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The New International, November 1945



SWP Majority and Minority Viewpoints


From New International, Vol. XI No. 8, November 1945, pp. 250–255.
Transcribed & marked up by Damon Maxwell for ETOL.
Proofread by Einde O’Callaghan (August 2016).


October 10, 1945
Max Shachtman, National Secretary
Workers Party
New York, N. Y.

Dear Comrade:

Your two letters dated September 15 and October 4, together with the resolution of your Active Workers Conference as well as a report of the oral discussions between the sub-committee of our PC and a corresponding sub-committee of your organization were submitted and discussed at the Plenum of the National Committee held October 6 and 7.

I am sending you herewith a copy of the resolution adopted by the Plenum.


Yours fraternally,
J.P. Cannon
National Secretary

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, page 59, our italics)

The 1940 Split

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 forty 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 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.

SWP Willing to Consider

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.

WP a Distinct Tendency

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, further-more, 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 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: a) To endorse the letter and actions of the Political Committee in response to the letter from the WP; b) To authorize the Political Committee to prepare and carry through a thorough discussion and clarification of the theoretical, political and organizational issues in dispute, and fix the position of the party precisely on every point in preparation for the consideration and action of the next party convention; c) To reject any united front for propaganda. The SWP must continue to conduct its propagandistic activities in its own name and under its own banner and utilize these activities to aid direct recruitment of new members into the SWP. At the same time, the Plenum authorizes the Political Committee to invite the WP to collaborate with our party in practical actions in those cases, where in the judgment of the Political Committee, such collaboration would be advantageous in serving practical ends without blurring or compromising political lines.

Resolution Submitted by SWP NC Minority

Plenum Resolution on Unity with the Workers Party

1. The Plenum declares that the Socialist Workers Party and the Workers Party are sufficiently in agreement on basic program to require and justify unity. The political differences between the two are compatible with membership in one revolutionary party.

2. The Workers Party resolution and letters on unity constitute a significant change in the policy of that group. Hitherto it had justified its split and continued separation from the SWP on two grounds: (1) Its opposition to the SWP’s defense of the Soviet Union, (2) the bureaucratic regime in the SWP. Recently, as the question of defense of the Soviet Union receded into the background, the WP had based its entire justification for separate existence on the regime in the SWP. Now, however, the WP is compelled to admit that it cannot continue to defend this position; it states that “the interests of uniting the Fourth Internationalists in the United States on a sound foundation are more important than the regime in the SWP.” When the WP now states that the political and theoretical differences “do not go beyond what is permissible with-in the ranks of a single revolutionary party,” it is at last accepting the position laid down by our party at the time of the split in 1940.

3. In the united party, the present program of the SWP will prevail, by virtue of the fact that we, as the WP admits, constitute the majority. The WP’s communications to us explicitly recognize the principle of democratic centralism, thus pledging that as a minority it will be bound by discipline in action.

4. These commitments clear the path of practically all obstacles to unity except one. The remaining obstacle is a fear of unity by many of our members and perhaps also by members of the WP. The factional strife of 1939–40, the split and the more than five years of separate existence have left deep scars. It is advisable to eradicate this subjective element before formally consummating unity.

For Collaboration Prior to Unity

5. We believe the necessary spirit of unity can be created by a period of collaboration and cooperation prior to unification. Having declared ourselves for unity, such collaboration and cooperation is conceived by us, not as a united front between parties with a perspective of separate existence, but as concrete preparation for unity. Among the preparations there shall be joint membership meetings, joint discussion bulletins, joint public meetings, collaboration in trade union work and other fields of activity.

6. The comrades of the WP have asked recognition of their right to publish a bulletin of their own within the united party. Such a right of any tendency in a Trotskyist party is taken for granted by us. But to recognize such a right and for comrades to exercise it, are two different things. Normally, where the party provides adequate opportunity for discussion in bulletins and the theoretical organ, the interests of the party as a whole and of the minority are better served by refraining from publishing a separate bulletin.

7. While we explicitly recognize the right of any group within the party to have its own bulletin if it so desires, we urge the comrades of the WP to refrain from exercising this right under the given circum-stances in order to achieve unity on a proper basis. We guarantee them ample opportunity to present their point of view.

