Marxist Bulletin No 3 Part IV
Conversations With Wohlforth
Spartacist-ACFI Unity Negotiations
18 June 1965
- Spartacist: Robertson, Turner, Stoute; (Harper,
- ACFI: Wohlforth, Mazelis, van Ronk, Michael (alternate).
Meeting convened at 8:00 p.m.
a)Chairman--It was agreed to have a rotating
chairman, alternating at each meeting.
b) Minutes--It was agreed that minutes be prepared
jointly by Harper and Mazelis, submitted to the committee for approval, then
2. Initial remarks and Agenda:
Robertson: Spartacist would like to do the following in the
course of these meetings:
1)Clear up certain ambiguities in ACFI communications to us.
2) Discuss the various policies of our two organizations and see
whether they are compatible within a single organization, including policies on
PL, Cuban Revolution, the IC and international organization, SWP including
3) Discussion of broader and more fundamental political questions;
and exchange of documents. Spartacist would like to receive Rebuilding the
Fourth International and companion material from ACFI.
We hope that there will be a growing awareness that our policies
are compatible and that no part of the present work of either group would be
murdered by unity. The basic question is, Can we live with each
other? Both groups already claim agreement--with World Prospect for
Socialism. Finally, in our view the question of unity in this country,
while not identical with, is inseparable from the question of relations with
Wohlforth: We have concrete proposals to offer tonight, for
discussion between the groups, material we think should be discussed, and for
common activity. The points presented by R. are acceptable.
At this point an agenda for the evening's discussion was worked
- 1.Clarification of recent communications
- 2. Concrete proposals
- 3. Policies
3. Clarification of recent communications:
(a.) Question raised as to which Spartacist proposal ACFI was
accepting: (1) agreement to accept conference decisions, in which case we would
proceed at once to a fully fused discussion; or (2) exchange of major documents
and circulation of comments and fraternal representation at Spartacist
Wohlforth: Accepting the latter. We feel we can't make
judgment about fusion until we ascertain where Spartacist stands; we dont
yet have enough information to make such a judgment but have enough to know we
are definitely interested. We want as close contact as possible, personally,
between the two groups, and as much discussion as possible between the two
groups. Seek to ascertain whether enough--not total--agreement exists on
what the tasks are that have to be done in this country at this time and to
have discussion around this as well as on theoretical questions.
Disc: Stoute, van Ronk, Mazelis, Wohlforth, Robertson
(b.) International Questions:
Wohlforth: We favor a unified Trotskyist organization that
should develop as part of an international movement. This requires a combined
process: discussion between comrades here and among comrades of the IC. An
opportunity for this will be provided by the International discussion coming up
Robertson: We need more elaboration on this. Our
fundamental position is that any group which seeks to stand alone in a single
country is centrist. We must seek to be part of an international movement. We
don't mean mere political adherence but must struggle to build an
international movement of a disciplined democratic-centralist character. We
believe in an international body whose sections function under discipline.
Wohlforth: We agree on the question of the international
movement--our formulation was a necessary formulation.
Disc: Turner, Wohlforth
Van Ronk raised question of Spartacist position toward
Posadas group and the letter which appeared in Spartacist No.4 from
Wohlforth: The publication of this letter without comment
could be interpreted as an association with a basically revisionist grouping to
attack the SLL. You have never published material critical of the Posadas
Robertson: The SLL deserved criticism for failing to raise
a hue and cry over the jailing of the Cuban Trotskyists. We feel free to
criticize the SLL where merited as we have no organizational bonds with them
presently. We dont share the Posadas line on nuclear war, guerilla
warfare or their Pabloist view of the overwhelming objective onrush toward
socia1ism. We havent criticized the Posadas views publicly because we
haven't had to contend with them in this country. However, we would be happy to
print in the next Spartacist an ACFI letter on Posadasism, together with
our editorial endorsement.
Turner: Our own views, conflicting with those of Posadas,
appear in the Spartacist.
4. Concrete Proposals:
Wohlforth: Within the framework of fraternal relations, we
feel the letter from Spartacist did not go far enough toward providing for a
meaningful experience. We favour going much further. What is lacking in
the Spartacist proposal is the process. We feel we should have a
real, fundamental, discussion and therefore propose:
1.In areas where both have members (primarily N.Y. and Bay Area) a
minimum of four joint meetings between the memberships as a whole, one session
each on the Russian question and Negro question (the Spartacist documents) with
a Spartacist reporter (it should not be necessary to set these meetings up
debate style), and two more meetings presenting the views of ACFI with an ACFI
reporter, on the IC resolution and on our history project (on Marxism in the
U.S.), the type of movement we want to build here, tactical questions on work
within the SWP, and other questions.
2. In other areas where either group has people, a member of the
other group will visit for a minimum of one meeting.
3. A joint social in N.Y.
4. Press: Spartacist has a ban on the public sale of the
Bulletin. This would be understandable if there was hostility between
our groups, but with fraternal relations it would be incorrect. We have no
objection to our comrades selling the Spartacist and we have no
objection to your comrades selling the Bulletin.
5. Common activities: We should seek ways to work together over
the summer on our common activities. Propose issuance of a joint leaflet in
N.Y. giving critical support to the SWP and PL candidates.
