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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 – III

(August 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 34, 26 August 1946, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A Discussion to Prevent Unity

Several questions present themselves in connection with the list of subjects for discussion. Do not the leaders of the SWP know the position of the WP on the various questions enumerated by them for discussion? If not what kind of revolutionaries are these who pretend to lead a revolutionary political party? If they know the position of the WP on the various subjects do they expect to hold a real discussion, in the sense of trying to persuade the WP comrades that they are wrong? And suppose they do not succeed in that task? Are they not able, as political leaders to state beforehand, on, the basis of their knowledge of the WP program, whether or not the differences permit membership in one party?

And if the “discussion” is for the purpose of acquainting the SWP members with the program of the WP, how does it happen, as asked by Max Shachtman, that the members were and are all opposed to unity? Are they opposed to it because they are ignorant of the WP program?

If one considers the list of questions it becomes clear even to an inexperienced person that the “discussion” is to be held not for the purpose of arriving at an honest decision as to whether unity is possible or desirable but solely for the purpose of giving a political cover to an unpolitical rejection of unity.

I quote from a statement by the Minority, dealing with the list of questions to be discussed. “The questions listed by the PC for discussion include all subjects upon which there is or may possibly be some differences with the WP. From the point of view of a discussion on unity they are absurd; but from the point of view of confusing an inexperienced membership and killing the possibility of unity the questions listed for “discussion” were formulated by “clever” people who see in “clever” maneuvering a solution for the problem of preventing unity without giving their real reasons for opposition to unity ...

“Undoubtedly the dialecticians of the PC will prove that unity is impossible by citing the law of quantity changing into quality. One or two differences, we shall be told, may not be a bar to unity, but fifteen differences create a qualitative change.

“What other purpose than the one mentioned above can a list of questions have that would fight the battle of 1940 all over again; that asks for a discussion on the methods, principles and philosophy of Marxism; that raises such a silly subject for discussion as the attitude of the WP to the Young Peoples Socialist League; that wants to discuss subjects that are part of history (India and China during the war); that wants to revive a discussion on Russia ...?

“Honest and serious revolutionists confronted with the question of unity with another organization would take the trouble, once the question was raised, to find out the basic program of the opponent party with which unity was proposed; would follow the agitational press of that party to see what its position is on the basic questions of the day; to decide whether the differences that exist are or are not compatible with membership in one party; they would find out whether the membership of the opponent party are willing to abide by the decisions of the majority; honest and serious revolutionists would propose a period of cooperation to decide whether unity will be followed by harmony in action ...

“From the point of view of unity the attitude of the Workers Party to the war waged by the United States is of infinitely greater importance than its attitude to China. But the former question is not raised in the list of questions. From the point of view of unity the position of the Workers Party on the no-strike pledge is a thousand times more important than its attitude to the YPSL but that is not mentioned in the list of questions.”

If the coming convention of the SWP is not asked to decide that unity at present is not feasible because there are too many differences, it will be only because we have succeeded in exposing Cannon’s petty maneuver. It is difficult, however, to find what else he can do – except to state that the Minority and the WP leaders were not honest in proposing unity and accuse those of us who are sincerely for unity of using the question of unity as a maneuver for a split.

Conscious of the dishonesty which accompanied every one of their steps connected with their maneuvers against unity, the leaders of the Majority decided to smear the leaders of the Minority and of the WP as dishonest. They discovered that Max Shachtman had written some letters to me. One would imagine from the stir created that they found the letters in my coat pocket and not in the Bulletin of the Workers Party, a magazine for discussion of party problems available to non-party members as well as to party members. In the SWP there is published an internal party bulletin which is marked in bold letters INTERNAL, and in smaller letters “for party members only.” The leaders of the WP on the other hand, very properly consider that a revolutionary party as part of the working class can have no political secrets from the working class.

In these letters, Shachtman discussed with me the policy which he thought should be followed by the Minority of the SWP. On the basis of the absolutely correct premise that Cannon would never permit unity at the present relative strength of the two parties, he urged that we leave the party because it would be far more gainful to the revolutionary movement. The letters clearly indicate that Shachtman and the other comrades of the WP were seriously and sincerely for unity but that they realized that unity was not to be achieved because of the opposition of Cannon.

With great glee Cannon and his dutiful hand-raisers pounced upon the letters; they printed them in their secret bulletin. For the first time since the split Shachtman had something published in the SWP press. The leaders of the SWP launched an attack on Goldman and Morrow as initiators of unity proposals for the purpose of creating a split. Of course Cannon could easily frustrate such a purpose by accepting unity, but that did not occur to him.

We challenge anyone to read Shachtman’s letters and find a single sentence which would prove the absolutely unfounded charge that the proposal for unity was the result of a conspiracy between the Minority and WP leaders to create a split in the SWP.

Study the record made by the various groups on the question of unity and you cannot help but conclude that the Minority and the WP sincerely accepted unity whereas the Cannonite clique, in a thoroughly dishonest manner, sabotaged unity. The record of the Cannonites is a record of petty maneuverers who fear to meet in intellectual conflict a large group of independent revolutionists. In the statement from which I already quoted we said:

“It is tragic enough to see that leaders of a revolutionary party insist on continuing a split which necessarily is detrimental to the movement.

“But what is doubly tragic is that in a movement founded by a genius who is the very incarnation of intellectual integrity, a leadership relies not on an honest presentation of a position but on petty, dishonest maneuvers calculated only to fool the membership.

“It is clear that a desire to build a monolithic party goes hand in hand with political dishonesty.”

(To be continued)

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