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Murry Weiss

Two Concepts of Socialist Unity

What Basis for Regroupment?

(Winter 1957)

From International Socialist Review, Vol. 28 No. 1, Winter 1957, pp. 3–11.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The question of the regroupment of revolutionary socialist forces has been posed before the radical “workers in the US for close to one year – that is, since the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union disclosed a severe crisis in Soviet society and precipitated crises in the Communist parties throughout the world.

The discussion on regroupment obviously signifies a profoundly altered relation of forces among the three basic tendencies in the international working class movement – Stalinism, Social Democracy and revolutionary Marxism. It is a discussion that can lead to far-reaching progressive changes in the political life of the advanced section of the working class.

It is therefore timely to consider the following questions:

  1. Precisely what do the various tendencies in the working class mean by regroupment?
  2. In what direction are these tendencies and their various sub-groups moving in their actual political evolution?

Our Approach to Regroupment

A brief comment is in order on the approach of the American Trotskyists to the problem of revolutionary socialist regroupment so that the reader may bear in mind the standpoint from which we evaluate the positions of other tendencies.

We believe that the discussion on regroupment arises primarily from the mass action of the working class in the Soviet orbit. The revolutionary motion of the Soviet and East European working class has already resulted in the toppling of the Stalin cult – the main ideological pillar in the system of bureaucratic rule in the Soviet Union. With the revelations emanating from the Twentieth Congress and the revolutionary ferment in Eastern Europe – Poznan in June 1956, the October days in Poland, the October-November insurrection in Hungary – the bureaucratic equilibrium of the Communist parties throughout the world was irreparably disrupted. A chronic crisis developed in all these parties. In turn, this altered drastically the situation in the working class movement as a whole. The crisis of Stalinism raised all basic questions of socialist program and practice for millions of Communist workers. In all radical organizations it reopened the question of the character of Stalinism, the prospects for a socialist solution to the crisis in the Soviet orbit and all the problems of building revolutionary socialist parties in capitalist countries. “Closed” programmatic questions which had become fixed into traditional positions of the various tendencies were unlocked and became subject to re-evaluation.

In our opinion the revolutionary upsurge of the Soviet orbit working class is in its first stages. The struggle is bound to spread and become more intense. The working class and youth in the Soviet Union itself are heading for open mass struggle. The goal of this struggle is the overthrow of the Soviet bureaucracy and the restoration of workers democracy on the foundations of the socialized property forms established by the October 1917 revolution.

This means that the forces which gave rise to the crisis of Stalinism and posed the problem of regroupment can be expected to continue to operate with even greater power. At the same time world capitalism is suffering all the agonies of a dying social system. Round after round of colonial uprisings is undermining imperialism and preparing the conditions for a revolutionary upsurge in the most powerful centers of world capitalism. The crisis of capitalism, no less than the crisis of Stalinism, sharply poses the need for building revolutionary socialist parties.

The Significance of Program

We think the circumstances call for a thorough discussion of program as the prelude to organizational steps leading towards actual regroupment. The question of program, in our opinion, is decisive. Mere unity, without a correct program, can be just as catastrophic for the fate of socialism as working class disunity. History offers many examples of powerful and unified labor organizations and political parties which, because of false programs, suffered devastating defeats.

A Marxist program is decisive because it embodies the distilled experience of the international working class in centuries of struggle against capitalism; it organizes and systematizes our understanding of the lessons of these struggles; it assimilates the lessons of the first victorious working class revolution against capitalism in Russia and the decades of struggle to defend the Soviet Union against imperialist attack as well as struggle against Stalinist degeneration of the first workers state. The Marxist program incorporates the invaluable and bitterly learned lessons of the victory of fascism over the German, Italian and Spanish workers; it enables us to grasp the significance of the vast upheavals in the colonial world and their place in struggle against world capitalism.

For the American workers a Marxist program is decisive because the problem of problems in this country is to free the American labor movement from the blight of class collaborationism in the economic and political fields. A struggle for a Marxist program in the US is not, as some depict it, the preoccupation of sectarian dogmatists and hair-splitters; it is a life and death matter for the class-conscious vanguard to wage this struggle and to pit the Marxist program of class-struggle socialism against the pro-capitalist ideology of the class-collaborationist labor bureaucracy.

