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Trotskyist Unity and the Nature of the Party

Albert Goldman

Excerpts from a Forthcoming Pamphlet on WP-SWP Unity

Trotskyist Unity and
the Nature of the Party – II

(August 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 33, 19 August 1946, p. 6.
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 info 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


Attitude to the WP

There was a sharp difference of attitude between the Minority and the Majority of the SWP towards the WP, even before the question of unity arose. The difference was between honest revolutionists interested only in the welfare of the revolutionary movement and cliquists interested primarily in the strengthening of their clique.

We of the Minority proposed joint action on all questions where we had no differences with the WP. We proposed a bloc in the trade unions; we proposed joint anti-fascist activities; we proposed to avoid the obscene spectacle of having two small revolutionary groups run competing candidates in the New York elections. All this we did simply on the proposition that a difference on one issue even though it leads to a split, does not do away with the necessity of common action on issues upon which we agree. The leaders of the Majority stubbornly refused all of our proposals. The leading comrades of the WP, on the other hand, agreed with us completely and were willing to unite in any action where there was no disagreement.

The attitude of the leaders of the SWP to the WP is revealed by Cannon’s expression: “We must deepen the split.” What can that statement possibly mean? It can mean only a conscious attempt to widen the gulf between the parties regardless of the fact that they base themselves on the same fundamental principles and have almost the same immediate demands. To deepen the split under these circumstances must mean falsification; it must mean and it did mean distorting the position of the WP on the various questions – all for the purpose of deceiving and prejudicing the membership of the SWP, composed of comrades who for the most part do not read the WP press.

The comrades of the Minority read the WP press and told the truth about the contents. We had no difficulty in recognizing the obvious: that the comrades of the WP are devoted revolutionists. The leaders of the Cannon clique either read the press of the WP and distorted the contents or did not read the press. In both cases they shouted that the comrades of the WP are “renegades.” Our attitude was based on the truth; the attitude of the Cannonites is based on falsehood.

The Record on Unity

I must admit that when the Minority decided to introduce a resolution in favor of unity, the situation was not a favorable one. The SWP leaders had refused any and every kind of joint action with the WP. They were teaching the members that the WP comrades were renegades and that they should avoid fraternizing with them. On the other hand, the WP comrades were afraid of unity because they felt that unity with the Cannon clique would not be a pleasant experience. We knew that the SWP leaders would start by rejecting unity; we did not know how the WP leaders would react to our proposal for unity.

But in our opinion unity was correct and necessary and we decided to go ahead with our resolution. The violent reaction of Cannon to the resolution was a clear indication that our task would be extremely difficult if not hopeless. Never has he been so violent as when he shouted that the intention of those who introduced the resolution was to split the party. Later on he took that back but the violence of his attitude gave him away. For it disclosed that under no circumstances would he permit unity and he knew that such an attitude must necessarily lead to a split.

The Minority did not ask for immediate unity with the WP. We asked that the leading committee of the SWP go on record in favor of unity and proceed to investigate the possibilities of unity. That means a discussion with the leading comrades of the WP for the purpose of finding out whether unity is feasible. We understood that there were difficulties and that it was necessary to begin frank and honest discussions and to determine whether unity would work out in practice.

From the very beginning of our unity proposal we of the former Minority insisted that unity is not desirable if it means another violent factional struggle with another split to follow. We were not and are not afraid of any discussions but we do not want bitter factional strife.

Throughout the whole controversy we stood for the principle of joint action of the two parties on all issues upon which there was substantial agreement, for the purpose of testing out whether or not the comrades of the SWP and of the WP could live in one party even though divided by differences on various questions. We said that close collaboration would prepare the membership of both parties for unity and would eliminate the personal antagonisms remaining from the factional strife of 1940. There is nothing like joint work in a common cause to make people forget animosities.

But shouting that the WP leaders were renegades and that the split must be deepened, Cannon reacted violently against the proposal for unity. To him it means the coming into the party of several hundred revolutionists who would be persuaded only by argument, who would not listen to his banalities with awe and proclaim his anecdotes as the writings of an inspired historian. Unity would mean more independent revolutionists in the party and he had enough of us as it was.

A Change of Line

To our request to start a discussion with the leaders of the WP to determine whether unity was feasible, Cannon answered that no discussion was necessary because the press of the WP gave us all the information that was necessary to know that its program and activities made unity undesirable. The Minority of course did not want a discussion on program; we knew the program of the WP and that is why we were for unity; what we wanted was a discussion to see whether unity was practical.

Suddenly there was a change of line on the part of the SWP leadership. Instead of flat and open opposition to unity the formula was brought out; “We are neither for nor against – wait and see.” Instead of rejecting any kind of discussion because the press of the WP gave us all the information necessary, the formula was adopted: “a thorough discussion and probing of all differences.”

Officially the change of line was explained by the fact that the WP had sent a communication to the SWP, taking cognizance of the Minority’s proposal for unity and indicating its favorable attitude to unity and willingness to discuss the question. As serious revolutionaries the WP leaders had not waited for an official invitation. They knew that the Minority had made a proposal and immediately took a position in favor of unity.

Since Cannon had previously stated that the program of the WP made unity an unrealistic proposition and since he stated that the press of the WP gave us all the information necessary, it would seem that a communication from the WP should make no difference. But it was evident that unity was a powerful issue in the ranks of the international and open opposition to it would not be a good tactic. Comrade Natalia Trotsky had already expressed herself in favor of unity. It appeared desirable to Cannon to sabotage unity rather than oppose it openly. This explains the change of line. Unfortunately the members of the SWP shifted their position in the same manner that the members of the Stalinist parties shift theirs – whenever the leaders decide that a change is necessary.

When the line was shifted from open opposition to unity to a “not for, not against, but wait and see” attitude, a committee was designated to meet with a committee of the WP. At one of the meetings the WP comrades indicated their desire to publish a tendency organ after unity, for internal party circulation. This was immediately taken up by the SWP leaders and the party members were told that the real obstacle to unity was this demand for an independent tendency organ. Since the SWP leaders are “smart” people they did not put this down in writing but spread it throughout the party.

Thereupon the Minority addressed a communication to the WP asking the WP comrades to be satisfied with an internal party bulletin provided the right of a group to publish its own bulletin for internal party circulation be recognized by the SWP leaders. This proposition was accepted by the WP comrades but then the SWP leaders simply stated that the question of the tendency bulletin was not at all important and was not the one to prevent unity. The programmatic differences were important and these had to be discussed.

More than six months after the adoption of a resolution providing for a “thorough discussion” with the WP covering all of the differences between the parties, the Political Committee of the SWP presented the WP with a list of about fifteen questions and requested the latter to state its position on all of the enumerated questions. This apparently is to be the beginning of the “thorough discussion,” although the list of questions was accompanied by a resolution which stated that on the basis of the answers to the questions the coming convention would definitely decide on the question of unification.

(To be continued)

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