Robertson: Before agreeing to proposals on joint membership
discussions and fraternization, we want to wait a bit and see how the
discussion proceeds in this committee. We want to find out whether these
negotiations seem to be going towards unity. If so, then we are willing to open
up the process of fraternization. But if these negotiations are not going
toward unity, there would be the question of one group using the discussions
and fraternization for their own organizational advantage. There are only two
alternatives--we are either going to unify or there will be a war to the death
between our 2 organizations. Given the close political agreement between our
groups, there is not room for two separate and competing organizations. We want
to find out first, through these meetings, if a momentum is building up for
Wohlforth: It is not our position that the choice is
between unity or implacable war to the death. The proposals we have made are
the same as you made to us late last year. Our 2 organizations have reversed
positions. Then you offered to sell the Bulletin and made other offers
of joint collaboration. This means you feel we are politically less close now
than then. You have a political responsibility to make clear why you feel
further from us now. Disengagement, not hostility, would be the way to describe
our relations in the last 6 months, and would be the proper alternative should
unity fail to take place rather than implacable war to the death between our
Robertson: There are no significant political differences
between our groups. A major difference we did have, on the Negro question, has
been vacated in the last period. Our reserve is because of distrust stemming
from our earlier relations with you and from your attempts to by-pass our
leadership. The hostility between our groups flows not from hostile politics
but from organizational competition. Specifically on your proposals:
1.We will wait and see on the joint oral membership discussion.
2.On touring different locals--the normal procedure is a joint
tour just before or after a unity conference. We shouldnt act like a
fused organization while we are not yet that.
3. On fraternization, we are still two different and competing
organizations. Where we both exist we can have joint socials, furthering
personal fraternization, which we are for, as opposed to a presently
false blurring of organizational lines.
4. We have no ban on the Bulletin--indeed, we
expect our membership to study it carefully. But we do not propose to build the
public circulation of a competing organ, whose similarity in line to our own
would only cause further confusion.
5. On the joint leaflet on the N.Y. elections, we have a statement
already drafted and approved by our organization which we were about to
circulate publicly. But we will hold up on issuing it and bring it before this
committee for consideration as a joint statement.
For us, first comes agreement in this committee,
then comes organizational intermingling.
Wohlforth: On the question of either unity or war to the
death--we begin from the theoretical and political tasks. We struggle against
groups if we feel their politics would hurt the working class. If we don't
unify, then disengagement would be our proposal. This was Trotskys
position in a number of countries where he had 2 groups. No one has the right
to seek to destroy an organization of the working class unless that
organization has a line that would mean death to the working class. This is the
Disc: Mazelis, Turner, Van Ronk, Robertson, Turner
Wohlforth: We feel that there has been a complete reversal
in the positions of our 2 organizations since last fall, when we were opposed
to going beyond written exchanges. If you favor unity you must be for
fraternization. Your position is completely inconsistent. The wish to avoid
fraternization can come only from fear. A real Trotskyist group
longs to be raided. It invites raids. Why do you hold back?
Robertson: We are eager to have you sit down and talk to
each one of our new members for hours and hours--but to do this youve got
to join our organization first. There is a principled basis for unity, though
we need discussion on how much trouble it would be to merge our 2
organizations. Should you be negotiating in bad faith, our insurance will be to
get your agreement that there is political agreement for unity--then
should you pull back from unity you will lose. When you agree that there is a
basis for unity, then the organizational barriers between us will start going
down. This is our basic attitude on our part toward these negotiations.
Wohlforth: The discussion thus far has shown that we do not
agree on exactly what we are negotiating. We favor discussion from a different
vantage point, and do not wish our contact to be limited only to socials. It is
the position of our organization that tactical questions are subordinate
questions. The primary emphasis must be on a theoretical discussion.
This fundamental theoretical discussion must be no. 1 in the relations
between our two groups. Robertsons proposal to discuss theoretical
differences in the negotiating committee will not solve anything. We must
discuss within a broader framework.
Disc: Turner, Van Ronk, Robertson
Wohlforth: We both agree that our representatives are
empowered to set up an agenda for discussion on this committee and that at the
next meeting we begin the discussion on policies and the broader theoretical
questions. We should agree to proceed on the points that both have raised,
including our history project.
It was agreed that at the next meeting an agenda for questions to
be discussed over a series of meetings would be worked out.
Joint Social--to be held July 10 at Wohlforth's. The
secretaries will work out a joint announcement.
Election Leaflet --Spartacist will provide ACFI with its
draft during the coming week and it will be discussed at the next meeting. It
was agreed that the author of the draft could be present and speak on this
Alternate--Spartacist wants to select an alternate. Agreed.
Meetings--It was agreed to hold weekly meetings, with the
next meeting on Friday, June 25.
In closing Robertson reiterated that sufficient agreement exists
that we can be a single organization, and handed out to the ACFI delegation
recent information materials consisting of Spartacist reprint on Malcolm X;
pamphlet Behind the Harlem Riots; and Harlem Organizing Committee
brochure and leaflet.
The meeting adjourned at 10:25 p.m.
[The foregoing minutes were adopted at the 2nd session of the
Unity negotiations held 27 June 1965.]