Radical workers fighting for a socialist society are divided by program. The basic dividing line is class struggle versus class collaboration, i.e., revolutionary Marxism versus reformism. The two major proponents of class collaboration are Stalinism and Social Democracy. For all the difference between these two tendencies, the theory and practice of class collaboration is the one thing they have in common. In the case of the Social Democracy, class collaboration operates through a labor bureaucracy wedded in its material privileges and political ideology to the capitalist system. In the case of Stalinism, subordination to an oppressive bureaucratic caste in the Soviet Union has led the Communist parties to advocate their own brand of class collaboration – with the “progressive” and “liberal” capitalists, of course. The task of regroupment, in our view, does not consist in ignoring or watering clown the programmatic differences between revolutionary Marxism on the one hand and Stalinism and Social Democracy on the other. On the contrary, the task is to regroup the radical workers around the program of revolutionary Marxism and thereby create the class-conscious vanguard that will enter the mainstream of the working class to bring militant socialist consciousness to its struggle.

The Next Step

How is this task to be carried out? What are the next steps that should be taken in view of the deep ferment in the radical movement? In its statement on Regroupment of Revolutionary Socialist Forces in the United States, published in the Militant, Jan. 11, the National Committee of the Socialist Workers Party poses the problem as follows :

“In the next stage of the discussion [on regroupment] two different ways of proceeding are counterposed: (1) Shall we first attempt a general unification, leaving the discussion and clarification of programmatic questions for a later time? Or (2) shall we first explore the different views, clarify the various positions, and try to reach agreement and unification on at least the minimum fundamentals? It seems to us that the latter procedure is preferable and that the serious elements taking part in the discussion will agree that programmatic issues have to be considered and clarified before durable organizational conclusions can be reached.”

To be sure, there undoubtedly will be situations where political organization appears to take precedence over clarification of programmatic questions. If, for example, a mass political breakaway from capitalist politics were taking place in the US and the formation of a Labor Party were on the order of the day, revolutionary socialists would participate in the organization of such a party despite the inadequacy or falsity of its program. The struggle for a revolutionary socialist regroupment would then take place within the arena of such a mass political party of the American workers.

But in this case the very formation of a Labor Party would signify the enormous advance of the programmatic principle of independent working class politics.

In the present situation, however, the immediate prospect for such a Labor Party does not yet exist. And certainly the necessary conditions for such a development will not, in our opinion, be brought into existence by merely uniting the various radical formations on an undefined and confused program, or worse yet, on the program of the very tendencies – Social Democracy and Stalinism – whose bankruptcy has provoked the regroupment discussion.

Moreover, we will find that the proposals for “unity first, discussion of program later,” have a definite programmatic content. The unity-first advocates often try to make it appear that it is merely a question of putting aside the “old divisive issues.” But on closer examination it turns out that programmatic conditions, and even ultimatums, are closely tied in with their proposals for unity. We think it is wiser to discuss questions of program under conditions free of such organizational pressures and maneuvers, with all opinions openly expressed.

Now let us turn to the evolution of the different positions on regroupment and the political tendencies they express.

The Communist Party

After the first impact of the Twentieth Congress and even before the Khrushchev revelations became public, Eugene Dennis, in his report to the April 28-May 1 meeting of the National Committee of the Communist Party of the US, said:

“Not the least important of the new and serious problems we should concern ourselves with as we probe and re-assess the present status of our Party – is the question that keeps coming to the forefront in respect to the possibility of organizing a new and broader mass party of socialism ... This of course does not call for any move to form a new party of socialism prematurely ... Considerable headway can surely be made in this direction in the next year or two. But this will be a process. It will necessitate sharp political and ideological struggles, as well as collective participation with the bulk of the socialist-minded elements in united front activity in concert with other progressive forces.”

The fact that this was no mere routine comment was established shortly by the opening of a series of symposiums and debates on socialist program in different parts of the country in which the representatives of the Communist Party appeared on the same platform with representatives of other tendencies in the radical movement. To be sure the CP leaders inclined, at first, to engage in such discussions primarily with the Social Democrats and pacifists, but it is notable that they did in time agree to include representatives of the revolutionary socialist position in these discussions.

In any case the Twentieth Congress impelled the CP not only to open an internal discussion on the question of the Stalin cult, it was also compelled to redefine its attitude and relations to the other political tendencies in the working class. This was a most welcome and heartening development.

The Khrushchev revelations prompted the Daily Worker editors to emphasize strongly the re-groupment issue. In an editorial, June 6, on The Khrushchev Speech they said:

“The present situation in our opinion, underlines the urgency of the outlook put forward by Eugene Dennis at the National Committee meeting of the Communist Party of a new ‘mass party of socialism in our country’ and the need to ‘create conditions for such a necessary and historic development.’ We believe that the situation calls for an all-out effort and co-operation of all socialist-minded forces, in order to bring about such a new party without unnecessary delay, and as quickly as circumstances will permit.”