8. However, both we and the comrades of the WP will be in a better position to decide this question at the end of the period of cooperation and collaboration. We therefore propose to leave the final decision on it until the final steps for consummation of unity, with the understanding that we do not make it a condition of unity that the comrades of the WP refrain from issuing their own bulletin.

9. In view of the above decisions, the Plenum considers that there is a basis for collaboration between the majority and minority in the SWP in effecting the steps toward unity with the WP. The Plenum therefore accepts the offer of the minority to collaborate in this task and instructs the Political Committee to give representation to the minority on the negotiating commit-tee. The Plenum takes note of the statement of the minority that, having formed its faction on the issue of unity, it will dissolve its faction when unity is consummated, leaving the remaining differences for discussion on the plane of tendency, articles and lectures s in the party organs and branches.



Statement of Minority on the Cannon-Stein-Frank Resolution

1. The resolution is designed to prevent unity. Opposition to unity is the privilege of any comrade. What is reprehensible in the Cannon-Stein-Frank resolution is its refusal to answer any of the questions which are central to the unity proposal: its evasion of an answer to the question whether or not the two parties are sufficiently in agreement on basic program to require and justify unity; its evasion of an answer to the question whether or not the political differences between the two parties are compatible with membership in one party; its evasion of an answer to the question whether or not the aim of the discussions with the Workers Party is to ascertain more accurately the political positions of the WP or the aim is to attempt to get the WP to abandon some of its political positions as a precondition for unity; its evasion of an answer to the question whether the WP’s proposal for a tendency bulletin in the united party is or is not a right of any tendency in a Trotskyist party.

In their speeches the supporters of the resolution pretend that the difference between them and the minority is that the minority wants to rush speedily into unity whereas the majority wishes to move more slowly. This is completely untrue. As the minority Plenum resolution makes clear, we insist on a considerable period of preparation for unity by means of cooperation between the two parties after a decision by our party in favor of unity. This period of preparation is made necessary above all because the majority leaders have prejudiced the membership against unity.

On the other hand, the position of the Cannon-Stein-Frank resolution is not one of moving more slowly toward unity, but not to move at all toward unity.

2. In paragraph 11 the resolution repeats the formula of previous majority documents that programmatic agreement is the basis for unification. We of the minority have vainly attempted to get the majority to state unambiguously what it means by this: (1) that the WP must abandon one or more of the political positions on which it differs from us – an absurd demand since it is inconceivable that the WP will abandon its position on the Russian question, the principal disputed issue; or (2) the legitimate proposition that the WP, as an ad-mitted minority, must abide by the discipline of the majority program – which the WP has already agreed to do.

Dishonest Ambiguity Repeated

It was bad enough that the majority insisted on using this ambiguous formula in its first letter of August 27 answering the unity proposal – bad since the minority had vainly attempted to amend the letter to state that the political differences are compatible with membership in one party. It was worse still, that, in his speech of September 1, Comrade Cannon, despite a direct question from Comrade Goldman, refused to specify what the majority meant by its ambiguous formula. It is nothing less than outrageous that the majority repeats this patently dishonest ambiguity again now, after the WP negotiating committee has repeatedly asked for clarification.

Comrade N. has reiterated the minority position that: “A thousand times more important (than the question of defense of the USSR) is unification, rather than the existence of two independent groups who in the fundamentals march under the one and the same banner. The program of the minority (i.e., WP) is known to the majority from the former’s literature; there is no necessity to discuss it.”

If the authors of the resolution disagree with that position, let them say so in their resolution: let them say either that they do not know the program of the WP and must now study it, or that they know the program of the WP and it is in agreement with us on fundamentals or that it is not; let them say whether they agree or do not agree that unification is more important than the question of the slogan of the defense of the USSR.

Differences Are Known

Anyone who assumes to play any role as a leader in our party certainly knows what the political differences are between our party and the WP. Are these differences compatible with unity? Anyone who thinks they are not compatible should have voted against unity discussions with the WP. Conversely, anyone who voted for unity discussions should have been ready to say that the political differences are compatible with unity. We are confronted with a monstrous paradox. In 1940 and thereafter we of the SWP always maintained that the political differences were compatible with party unity. Now the PC majority refuses to affirm our 1940 position. The argument justifying this refusal is absurd: “Five years ago, the faction which became the WP decided that the differences were not compatible with remaining inside the SWP. In the five years that have elapsed, life again proved the differences incompatible. ...” The WP was wrong when it considered that the differences were not compatible with remaining in the same party, and we and Trotsky said they were wrong, and we did not abandon this position simply because “life,” i.e., the mistake of the WP, led it to leave the party.

