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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 – VI

(16 September 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 37, 16 September 1946, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The greatest number of SWP members has been recruited since Trotsky’s death. They have been educated on Cannon’s concepts of organization and on Trotsky’s polemical exaggerations against the Minority of 1940. Very few of the members know of The New Course, where Trotsky presents a picture of what a real Bolshevik organization should be. The members are devoted revolutionists but one could also say that of the “third-period” Stalinists (between 1929 and 1934). They are militant, aggressive, self-sacrificing. But they do not have the critical attitude that should prevail in a revolutionary Marxist party.

Building a Revolutionary Party

The task that confronts us at present is the same that faced the revolutionary Marxists in the last quarter of a century – the building of a revolutionary party. We start from the basic premise that for a successful struggle for socialism the working class must have its own party composed of the most conscious, the most militant elements of the proletariat. To look for a victorious struggle on the part of the working class in spite of its subjection to the degrading influence of capitalism, without the leadership of a party that is composed of those elements who have to a certain extent freed themselves from those influences, is utopian.

The party that we want to build must base itself firmly on the fundamentals of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky. But it must be a party where the statements of the great teachers of socialism are not to be considered as sacred dogmas. Our party must be one where one can feel perfectly free to introduce new ideas and challenge old ones; where new ideas will be met on the plane of argument and not of name-calling. We want a party which will consider the facts of life much more important than any theory. In the party that we want to build controversies will not be settled by quotations but by an analysis of all the existing factors.

In the party we want to build discussion will not be considered as “kibitzing” but as a vital necessity for the solution of problems and for the education of the membership. Discussion should not be counterposed to activity; it is part of the activity of a party. It cannot monopolize the life of the party but without it there can be no purposeful activity.

The backbone of a revolutionary party must consist of militant proletarians. But we must reject the concept that their task is only to follow the leaders. We must consciously aim to educate the workers who join the party to have a critical spirit. We understand very well the difficulties which confront every worker in his attempt to educate himself in the principles of Marxism. He works too hard under capitalism to be able to devote many hours to reading and study. But from the very moment he enters the party a worker must be made to feel that while he is educating himself he must listen to arguments carefully and make up his mind to the best of his ability on the basis of the arguments. A critical attitude on the part of the rank and file is essential to a revolutionary party.

Our party must be a disciplined party but its discipline is not based on rules and regulations. It is the discipline of comrades devoted to a great cause and conscious of the fact that without discipline in action they can achieve nothing. It is a discipline based primarily on the correctness of the leadership and not on the ability of the leaders to order people. A living, thinking party is not an undisciplined party; it has a higher form of discipline than the monolithic party.

Particular ideas and practices which now prevail in the SWP and which may be termed “Bolshevism-à-la-Cannon” must be rejected as alien to a revolutionary party. There must be no build-up of leaders. An opponent party must not be considered an “enemy party” when it is close to us in program and activities; comrades who for some reason split from us are not to be considered “renegades,” when they are loyal to the revolutionary movement, and our members must not be filled with hate toward such comrades.

Distortion of an opponent’s position must not be tolerated; the position and arguments of an opponent must be presented with the greatest honesty.

The Cannonite practice of discussing all important political and organizational questions in a secret bulletin must be rejected. All good discussion articles on all important questions should be included in the public theoretical organ; and the discussion bulletin should be available to all those who are interested. A revolutionary party is part of the working class and has no secrets from the workers.

Our very existence is based on our confidence that the kind of a party we want to build can be built and will be built. Our confidence stems not only from the fact that such a party is necessary but also from the historical fact that such a party was actually created and succeeded in leading the Russian workers to a successful revolution. I am firmly of the opinion that the Bolshevik party under Lenin and Trotsky was the kind of a party that we want to create.

This does not mean that we defend every act of the Bolshevik party. There is room in our party for those who think that in such and such a particular case the Bolsheviks were wrong. To me Bolshevism means the theoretical, strategical and tactical ideas by which the Russian masses were mobilized for a successful assault on the Russian capitalists and landlords. Ninety times out of a hundred they who sincerely attack Bolshevism on some organizational or theoretical question confuse Bolshevism with Stalinism. Cannonism has furnished another weapon to those who do not understand but wish to attack Bolshevism.

One idea that we must put forth and which the Bolsheviks never thought of mentioning is the necessity to guard against a bureaucratic degeneration, such as the Stalinist degeneration. Trotsky once stated that it is not the aim of a revolutionary party to guard against degeneration but to make the revolution. I cannot accept that idea.

One of Trotsky’s great contributions to Marxism is his explanation for the Stalinist degeneration. He showed that it was due to the backwardness of Russia and the failure of the world revolution. The terrible lack of goods with which to satisfy the needs of the masses created the conditions necessary for the usurpation of power by the bureaucracy of the workers’ state. It now appears most likely that the taking of power by the working class will be followed by a period of scarcity or, under the best of circumstances, a period of difficult readjustment. The danger of a bureaucratization of a section of the party is very great. It is too risky to depend solely on favorable economic conditions to prevent degeneration. We must depend also upon a party of alert and independent revolutionists who will offer the greatest resistance to any attempt by any section of the bureaucracy to usurp the power of the workers.

Our party must educate its members to be aware of the close connection between the great aims of socialism and the means used to build the party and achieve those aims. The revolutionary socialist who constantly keeps the ultimate aims of socialism in view will inevitably reject clique politics, petty maneuvering and distortion of an opponent’s position as methods hostile to the achievement of our aims, as methods laying the basis for a future degeneration. The methods of Cannon are methods of people who see in the organization an end in itself and who forget the great aims of our party.

The Workers Party

A few days after we left the SWP and joined the WP, the latter party had a national convention. The delegates showed an independence that is impossible to conceive of in the SWP. The constant shifting of delegates, depending upon the issues and the arguments showed an open-mindedness and independence that are practically inconceivable in the SWP. In speaking to the delegates one did not feel as if he were arguing with a stone wall, a feeling that comes over one when speaking to a gathering of members of the SWP.

It is true that the SWP at present has greater connections with the trade unions and has more members and more proletarian members. But the Stalinists have still more members and more industrial workers who are members. We have supreme confidence that in the end a living, thinking membership will attract to itself the best elements among the workers, and by virtue of a correct political line which can come only as a result of tackling problems on a Marxist basis, will succeed in winning the masses.

We have received a severe blow because the SWP leaders have rejected unity. We do not give up our hopes for ultimate unity. But if there is no unity then we shall continue to build our party, firmly convinced that the principles upon which it is built and an independent revolutionary membership will contribute enormously tp the victory of socialism, which to us is impossible without democracy and freedom.


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