cause in the working class and the labor movement, the Workers Party and the Socialist Workers Party, through their National Committees, should arrange for joint consultation and cooperation in all fields – trade union, political, defense, etc. – where it is possible, necessary and fruitful.


National Committee,
Workers Party,
Max Shachtman, Secretary

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