Why does the PC majority cling to its ambiguous formula about programmatic agreement? Is it possible that, after a period, the PC majority is going to confront us with “proof” that the political differences make unity impossible? But such “proof” must already exist, since we all know what the political differences are. In that case, in all honesty the PC majority should have said to begin with that it does not believe that the political premises exist for unity – more accurately, it should have continued to say this after the WP proposal for unity as it had said this previously.

In his September 1 speech “explaining” the PC letter’s ambiguity on this question, Comrade Cannon claimed he was answering this question when he stated: “It is up to the WP to demonstrate that the political differences are compatible with unity.” Absolutely false: we have to determine this question for ourselves, independently of what the WP does or does not do.

WP Answered Satisfactorily

Comrade Cannon went on to identify this question with the question, “Will the WP’ers be loyal this time?” i.e., will they abide by party discipline. This is a different question. It is a legitimate question. In view of the attitude of the WP leaders in the split of 1940, it was necessary to put the question to them. An affirmative answer to that question assures unity and the WP has answered it satisfactorily. But, before we asked the WP leaders to answer that question, our party should have answered for itself the question whether the political differences are compatible with membership in one party. Otherwise, it is pointless to ask the WP leaders whether they will abide by party discipline – or indeed to ask them any questions or conduct any discussions.

Until the PC majority adopts the position that the political differences are compatible with party membership, the danger will continue to exist that the PC majority will, on the basis of facts already known to all of us, suddenly “discover” that the political differences bar unity. In that case it would be clear to all that its agreement to discuss with the WP was nothing but a maneuver designed to confuse the party and the International.

We demand an answer to this question. Is there sufficient agreement on the fundamentals of program to make unity possible and desirable? One can honestly answer yes or no; but to refuse to answer the question, after all that has transpired, is clearly a subterfuge.

3. The result of this subterfuge is that we are asked to vote on the absurd proposal of discussions with the WP without any principles laid down as to what shall be the basis for unity. Shall our discussion sub-committee tell the WP negotiators that the latter’s position on the Russian question is or is not a bar to unity? No answer in the resolution. Shall our discussers tell the WP negotiators that the aim of the discussions is to ascertain the differences, or that the aim is to get the WP to abandon its positions? No answer in the resolution. Shall our discussers say that the differences on organizational questions are or are not a bar to unity? No answer. In a word, discussions are to be carried on without indicating to our discussers the basis on which they are to discuss. What is the difference, then, between the previous meetings of the Cannon-Stein-Frank committee with the WP committee, and those which presumably will follow the Plenum? The previous meetings were characterized by the Cannon-Stein-Frank committee as not negotiations but discussions since, they stated, they had no authority to negotiate and no instructions on what basis to negotiate. Future meetings, on the basis of their resolution, will be no different than the previous ones. In that case, why call a Plenum and adopt a Plenum resolution? Why, indeed, except to go through the motions of pretending to consider the unity proposal seriously.

Resolution Evasive

4. The WP negotiators have asked a series of key questions concerning the basis and purpose of the discussions. They summarize these in their letter of October 4 to the Plenum and request of the Plenum that it answer these questions. They ask that an end be put by the Plenum to the situation wherein the SWP committee is “in a position where it cannot and does not make any proposals of its own on the question of unity, where it cannot express itself definitely on proposals made by us, and where it is even unable to declare that the SWP has decided in favor or in opposition to unity itself.” They further ask the Plenum to take a position “on the series of proposals made by us for the basis on which the unification should be achieved ...” These requests are not only reasonable but one can hardly imagine how discussions can continue without answering them. Yet the resolution evades them. It will be an evasion of its duty if this Plenum closes with-out answering these proposals of the WP. One can accept them, one can reject them, but to evade them is politically indefensible.

5. The August 27 letter of our PC, in rejecting the WP proposal for cooperation between the two parties, stated it would agree to cooperation at a later date only “if, in the course of the discussions, it appears that we are approaching agreement on the most important political questions. ... But to attempt to begin with such practical cooperation, prior to a definite approach to unification, would seem to us to put things upside down and lead to a sharpening of conflict over secondary questions rather than their moderation.”