The Gates Group

It should be noted that this emphatic formulation of the question came from the group of Daily Worker editors headed by John Gates, who, by this time, had emerged as a faction in the CP characterized by a more outspoken criticism of the Kremlin. While the Gates faction, along with the rest of the CP leadership, has failed up to now to probe the fundamental questions regarding the roots of Stalinism, it certainly has reflected the feeling of revulsion against the Kremlin oligarchy in the ranks of the party. Side by side with this tendency at least to loosen, if not break, the ties with the Kremlin, the Gates group has displayed a disposition to accentuate all the reformist and class-collaborationist dogmas implicit in Stalinism. In this respect it appears to propose that the crisis in the CP be overcome by a reconciliation with the American labor bureaucracy and Social Democracy. Nevertheless, the Gates group should be viewed as an important expression of the break-up of Stalinist monolithism in the American CP. Undoubtedly there are many in the ranks of the party who look to it for leadership in breaking with Stalinism in a revolutionary socialist direction. The most hopeful aspect of the Gates group in this respect is that it has been the most insistent on maintaining the discussion within the CP as well as participating in the interchange of views in the radical movement as a whole.

The Gates group’s position on the regroupment issue found its way into the draft resolution of the Communist Party NC, not without some modification of course. The Draft Resolution, issued Sept. 13, states:

“For some months our Party has had under consideration the question presented in Eugene Dennis’ report to the National Committee meeting last April, of our attitude towards the perspective of a united party of socialism in this country. The new developments point to a certain revitalization and growth of socialist-oriented and pro-Marxist currents and groupings. In the past we tended to assume that all that was worth while in other socialist currents and groupings would inevitably flow into our own organization. This assumption was always incorrect and should be replaced by a serious and painstaking effort to assist in the eventual development of the broadest possible unity of all socialist-minded elements. Such a development can by no means be expected as a quick and easy solution to the common problems of all socialist groupings, or to the specific problems of our own Party.”

Differences on Regroupment

This agreed-upon formulation in the Draft Resolution merely covered up the actual disagreements between the two factions in the leadership, headed respectively by Gates and William Z. Foster. In the October 1956 issue of Political Affairs Foster directs the following attack at the Gates position:

“The Right [Gates group] also seized upon Comrade Dennis’ proposal at the April meeting of the National Committee to the effect that the Party should look forward to the eventual formation of a ‘new mass party of Socialism’ through a merger of the Communist Party and other Left groups in this country ... The Rights, by giving the whole project an air of immediate possibility, also used this slogan in a liquidationist manner. For there would be no point in rebuilding the Communist Party if it were soon to be replaced by a new and glittering mass party.”

Gates retorted to this in the November 1956 issue of Political Affairs:

“I do not agree with those who say the slogan of a new united party of Socialism should be de-emphasized and put on the shelf. In actuality this would mean to discard it and not to work seriously for it. Of course it will not come about overnight, but we must be foremost in working for socialist unity.”

Apparently in the heat of the factional struggle within the CP, Foster found that his frontal attack on this point met with considerable disfavor in the ranks. Whereupon he beat a retreat. In the CP Discussion Bulletin No. 5, issued Jan. 15, Foster makes this revealing remark:

“Another basic lesson newly learned by practically our entire Party is that henceforth we must take a more cooperative attitude towards other Left groupings. This has been a serious weakness in the past. Our Party will – has in fact – abandoned its erstwhile conception, actual or implied, that it has a ‘monopoly’ upon the propagation of socialism in this country. It must also orient upon the expectation of eventually merging with some of these groups into a United Party of Socialism. Early tendencies to look upon such a development as an immediate possibility have been at least partly liquidated. Only a political novice could ignore the political unifying effect in the Party of this new attitude towards the broad Left, which is being almost unanimously accepted.” (Our emphasis)

For a time, as the Foster faction pressed an offensive against the Gates group, there was a toning down in the Daily Worker of any mention of a “new mass party of Socialism.” More recently, on the eve of the Communist Party convention, Gates again expressed himself on this question in a manner which would indicate that he feels considerable confidence in a popular reception for his position on regroupment in the party ranks. In the Feb. 11 Worker he says:

“There are many differences among forces on the Left, serious and important. In the first place, we need to discuss these differences with each other, argue things out; we must also strive to work together and act together on those things about which we Can agree, and in these discussions together, working together, acting together, we will be able to achieve – finally – organizational unity on a socialist program ... But if we cannot learn to respect the differences within our ranks in the Communist party, we will never learn to respect the opinions of others, outside our ranks.”

