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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 – V

(9 September 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 36, 9 September 1946, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A most natural question that I am frequently asked is: why did not the Minority remain in the SWP to fight for its ideas? Under normal circumstances a minority is not justified in leaving a revolutionary party because its ideas are not accepted. It was possible for us to remain and by patient, persistent work attempt to win a majority to our ideas. As a matter of fact our struggle against the Cannon clique was not without some success. No more of the leader-worship articles by Hansen appeared in the SWP press. After our fight against the idea that members of the SWP should not even talk with members of the WP the claim was made that by censuring four comrades for discussing the Russian question with WP members it was not meant that party members should not talk with WP comrades. The term “renegade” ceased to be thrown about so freely when referring to the leaders of the WP. Cannon stopped referring to discussions as “kibitzing.”

Our decision to leave the SWP and join the WP was based on the fundamental premise that if there is no unity we can do far more fruitful work for the cause of revolutionary socialism in the WP. Were there not in existence a party composed of comrades with the same ideas of a revolutionary party as ours, there would be no alternative for us but to accept the discipline of the Cannonite majority. But with such a party in existence it seems much more effective to unite the forces that are opposed to a monolithic conception of a party than to keep them divided. To unite them means to strengthen these forces.

A prolonged and severe factional struggle represents a tremendous waste of energy under the best conditions. A factional struggle under a regime of people who see in maneuvering the solution to all political problems means wasting ninety per cent of one’s efforts on the most petty issues. For instance, the whole question of unity was transformed into a question of loyalty and disloyalty. The question of democratic demands was shifted to an argument as to whether the United States would or would not send food to Europe – the leading Cannonites stoutly maintaining that this country would not send any food to the European countries.

Another reason for leaving was the fact that had we remained we would have been expelled for fraternizing politically with the comrades of the WP.

Before we proposed unity and before the WP accepted our proposal we regarded the comrades of the WP as devoted revolutionists. After the WP accepted our proposal we regarded them as a tendency in the Fourth International, as Trotskyists. It is significant that the widow of Trotsky who understands Trotsky’s method and approach to problems better than any one living, speaks of the two Trotskyist parties in the United States.

It was inevitable that the Minority should fraternize politically with the WP. What did this fraternization consist of? Mainly in discussing the problem of unity and all other political problems and in getting together in socials and classes. The fact of the matter is that for most of the Minority comrades it was impossible to discuss with the leading Cannonites and it was easy and profitable to discuss with the WP comrades.

The idea of treating devoted revolutionists as renegades is repulsive. Even if I recognize the necessity of splitting and remaining apart for a period I must treat those who are with me in the great struggle for a socialist society as revolutionists. I can fight them on the point upon which we disagree but act in the friendliest manner and join with them in all actions on those tasks upon which there is no disagreement. Cannon's attitude of trying to create a stone wall between the members of the two parties was hateful to me. Nothing infuriated and alarmed me so much as the inculcation of hate among the members of the SWP to the members of the WP.

Under the circumstances, the Minority decided to continue political fraternization with the WP regardless of the policy of the Majority. I do not say that the question of fraternization was a principle with us, although the policy against fraternization with revolutionists seemed monstrous to us. Were the SWP a mass party we would have accepted the policy of the Majority in order to remain in the mass party. But since the SWP, although larger than the WP, is still a very small group it seemed to us to be contrary to the interests of the revolutionary movement to abide by the policy of the majority.

To the hue and cry raised against us on the ground that we were violating the principle of democratic centralism we answered that this principle should be observed by revolutionists only when its observance means the building of a revolutionary party and not when it is used to cover up a crime against the revolutionary movement. We understand very well that in the last analysis this means that every revolutionist must judge for himself whether a certain act is so detrimental to the revolutionary movement that he must disregard the principle of democratic centralism. The rejection of unity was a criminal act against the revolutionary movement and democratic centralism played a secondary role with us.

Comrade Felix Morrow and other comrades who were with the Minority have decided to remain in the SWP. While I am of the opinion that their efforts there will not be one-tenth so fruitful as working in the WP I wish them all the success in the world. Their success is our success for it will mean eventual unity of the two parties and a tremendous union officialdom of a capitalist state, they tried to confound strengthening of the Trotskyist movement.

Many comrades want an explanation for the situation that has developed in the SWP. The “theoreticians” of that party constantly demanded of us to show the “social roots” of the Cannon clique. Starting from the premise that Stalinist tendencies must come from a bureaucracy which has social roots either in a degenerated workers' state or in the trade us by asking for proof that the clique is part of the degenerated workers’ state or the trade union bureaucracy. We simply laughed at this formalistic thinking driven to a nonsensical extreme.

It is undeniable that when Trotsky was living he did all of the theoretical thinking for the Trotskyist groups the world over. We all recognized his great genius and for the most part accepted his ideas without critical analysis. It was a tremendous asset to have a Trotsky at the head of our movement, guiding its intellectual life, but it. was also a disadvantage in that it prevented the development of Independent thought on the part of Trotsky’s followers. The struggle in the party in 1940 showed that to many of the Trotskyists independent thinking was a subject of scorn. The hardened Cannonites not only disagreed with the Minority of that period but they laughed at the idea of arriving at conclusions independent of and opposed to Trotsky.

So long as Trotsky was living, Cannon did not openly express any of his “independent” ideas about organizational questions. To a few who knew him he confided that he was “not a Trotskyist but a Leninist” on the organizational question. On theoretical strategical find tactical questions he was more than willing to follow Trotsky's lead.

Lacking confidence (and justifiably so) in his own ability to deal with theoretical ideas and not having sufficient confidence in any one else, it was only natural for Cannon, after Trotsky’s death, to proclaim that Trotsky had furnished us with sufficient ideas and that all we need is to follow them. Anyone who presented any new idea or even a modification of an old one was looked upon as a disturber of the peace, a “kibitzer,” to use Cannon’s expression for those who wanted to discuss problems. In a movement founded by one who had nothing of the conservative in him it was declared highly desirable and commendable to be conservative!

The greatest importance was placed on organizational questions and by that is meant the creation of a machine which responds automatically to the will of the controllers of the machine. The machine was to be kept in good order through a system of education based on questions and answers derived from Cannon’s handbook Socialism On Trial. That constitutes the catechism.

The concept of a party as a living organism with intellectual controversy and participation in the class struggle as the two vital necessities of its life is completely alien to Cannon. As I indicated above he is the product of the Zinovievist period of the Communist International. He once wrote an article declaring that the weakness of the Communist Party was due to the fact that it was not sufficiently monolithic.

As part of the explanation of the success of Cannon one must not overlook the role which a machine plays even in a small organization. Many who otherwise would be working for a capitalist under adverse conditions find themselves doing easy and pleasant work, find themselves in a position where they appear as leaders – on a small scale it is true, but still leaders with some prestige. They could not possibly play that role outside of the machine.

(To be continued)

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