What, then, is the purpose of the resolution in proposing now “to invite the WP to collaborate with our party in practical actions in those cases where such collaboration would be advantageous in serving practical ends without blurring or compromising political lines.” According to the August 27 letter of the PC, such cooperation would lead to a sharpening of conflicts unless the fact was first established that we are approaching unification definitely. Now, without establishing this fact, the PC proposes cooperation. Here is confusion worse confounded.

We bluntly warn the party and the International: Cooperation after a declaration for unity would prepare the memberships of both parties for unity, but the so-called limited cooperation without a previous declaration for unity can very well serve the aim of preventing unity. Under the given circumstances it is necessary for those who sincerely desire cooperation as preparation for unity to vote against the formula of cooperation without a declaration in favor of unity.

Minority Barred from Sub-Committee

6. Anyone who understands the ABC of politics knows that the August 27 letter of the PC agreeing to discuss unity with the WP was a political victory for the PC minority, whose initiative had led to this development. Quite apart from the principle of minority representation, those who initiated the unity proposal were entitled to participate in the unity discussions. Yet the very same PC meeting which sent the letter to the WP also barred the minority from the PC sub-committee which met with the WP.

And this was merely the forerunner of a renewed barrage against the minority which had dared to fight for unity.

In his September 1 speech explaining the PC letter on unity, Comrade Cannon accused the minority: “Perhaps their new idea is unity first and then a bigger split.” The “perhaps” does not save this from being an outrageous accusation. Outrageous not merely because it is not true, but because if the PC majority were to act on it, unity would be put off to the Greek Kalends. For if one does not accept the propositions of both the minority and the WP that the political differences are compatible with unity; that unity is more important than the regime; that unity can be achieved on a lasting basis – then no political criteria remain for determining the aims of both the minority and the WP. There remains then only the capricious and arbitrary psychologizing of the PC majority concerning what is going on in the minds of the minority and the WP. This approach has nothing in common with Marxist politics.

Superficially more political was Comrade Cannon’s further declaration that before unity can take place, the party must first “stamp out disloyalty in the ranks and restore discipline in the party.” Certainly this would be true were there disloyalty and indiscipline. But Comrade Cannon falsely applies these terms to the minority’s fraternization and discussion with WP leaders and members. We of the minority declare that no amount of such threats and abuse will swerve us from our politically correct and organizationally loyal policy of continuing to urge the WP to persist in its course toward unity despite all obstacles placed in the way. To put off unity until after “stamping out” the pro-unity minority is scarcely the prelude which would usher in unity! It is clear that the attack on the minority as “disloyal” is in reality an attack on unity.

This attack continues at the Plenum. It is “cleverly” left out of the resolution, which tries to assume a statesmanlike tone, but it is the main burden so far of all the speeches of the majority spokesman. On this question, too, we demand an end to ambiguity. If the majority really means what it says, then let it adopt an unambiguous rule governing the situation: one which would forbid the minority from discussing with the WP leaders. In that case we would have to submit to the decision or leave the party. Such a ruling would be proof conclusive of the deep-going degeneration of the party leadership. But its verbal assertion to the same effect is also such a proof.

7. It should be obvious to any political person that the absurd basis on which the discussions are left – on no basis except the whims of the SWP discussers to drag out the talks endlessly – may soon prove unacceptable to the WP. With none of their proposals accepted, with no alternative proposals offered, with nothing decided by the Plenum, the WP may very well conclude that there is no point in continuing such formless discussions. The resolution appears aimed to test the patience of the WP negotiators to the breaking point by an end-less series of pointless meetings. In a word, it is calculated to throw responsibility for disruption of discussions on the WP, whereas the reality is that the course set by the resolution must inevitably lead to disruption of discussions. We brand this as trickery and declare that if this resolution becomes party policy the responsibility for disruption will be on the shoulders of this Plenum.



October 7, 1945

WP Reply to SWP Plenum Resolution

October 29, 1945

James P. Cannon
National Secretary
Socialist Workers Party
New York, N.Y.

Dear Comrade:

Our Political Committee has discussed the resolution adopted by the Plenum of the National Committee of the Socialist Workers Party on the question of unity. Before making a definitive reply to this resolution, we wish to afford the SWP the opportunity to make clear to us its position on a number of points. They relate to matters on which the resolution is either ambiguous or erroneously motivated, or which it does not deal with at all.