The Foster Group

Why is the idea of regroupment so popular in the ranks of the Communist Party? We should not discount the appeal it has for such elements that would like to return to the days when the CP had close relations with the labor bureaucracy and the capitalist liberals. Such elements probably think of re-groupment in that sense. But at a deeper level, the workers in the party who are striving towards a revolutionary socialist solution to the crisis, see in the idea of orienting towards a new, unified socialist party two basic things:

  1. They see a means for assuring a genuine break with Stalinism and the bureaucratic domination of the Kremlin over the Communist parties; and
  2. they see a means for continuing the discussion within the CP and among all radical organizations.

Foster’s barbs at the Gates group on the question of regroupment are not directed against the Social Democratic and “liquidationist” tendencies implicit in the Gates position. On all fundamental questions which touch on attitude towards reformist, class collaboration and the labor-bureaucracy, Foster is at one with Gates. The leaders of both factions favor support of the Democratic Party and “multi-class coalition” politics. Neither Gates nor Foster have broken with Stalinist people’s frontism in favor of the position of class struggle socialism.

Foster’s antagonism to the re-groupment idea stems from his determination to restore Stalinist monolithism in the Communist Party. This determination has been strengthened by the recent “back to Stalinism” declarations of Khrushchev and Co. Foster wants to end the crisis within the CP by reimposing the rule of the gag on all criticism and discussion. His appeal to the workers in the party against Gates’ liquidationism is purely demagogic. Yet many workers in the party, according to all evidence, recoil from the Gates group and tend toward the Fosterites, precisely because of the fear that Gates and his associates want to break with Stalinism only to lead them into the swamp of State Department “socialism.” On the other hand, these same workers display a keen hostility towards Foster’s thinly disguised plans to turn back the clock and re-establish the power of the old bureaucratic machine in the party.

We see, therefore, that the devoted revolutionary militants within the CP have been unable thus far to find a focal point in the national leadership for their strivings to get back to the revolutionary path. The rank and file CPers have a generally low opinion of all the leaders and see inadequacy and grave faults in both groups. This has resulted in the appearance, on a local basis, of a number of groups in the secondary leadership and the rank and file that are seeking to work out the basic programmatic problems, acquire an understanding of how Stalinism arose, and determine how revolutionary workers can reorient in this crisis.

This process requires time and patience. The break-up of Stalinism and the socialist regroupment of worker-revolutionists who adhered to it is a painful and tortuous process. It will vary in form and tempo from country to country. In the US, where the pressure of prosperity-reaction continues to be dominant, the process confronts additional and exceptional difficulties. Above all the process requires the continuation of the discussion and its advancement to a higher level. That is the main point that the rank and file of the Communist Party appear to be grasping and that is why they favor the idea of regroupment, however it may have been formulated.

The greatest help that can be given to the continuation and maturing of the discussion within the Communist Party is to advance the broader discussion within the radical movement as a whole. The broad discussion can help prevent the hard-shelled Stalinists from abruptly reimposing their bureaucratic regime on the CP. It can also help considerably to provide nourishment to elements within both the Foster and Gates groups who are seeking a way to revolutionary Marxist conclusions. In addition the broad, organized and inclusive discussion provides an arena for the thousands of revolutionary elements who have left the Communist Party during the recent years and for additional thousands who were in the periphery of the American Stalinist movement.

We must therefore regard Foster’s policy as the greatest threat to the progressive outcome of a discussion on revolutionary socialist regroupment. Foster’s policy, however, is not the only obstacle to the discussion that has appeared. A threat has also appeared from the direction of the American Social Democracy.

Thomas Walks Out

After the first impact of the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the iSoviet Union had registered on the consciousness of the radical workers in the US, an important meeting took place May 27 in New York City at Carnegie Hall at which both Norman Thomas and Eugene Dennis were present on the platform. This meeting, while excluding revolutionary socialist representation from the speakers’ list, was the beginning of the process of interradical organization discussion.

At the May 15, 1956 meeting of the National Action Committee of the Socialist Party the following discussion was noted in the minutes:

“It was reported that the Fellowship of Reconciliation was sponsoring a meeting at Carnegie Hall at which speakers would include Norman Thomas, Eugene Dennis, General Secretary of the Communist Party, A.J. Muste and William DuBois. There was discussion as to the advisability of cooperating in programs which give an audience to Communist Party spokesmen.”

