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Trotskyist Unity and the Nature of the Party

Albert Goldman

Excerpts from a Forthcoming Pamphlet on SWP-WP Unity

Trotskyist Unity and
the Nature of the Party

(August 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 32, 12 August 1946, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The readers of Labor Action are familiar with the struggle for unity between the Workers Party and the Socialist Workers Party which was initiated by the former Minority Group of the SWP, under the leadership of Albert Goldman and Felix Morrow, and the Workers Party. The development of that struggle was recorded in LA by articles, documents and exchanges which took place around this issue. The struggle for unity met up against the bureaucratic concept of a revolutionary socialist party held by the Cannon leadership of the SWP. Thus, one stage of the unity fight ended with the entrance of the major part of the Minority Group under Goldman into the ranks of the Workers Party. A pamphlet on the struggle for unity is now in preparation. This installment is one of several which will appear in the columns of Labor Action.Editor


On the surface it appears as if those of us who left the Socialist Workers Party and joined the Workers Party did so because the SWP refused to accept the proposal which the former Minority of the SWP made for unity of the two parties. If that were really the case, then what we did would be inexplicable. For within our ranks are comrades who have spent many years in the revolutionary movement and experienced revolutionary socialists do not leave a party because of a disagreement on a question that is apparently not so very important.

There can easily be an honest difference of opinion as to whether unity with a certain party or group,is or is not advisable and necessary. In such a case the minority advocating unity accepts the decision of the majority and continues its efforts to win the majority to its point of view. But it was dear to us that the 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.

It was of course possible for us to remain in the SWP and struggle against these concepts and methods but there were too few of us and too much of our time would have been wasted in controversies with a clique that almost invariably succeeded in dragging every intellectual conflict down to its lowest level.

We joined the Workers Party because we are of the opinion that a union of all the forces striving to build a revolutionary Marxist party – as against a monolithic party – will, in the long run, bring the best results.

Our hopes for unity are not completely destroyed and our struggle for unity is not over. If there is unity it will mean that the process of degeneration that has begun in the SWP will have been stopped. If there is no unity then there is nothing else to do except to proceed on our path of building a revolutionary Marxist party.

In 1940 a bitter factional struggle centering around the issues of the defense of the Soviet Union and the nature of the regime, led to a split. In my opinion, the comrades who split and formed the WP made a grave mistake; in their opinion they were correct. But the split is now part of history and what is necessary is to unite and not to fight over an incident of the past.

The very nature of the issues upon which the split was based should have led intelligent and experienced Marxists to expect re-unification. When informed about the split Trotsky wrote that the then Minority was determined to pass through the experience of an independent party. Such an expression indicated that he considered the split a temporary one, because he considered the issues leading to the split as issues that would be settled in a short time.

They who see in the revolutionary movement a process in which sharp intellectual conflict is inevitable and even necessary do not consider a split a crime for which one suffers eternal damnation. It is a very costly part of the life of the revolutionary movement and all efforts must be made to avoid it. But if a split does occur, revolutionists who are interested in the revolution and not in their cliques make every effort to unite the divided forces.

Personal animosities are aroused in the course of bitter factional strife. But what kind of revolutionists are they who persist in retaining these animosities regardless of the passing of time and the elimination of the issues that gave rise to the struggle? Lenin was by no means a gentle person in a factional struggle! Lenin and Trotsky fought each other fiercely. But they found no trouble in uniting when the question of the Russian Revolution, upon which they saw eye to eye, demanded unity.

Alas that so many petty people have found it easy to imitate Lenin in hurling terms of opprobrium, but have found Lenin’s politics too difficult to grasp. And Lenin’s politics included unifications as well as splits. And the same is true of Trotsky.

Political Basis for Unity

The mere fact that unity of the SWP and the WP would do away with tremendous duplication of effort would justify making all efforts for unity. There are now two weekly agitational organs – The Militant with a circulation, let us say of 35,000, and Labor Action with one of 20,000. Would not one paper sold to 50,000 workers be much more effective? And the two papers are so similar in content that the average worker cannot possibly distinguish between them. There are two theoretical monthly magazines. There is confusing duplication of effort on all fronts. Such a situation should be tolerated only if there are profound programmatic differences.

There are of course differences but they are easily compatible with membership in one party, provided there is a willingness on the part of the minority to abide by discipline in action. The most serious difference is on the question of the defense of the Soviet Union but in 1940 we of the majority of the SWP, following Trotsky, contended that there was no justification of a split because of differences on that question, if that was true in 1940, it is a thousand times more true in 1946 when the most important question before us is not the defense of the Soviet Union but the defense of the European Revolution against Stalinism.

Other differences that developed during the period of separation are minor in comparison with the question of the defense of the Soviet Union. Under no circumstances could any one of them or all of them put together justify a split or the continuation of a split.

On the basic anti-capitalist program there are no differences; on the program of transitional demands there are practically no differences. Readers of the weekly papers of the two parties could easily see that during the war, both refused to support the war on the ground that they considered it, on the part of the United States, imperialist in character; both fought against the no-strike pledge; both supported all the strikes. At present the two parties support the struggle for higher wages; they advocate the formation of a Labor party; they demand the withdrawal of the American troops from all occupied countries; they defend the European Revolution against the Stalinists and the democratic imperialists.

On the question of the nature of a party both parties accept the principle of democratic centralism. It is true that the rejection of unity by the leaders of the Socialist Workers Party together with other indications point to a Stalinist trend on the part of the SWP leaders but they deny that; they insist that they have the true Bolshevik concept of party organization; so do the leaders of the WP. There may even be legitimate differences of opinion on the application of the principle of democratic centralism but such differences should not prevent unity.

Serious revolutionists must above ail recognize that the time within which we can build a powerful revolutionary party to lead the masses to socialism is limited. The invention of the atom bomb gives us, in all probability, another post-war period and no more. The serious tasks confronting the revolutionary Marxist movement both in this country and abroad demand the strengthening of that movement through unification of the two parties that represent it.

If the political situation demands unity why is there no unity? Upon whom is the responsibility for the failure to achieve unity and what significance can be attached to the motives of those who have rejected unity?

(To be continued)

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