Your resolution states that “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.” So far as any acknowledgment on the part of our delegation to the preliminary discussions is concerned, this statement is erroneous, at least in part. The “programmatic differences which led to the 1940 split” were confined to the question of the “unconditional defense of the Soviet Union” in the war. Our delegation did not and could not acknowledge that the difference on this question has not moderated but deepened. On the contrary, the first resolution on unity adopted by our National Committee took “note of the fact that the SWP 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.” The only political difference involved in the 1940 split was the one over unconditional defense of Russia. If there were other, and programmatic, differences, they have not yet been brought to our attention. It is true that since the split other differences have developed between the two organizations. It is also true that on many questions these differences have deepened. We have not sought to conceal this fact or its importance. We emphasize at all times our attachment to our point of view. What we find it necessary to insist upon, however, is that these differences, deep as they are, are compatible with membership in a revolutionary Marxist party, as contrasted with a party based on the concept of monolithism.

Unity Possible Despite Differences

Your resolution refers also to “This proposed unity without programmatic agreement.” If this refers, as it seems to do, to our proposal for unity, the statement is erroneous. We have indeed mentioned in other documents our “important differences with the SWP on a number of political and theoretical questions.” If, nevertheless, we declared that unity is both desirable and possible, it was, as stated in our letter to you of September 15, because of the “fact that on this plane, the plane of basic program and principle, the two parties are close enough in their positions to require and justify immediate unification, on grounds similar to those which made their membership in one party possible and desirable in the period prior to the split.” If it is your view now that there is no programmatic agreement between the two parties, or no programmatic agreement worthy of significant consideration, an explicit statement would contribute to the necessary clarification.

Your resolution states further that “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.” This statement is also erroneous, Our delegation stated that it was hard to recall an example of a similar unification between divergent tendencies in the international Trotskyist movement. This is so largely because the Trotskyist movement was for so long a faction, formally or in fact, of what it considered the international Marxist movement. However, this faction (tendency) repeatedly proposed unity with the then international Marxist movement (Comintern), which meant its unification with the Stalinist faction, that is, a tendency with which it had far less in common in any field than exists in common between the SWP and the WP today. Furthermore, the international Marxist movement is much older than the modern Trotskyist movement. If the SWP is concerned with precedent, the more than a hundred-year-old history of the international Marxist movement offers any number of precedents of good and healthy unifications between groups and tendencies with greater divergences than exist between ours.

On Practical Agreements

Your resolution concludes with the decision “To reject any united front for propaganda.” This statement is erroneous, because it is misleading. It gives the impression that such united fronts have been proposed by the Workers Party. You must be aware of the fact that this is not the case. As we recall them, not one of our proposals for united action between the two parties could be placed in the category of united fronts for propaganda. All of them dealt with proposals for united action in different fields of the class struggle. We pro-posed, for example, united action in the Minneapolis defense case; in the fight against fascism (anti-Smith campaign); in the trade unions, on such questions as all progressive unionists, let alone revolutionary Marxists, can and do unite on; in the New York election campaign. We reiterate our point of view on such practical agreements whether or not unity between the two organizations is achieved.

A more important question is the question of unity itself. In our letter to you, dated October 4, we made several specific requests of your Plenum. Except perhaps for the last point, that dealing with practical collaboration, we do not find in your resolution a specific and precise reply.

We asked the Plenum to take steps to terminate the situation where your delegation “cannot and does not make any proposals of its own on the question of unity, where it cannot express itself definitely on proposals made by us, and where it is even unable to declare that the SWP has decided in favor or in opposition to unity itself.”

Your resolution replies with a vigorous attack upon our party. That is of course its right. The attack can and will be answered in due course and in such a way as to promote clarity and understanding of the differences between the two tendencies.

Resolution Gives No Position

But the resolution does not in any way inform us, or any other reader, of the position of the SWP on the most important questions relating to unify, or even inform us as to whether or not such a position has been taken.

Is the SWP now in favor of unity, or opposed to it? In the preliminary discussions, we were informed by the SWP delegation that the Plenum of its National Committee was convoked for the purpose of giving an answer to precisely this question; in fact, that the date of your Plenum had been advanced to give the earliest consideration to this question. We do not find the answer in the resolution. At least, it is nowhere stated explicitly. We are therefore obliged to conclude that the SWP has rejected the proposal for unity, either as put forth by ourselves, by the minority group in the SWP, or by anyone else, and to act on this conclusion unless you indicate to us that we are in error.