By the beginning of September, 1956 the “discussion as to advisability” had already led to outright opposition to such activities. At the Sept. 1-2 meeting of the National Executive Committee of the Socialist Party it was reported that the Los Angeles Local was scheduling a debate with the Communist Party. The NEC passed the following motion:

“That it is the feeling of the NEC that the cause of American socialism is not advanced by the actions of the Socialist Party groups which engage in joint activity with the Communist Party or any of its affiliates.”

On Nov. 15, when a bitter dispute on the Hungarian revolution was raging in the Communist Party, the NEC took note of a projected symposium in Detroit that was to include Norman Thomas and a representative of the CP. A motion was passed.

“To delegate Comrade Myers to convey to Norman Thomas the NEC feeling that it is unwise for Socialist Party speakers to appear on panels with spokesmen for the Communist Party and various Trotskyite groups.”

Thomas then publicly withdrew from the speakers’ list. Moreover, he wrote an article for the December Socialist Call in which he laid down the conditions for unity with anyone who was “tainted” by previous association with both “Stalinists and Trotskyists.” In this article Thomas said that while he was “inclined to accept the belated sincerity of American Communists who, since Khrushchev gave them permission for criticism, have gone beyond him in their reaction to Soviet intervention in Hungary” he would “want a period of probation to put the sincerity of Communist reformation to the test.” He spelled out exactly what he meant by “reformation.” “We must insist,” he declared, “that reformed Communists, Stalinists and Trotskyists, must repudiate doctrines and practices set up not by Stalin but by Lenin.”

Thus the discussion on regroupment was confronted with two actions by the Socialist Party leadership:

  1. A ban on discussion with representatives of the Communist Party, any affiliates of the Communist Party, any representative of the Socialist Workers Party (the American Trotskyists), or with any groups that had previously been in the CP or SWP.
  2. An ultimatum to these organizations demanding that they renounce Lenin and Leninism as a pre-condition for any discussion of unity.

SP-SDF Merger

This policy of Thomas and the Socialist Party developed against the background of the approaching merger between the SP and the Social Democratic Federation which was consummated in New York, Jan. 18–19, on the program and conditions of the right wing Social Democrats. The political character of this merger and its relation to the struggle for a revolutionary socialist regroupment, is clearly revealed in the documents of the SP left wing, organized in the Committee for a Socialist Program. The left wing mustered one third of the Socialist Party votes against the merger. (The vote was 200 in favor to 100 against.)

In a mimeographed letter, Nov. 3, David McReynolds, leader of the SP left wing, traced the struggle he had waged to promote unity with the SDF on “a more socialist statement than the 1955 ‘memorandum’ on merger.” McReynolds said he “made every effort in this direction,” but in the end “was finally convinced that merger with the SDF” on the basis of the 1955 memorandum “would not be socialist unity, and would be a block to socialist unity.” (Emphasis in original)

McReynolds therewith resigned from the unity negotiations committee in order to carry on his programmatic fight against the merger.

In his Nov. 3 letter McReynolds said:

“To accept the shamefully inadequate ‘memoranda’ would be politically wrong. I am not a political purist. We must compromise at times. But there are some things you do not compromise. You do not – ever – compromise socialist support of democracy. But merger with the SDF, which has given silent (and at times active) support to the totalitarian liberals, means just such compromise. You do not – ever – compromise socialist opposition to militarism and imperialism. But merger with the SDF means full support for the worst, most shameful policies of the State Dept. and John Foster Dulles.” (Our emphasis)

Another aspect of the Memorandum of Understanding was later spelled out by Louis P. Goldberg, Chairman of the SDF, at the merger convention. “We are organizing a new political party,” Goldberg explained, “which is pledged by our unity agreement not to rush rashly into the electoral field.” He concretized this delicate understatement by the following reassuring comment:

“The expression of fear in some corners that a new socialist party would interfere with labor’s political action is unfounded. Carrying out our document on political action, we will not nominate for public office candidates in opposition to those endorsed by the legitimate labor movement.”

The National Executive Committee of the merged SP-SDF indicated its attitude towards participation in the discussion on re-groupment in a motion passed at its Jan. 20 meeting:

“That no member, branch or local shall enter into any joint activity or project with any other political organization without the express permission or direction of the NEC or NAC, except as specifically provided in Section 6 of the Memorandum of Understanding in the report on political perspectives.”

Section 6 of the “Memorandum” urges “members of the United Party” who are in “liberal-labor organizations” that generally support the Democratic Party, “to stress the importance of independent political action.” However, section 7 says, “it shall be the privilege of individual state and local organizations to allow their individual members to support candidates for public office who have been endorsed by liberal and labor groups.” Thus, while denying freedom of SP-SDF branches to participate in either discussions or united actions with other working class organizations, the NEC provides full leeway for labor bureaucrats and others to act without restriction in support of capitalist parties and politicians.

In sum, the SP-SDF merger has the following political basis: acceptance of the foreign policy of the State Department socialists; support of the labor bureaucracy’s Democratic Party politics; support of the Second International program and organization including all “socialists in power” and, therefore, support of the imperialist policy pursued by these “socialists”; a ban on all discussion with any organization in the radical movement that does not get “cleared” by renouncing Leninism.

We cannot, therefore, consider this unification as helpful to a revolutionary socialist regroupment. On the contrary, it is a calculated blow at such a regroupment. It replaces the necessary process of programmatic discussion with ultimatums to capitulate to State Department socialism. It obstructs the efforts of radical workers to free themselves from the hopeless morass of capitalist politics. It can offer no acceptable way out to the workers caught in the crisis of Stalinism.

The Collapse of SP Left Wing

All the more regrettable is the fact that David McReynolds and a number of other leaders of the SP left wing defaulted on their pledge to carry out, to the very end, a principled fight against this obstruction to revolutionary socialist unity.

In his Nov. 3 letter McReynolds said:

“I propose to fight the issue every step of the way. The moderation we exercised at the Party convention in June, when we were working out, with our fellow socialists, ways of building the Party – that moderation will certainly not be evident in January when we will be meeting with non-socialist and undemocratic elements.”

He closed this letter with the emphatic promise:

“We shall never accept the ‘memoranda’ as the basis for unity.” (Emphasis in original)

Unfortunately, this promise was not kept. Instead, after the SP left wing had lost the referendum, in a letter dated Jan. 9, 1957, “urging every comrade remain in the Party and support unity,” McReynolds said, “It is politically meaningless for us to leave the Party. Where would we go?” He expressed the curious notion that “without question it [the merger] will be a blow to the left wing of the Party. But I believe it will strengthen the Party as a whole.” Accordingly he slipped into referring to “the value of unity.”

In this letter McReynolds proposes to abandon altogether the basic fight against the merger:

“Since it still seems quite possible to block unity at the convention itself I want to go into some detail as to why we not only should be united in remaining in the Party but should now support unity with the SDF and make no attempt to block it.” (Our emphasis)

The first reason he gave to abandon the fight is the following:

“If we ‘sabotage’ now then all the enthusiasm generated among right-wing socialist elements will be dashed to the ground. In the long run this will do us no good. On the other hand, the left wing socialist community wouldn’t see that any great principled stand had been taken, but would only assume we were being sectarian.”

McReynolds apparently forgot that in his Nov. 3 letter he had said,

“Comrades, do not feel you are being sectarian if you reject these merger proposals. You are simply being a good socialist.” (Emphasis in original)

Another reason McReynolds gave in his Jan. 9 letter for switching from opposition to support of SSP-SDF unity was even more revealing than the first:

“It is true that if we were in control of the Party we would doubtless formulate a better and more principled basis for uniting the socialist movement. However we are not in control of the Party. We are a minority. We are strong enough as a minority to block unity or to split the Party – but a minority that is that strong betrays the socialist movement if it gives way to emotional manifestoes. We are quite strong enough – PROVIDED WE ALL REMAIN IN THE PARTY – to bring victory out of defeat and to see to it that the present unity convention is one step toward a really effective, power-fully organized democratic socialist movement.”

An About Face

In this one brief paragraph McReynolds reverses everything he had been saying during the entire previous struggle – without attempting the slightest explanation for the switch. He refers to a “more principled” basis for unity, as if it were a question of mere degree rather than the unbridgeable gulf between the principled position of revolutionary socialism and the principles of “socialists” who give “full support for the worst, most shameful policies of the State Dept. and John Foster Dulles.” He forgets that he had persistently characterized the merger proposal as a “block to socialist unity” and replaces that with the thought that if the minority used its strength to block this kind of unity it would be guilty of giving way to “emotional manifestoes.” He forgets his very good formulations on how socialists “never” compromise basic principles and replaces it with the proposition that unity with those who have abandoned these principles is the highest law of conduct for socialists.

The collapse of the left wing leadership was so complete that they didn’t even come through on a promise to make a last-ditch fight at the merger convention on the issue of the party name. The name “Socialist Party” McReynolds said in his Jan. 9 letter, “is one of the few important assets the Party has left ... This matter is sufficiently important that I think it might very well be better – despite all that I have said about the value of unity – to break off further negotiations rather than give up the name which has so much value for us at this moment.”