Is the SWP now in a position to act on the concrete proposals made by us on the question of unity? In the preliminary discussions, your delegation pointed out that it was not authorized to do so until its National Committee met and arrived at decisions. We find no answer in the Plenum resolution to our proposals.

Demand Concrete Position

Our delegation stated our point of view as to the basis for the unification. Summed up in one sentence, it is this: Sufficient programmatic agreement actually exists between the two given organizations to warrant and make possible unity, and the differences that actually exist are compatible with membership in a single revolutionary party. On this basic question, your resolution takes no position except to say that it “cannot be determined by any abstract rule, it can only be answered concretely.” We remind you that the question was not put by us abstractly, but quite concretely. The nature and views of the two organizations are well known to both, and could not be more concrete. Their range of agreement is as well known and as concrete as their range of differences. Our proposals as to the steps to be taken for effecting the unity are not general, but specific – concrete. There seems to us to be no sound reason for failing to take a concrete position.

Our delegation states, as your resolution puts it quite exactly, “That they would insist on the right to publish their own discussion bulletin under their own control.” We asked that your Plenum take a position on this proposal. Your delegation indicated that this is what its Plenum would do. Your resolution, however, merely records our statement, but does not say if the SWP accepts or rejects our proposal.

Your delegation at the preliminary discussions was not in a position to make counter-proposals, or proposals of any kind, until the meeting of its Plenum. In the resolution adopted by the Plenum, we find only the proposal “to authorize the Political Committee to prepare and carry through a thorough discussion and clarification of the theoretical, political and organizational issues in dispute, and fix the position of the party precisely on every point in preparation for the consideration and action of the next party convention.” The resolution also states that “all the differences between the two parties (should be) probed to the depth so that not the slightest ambiguity remains.”

Ambiguity Must Be Eliminated

We for our part welcome any discussion of the differences between the two tendencies and are prepared to participate in it to the best of our ability so that the positions are precisely fixed and all ambiguity eliminated. But ambiguity on the question of the unification itself must also be eliminated.

However, your resolution does not give any indication of how the discussion is to be carried on, or what its purpose is with reference to the unification of the two groups.

It is possible that not all the members of the two parties are acquainted with the full nature and the full scope of the differences. A discussion will help acquaint them. But the leadership of the two parties is quite well aware of the nature, scope and depth of these differences. It has expressed itself on them repeatedly and in public. This was also established “formally,” so to speak, in the preliminary discussions. The head of the SWP delegation observed, and rightly, in our view, that for the present period the differences are not only known but “frozen.” The question we raised then, and now, was simply this: Knowing the nature and scope of the differences as it does, and knowing also that for the present period these differences are “frozen,” does the leadership of the SWP consider that unity is possible and desirable? Does it consider that the differences are compatible within one revolutionary party? Your resolution, which was adopted, we note, by the leader-ship of the party, fails to give an answer to these questions. The same holds true, we note also, of the question asked with regard to the position of the SWP on the right of a minority in a revolutionary Marxist party to issue a bulletin of its own tendency inside the party.

Demand Clarification

We agreed with what you wrote in your letter of August 28, that “the question of unification must be discussed with complete frankness and seriousness.” You will understand from what we have written above that we find your resolution erroneously motivated, in part, and in other parts ambiguous or silent on what we consider the most important questions. We have before us the statement issued at your Plenum by the minority group in the SWP on the resolution adopted by the Plenum. It declares: “The resolution is designed to prevent unity.” We do not wish to agree with this conclusion. That is why, before we arrive at a definitive conclusion of our own, we wish to have from you a reply to the questions we have raised in this letter, and elsewhere, and which your resolution either deals with unclearly or fails to deal with at all.

Upon receipt and discussion of your reply, our Committee will be better able to express its opinion in detail and to make any further proposals it may have. In this connection, we ask you to consider now the matter which has thus far not been dealt with in our discussion, namely, the matter of informing all the other groups of the Fourth International about the developments in the unity question in the United States, and of the contribution to solving this question that they are called upon to make.


Fraternally yours,
Max Shachtman
National Secretary
Workers Party

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Last updated on 18 November 2016