When the convention took place, however, the left wing leaders didn’t conduct a serious fight on this or any other question. In truth they displayed an even greater “moderation” when face to face with “non-socialist and undemocratic elements” than at the June convention of the SP when they felt they were discussing with comrades.

The Role of Shachtman

Another link in this chain of capitulation to the right wing Social Democrats is provided by the Independent Socialist League, headed by Max Shachtman.

In the Jan. 9 letter proposing capitulation, McReynolds said:

“I have also been relieved following recent talks with Max Shachtman since it seems the ISL (Independent Socialist League) looks upon unity with the SDF as a first step toward a re-built socialist movement under the banner of the Socialist Party and will therefore refrain from that sectarian crossfire I had feared. In fact I thought it rather ironic that when I last met with Shachtman to urge the ISL to suspend judgment on the merger since I thought it might not prove as disastrous as I had earlier expected, that before I could even set forth this view of things, Comrade Shachtman was saying how important it was that the ‘left-wing not leave the party in a huff, but remain and help make the best of the unity.”

Shachtman has since explained the basis for his encouraging the SP left wing to abandon its programmatic struggle against their merger. He calls on all radical organizations to merge with the SP-SDF as the ideal vehicle for building a mass socialist movement in the US. He urges that all positions on the “Russian Question” be “frozen” in the united party. Since its program on the “Russian Question” would affect the basic character of the party and its attitude towards the foreign policy of American capitalism, it is interesting to inquire as to what Shachtman believes the official position of the united party should be on the Soviet Union.

Shachtman is quite clear on what the official position shouldn’t be. We can have such a united party on “one condition” he says, “and we state it frankly as a condition.” Here is how Labor Action reports this condition, quoting Shachtman’s speech at a Jan. 18 forum in New York:

“The movement must not take as its official position ‘the position that the present totalitarian regimes in Russia and the satellites represent a socialist or working-class state.’ Individuals or tendencies have the right to hold it inside, ‘but the movement itself cannot expect to represent a fruitful unity if it is committed to any such proposition.’ In this case it would be ‘doomed in advance to failure’ in the American labor movement.”

A second and derivative condition is reported in the same article:

“The working class must not feel ‘that this regrouping is a defender or apologist for the totalitarian regime in Russia, or is committed to defending it and helping it to victory, including military victory, in any conflict it wages’.”

Everybody Freeze! Except ...

We will not deal with the many distortions and provocative misrepresentations contained in Shachtman’s version of the position of radical organizations on the character and defense of the Soviet Union. It is sufficient to point out that he lumps together the diametrically opposed Stalinist and Trotskyist positions on the question. The point here is Shachtman’s position on regroupment.

The question immediately arises: Having ruled out an official position calling Russia a degenerated workers state and defending it, despite bureaucratic deformations, from imperialist attack aimed at restoring the system of capitalism, what position does Shachtman believe the party should take officially?

From his whole line of conduct we must conclude that Shachtman believes that everybody should “freeze” their positions on this crucial question – except the right wing Social Democrats! Nowhere in his discussion of merger with the SP-SDF does he utter a word of criticism of the official Social Democratic position on the Soviet Union, contained in the Memorandum of Understanding between the SP and the SDF as follows:

“Such a crusade must not be based on any illusion that peace can be achieved by appeasement of the Communist imperialism that threatens the world’s peace and freedom ... We realize that until universal, enforceable disarmament can be achieved, the free world and its democratically established military agencies must be constantly on guard against the military drive of Communist dictators.” (Our emphasis)

Isn’t this the position that McReynolds described as “the worst, most shameful policies of the State Dept. and John Foster Dulles.” But apparently Shachtman sees nothing wrong in the united party holding this official position. He sees nothing wrong with accepting the position of the Social Democratic enemies of the Russian Revolution and with hurling ultimatums at the anti-imperialist, anti-Stalinist defenders of the basic social conquests of the Russian Revolution.

To show that they mean business, the followers of Shachtman gave full and uncritical support to an SP-SDF rally on the Hungarian revolution at which the principal speaker was the Social Democrat, Anna Kethly. In advertising this meeting the Socialist Call said: “Miss Kethly will ... call for a United Nations Emergency Force to be dispatched to Hungary.” Not a word of dissent was uttered by Shachtman or Labor Action against this brazen call for imperialist intervention. And when Miss Kethly actually made such an appeal to the United Nations on Jan. 28, again there wasn’t a murmur of protest from the Shachtmanites. Instead they characterized the Kethly meeting as “solidarity with a socialist revolution.”

Doesn’t this single episode show that by unity Shachtman means unity with the State Department socialists on their program?

Support of Democratic Party

In his speech to the above-mentioned forum,

“Shachtman explained that he did not want to deal here with any of the other important questions, including the so-called ‘American Question,’ that a regrouping would face, ‘in order to make it clear that so far as we are concerned, differences on such questions are not the cause of split in the socialist movement and should not be allowed to divide socialists’.”

There is only one possible meaning to this statement: Shachtman calls on the radical workers to merge into the SP-SDF and agree in advance that they will go along with the policy of supporting the Democratic Party in the elections. It was precisely this issue which split the Socialist Party in 1936 when the right wing of the SP walked out of the party because the majority favored independent Socialist candidates and the struggle to form a Labor Party. Now Shachtman proposes to reverse matters and ask the class-conscious workers to return to the SP under the terms of the Old Guard.

There are two interconnected premises for Shachtman’s position and we believe both must be rejected if a revolutionary socialist regroupment is to be achieved. Shachtman holds that

  1. Social Democracy is progressive in relation to the present stage of development of the American working class; we should, therefore abandon the conception that our differences with Social Democracy are irreconcilable and fuse into one party with them even if it means that their pro-imperialist, pro-capitalist-party politics would determine the nature of the party; and
  2. we must renounce all thoughts of splits from such a united party and pledge in advance that differences over such questions as support of imperialism or capitalist parties “should not be allowed to divide socialists.”

We disagree with both propositions. Social Democracy is not progressive in any sense whatsoever. It is, as much as Stalinism, a blight on the workers’ movement. Social Democracy takes the American form of the trade union bureaucracy. This parasitic formation must be broken up and removed as an obstacle to the progress of the labor movement. We disagree with the idea that unity with the ideological representatives of the labor bureaucracy, the American Social Democracy, is the duty of revolutionists.

Splits and Fusions

Secondly, we cannot agree with a notion that flatly ignores the many-sided aspects of splits in the life of the workers’ movement. In our opinion splits are just as much a part of the regroupment process as fusions. In the struggle to create the mass revolutionary party of the working class splits have played a constructive as well as a destructive role. It depends on what splits are referred to. Those that are necessary, inevitable and historically justified help to achieve unity of revolutionary workers on a correct program.

We think the split in the American Socialist party following the Russian Revolution was necessary and justified. It marked the emergence of the Communist movement in America, as well as internationally. Shachtman now deplores this split as the original sin which, in his opinion, accounts for the weakness of the American radical movement today. We can only say that following this logic, one must trace the split back to the struggle between Menshevism and Bolshevism in Russia and deplore the victory of the Russian Revolution of 1917 itself. For it was the Russian Revolution, that great divide in the history of the modern working class movement, which separated revolutionists from reformists the world over.

As a matter of fact the entire aim of revolutionary socialist policy in the United States should be to split the American labor movement away from the Democratic Party and towards the organization of its own class party – even if a few die-hard bureaucrats want to remain entangled in capitalist politics. Such a split would be just as progressive as the split which gave birth to the CIO and enabled the “fusion” of mass production workers into industrial unions. That split, we are convinced, laid the groundwork for a higher unity of American labor, going far beyond the present limited AFL-CIO stage.

We think that if the revolutionary and independent elements in the American Communist Party today were confronted by Foster with a split threat, it would be erroneous and fatal for them to give up their struggle for the sake of unity on a false program. A left wing of the American Communist Party which broke with Stalinism would rapidly accelerate the process of revolutionary socialist fusion.

The problem before us is how to facilitate the regroupment of revolutionary socialist forces. This is not the same as the flight of ex-revolutionists into the Social Democracy or back to Stalinism.

Shachtman’s proposition cannot serve the interests of a revolutionary socialist regroupment. It can only provide a cover for the attempt of the Social Democrats, who, no less than the Fosterite Stalinists, are working against such a regroupment. Shachtman wants to begin the necessary discussion among the radical organizations with an ultimatum as to how it must end. We, for our part, want to begin by placing our views before the radical working class public, subject them to the forum of criticism and debate, examine all other programmatic positions fairly and without prejudice, and in that way explore the basis for a fruitful and lasting unification of radical organizations on the necessary minimum points of programmatic agreement. It is only along this road that a firmly founded revolutionary socialist party can be created that will lead to the victory of the American working class in its coming struggle for Socialism.

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Last updated: 29 February 2020