Marxist Bulletin No. 4
Expulsion from the Socialist Workers Party
Rescind the Suspensions!
Statement to the National Committee of the Socialist Workers Party by the five suspended supporters of the Revolutionary Tendency (Lynne Harper, Laurence Ireland, Shane Mage, James Robertson, and Geoffrey White)
10 December 1963
I. Introduction: the Political Committee Action Against Us
1. On August 2, 1963, the Political Committee adopted a motion which took up some old accusations of Wohlforth and Philips, paraphrasing them in summary form as (1) Hostile Attitude toward the Party, (2) Double Recruiting, and (3) Split Perspective. The PC motion concluded by instructing the Control Commission to look into possible violations of the statutes of the party, especially involving Robertson, Ireland, and Harper. On October 24 after some months of purported investigation the CC reported, exclusively on the basis of written opinions offered by Robertson, Ireland, and Harper internally within their own tendency, that: In these statements by the Robertson-Mage-White minority their hostile and disloyal attitude toward the party is clearly manifested. The PC in its motion of November 1 found it necessary to expand on the CCs sole conclusion by presenting lurid accusations created out of thin air and giving as sole source as indicated by the Control Commissions report. The PC went on to suspend from party membership comrades Harper, Ireland, Mage, Robertson, and White. Moreover, the suspensions were without specified time limit and were to be with the same force and effect as expulsion during the period of suspension.
2. Thus for the first time in the history of the SWP a leadership has taken the punitive action of exclusion from the party of minority supporters on the basis of opinions! This action is rendered even more grave and unprecedented by the fact that the views for which punishment was inflicted were themselves nothing more than personal contributions to a private discussion within a minority tendency!
II. Background: Recent Trends in the Party
3. Through the period of the last two party conventions (1961, 1963) the party has witnessed a systematic and general attrition of representation on the NC of all minority factions or tendencies, dissidents, and other critics. Thus, for example, Bert Deck, the then managing editor of the International Socialist Review and associate of Murry Weiss was removed from the NC after he offered a slight modification to the PC line on the Cuban Question for the 1961 convention. In the same period there has been a systematic denial, compounded by calculatedly hysterical Majority hostility, of the rights of the party membership in branches -- above all in the largest branch, New York -- to express opinions, offer recommendations to leading bodies, or even to discuss new developments or the actions and decisions of the party leadership.
4. A year ago the Majority made an assault on the very right of our minority, and by implication any minority, to exist within the party. A provocative attempt was made by Majority supporters to intrude into a private Minority gathering. As the upshot of our informal protest to party authorities, it was revealed that the incident had taken place at the instigation and under the direction of a Majority PC member. The leadership whitewashed this action by adopting a condemnatory motion which accused the Minority of being the guilty party for having held such a private tendency meeting. These events are fully detailed in our document For the Right of Organized Tendencies to Exist within the Party!
5. In connection with the last party convention, the Majority made severe incursions upon party democracy and upon our party rights:
6. In a continuous series of incidents over the past two years, the Majority has abused its leading position in the party to hinder, harass, and immobilize supporters of our tendency. The evident general aim of the Majority has been to make as the penalty for individual comrades becoming oppositionists the paralysis of any political role, either within the party or in broader outside movements. Thus there has accumulated a seemingly endless list of all-too-legitimate grievances on this score. Perhaps the most outrageous and flagrant incident of harassment was that against comrade Shirley in removing her from Southern SNCC work. Most common has been the regular, rarely overridden refusal to accept into membership contacts brought to the party by the minority. Yet throughout the past several years, and whatever the provocation, our tendency has always counseled and insisted that its supporters abide in a disciplined way by the decisions the Majority imposed upon the party.
7. The foregoing sections are intended only to sketch the immediately relevant portion of the partys organizational side in the past period. We do not suggest that these are the main characteristics of the party's evolution, even of the organizational aspect. Rather what is described is that part of the party's face shown to the party's minorities, particularly to our own tendency. At the same time as the comrades of the Revolutionary Tendency have responded in a disciplined fashion to developments within the party, we have not failed to form and offer opinions among ourselves and to the whole party as to the meaning, implications, and direction of the course the party has been pursuing in regards to both political revisionism and organizational degeneration. The determination of the more general processes at work in shaping the party was exactly the subject under hot discussion in the tendency when the documents were drafted over which the Majority now raises a scandal in its desire to exclude us from the party. See for example Robertson and Irelands The Centrism of the SWP and The Tasks of the Minority (September 6, 1962) and also the earlier basic tendency statement, In Defense of a Revolutionary Perspective (in 1962 SWP Bulletin No. 4).
Suffice it to say that the most salient features of the partys overall motion in the last period have been as follows:
As a result of the totality of these underlying considerations the Majority leadership has been driven now to seek the exclusion of our tendency from the party. In essence this is a punishment of us for our very tenacity in remaining in the party despite its degeneration and for our intransigence in struggling against that degeneration.
III. The Accusations Against Us
8. In view of the material already written, listed below, there is by this time little that needs be added as regards the vacuity, irrelevance, or downright falseness of the accusations of statutary violations made against our tendency or its individual supporters.
The party leadership has officially presented its case against our tendency in the following materials: a) letter of National Secretary Dobbs to James Robertson, July 5, 1963; b) PC motion of August 2, 1963, On the Robertson-Ireland-Harper Case; c) Report of Control Commission on the Robertson Case, October 24, 1963; d) PC motion of November 1, 1963. The following replies and refutations have been offered by individual tendency supporters: a) letter of Robertson to Dobbs, July 9, 1963; b) letter of Geoffrey White to the PC, November 5, 1963; c) letter of Laurence Ireland to Dobbs, November 8, 1963; d) letter of Shane Mage to the PC, November 10, 1963; and e) letter of Lynne Harper to the NC, November 18, 1963. We urge the National Committee members to familiarize themselves with this correspondence.
9. The accusations of our indiscipline were originally put before the party by the Wohlforth-Philips Reorganized Minority Tendency in appendices to their document Party and Class (1963 SWP Bulletin No. 27). We shortly replied with our Discipline and Truth (in Bulletin No. 30). In our reply we stated that Party and Class lied, and we sought to show why its authors had been led into such action. With documents written earlier within the tendency, which we appended to our reply, we proved that we had been the object of false accusations. Moreover, to even the most superficial observer there is an insoluble contradiction in Wohlforth and Philips accusations against us. If the charges were true that we were some kind of split-crazed wreckers, then Wohlforth-Philips should have taken far more decisive and prompt action than their act of waiting a year after first revealing within the then common tendency such heinous crimes, then simply repeating the revelations to the party as a whole. But if the charges were not true, they should never have been made in the first place. Instead they went ahead to publicize their accusations and then deprecated them by declaring them to be no valid basis for organizational action against us by the party leadership!
Nonetheless, it is to the credit of the Wohlforth-Philips group that they have now come forward, first, in disassociating themselves from their earlier accusation that we had a split orientation. This had been the key point in all of Wohlforths other charges. Secondly, it is to their credit that they oppose organizational action against us, thereby implicitly declaring that their own old accusations had been without real, actionable substance, but were rather their own interpretations.
10. It would be an enormous and pointless task to seek to pin down and dispose of very many of the irrelevancies or wild distortions in the charges which the PC and CC have levelled against us; e.g., the abusive nonsense about double recruitment or the childishness of proposing to expel us because we are alleged to have a split perspective. Indeed the core of the case against us collapses immediately upon examination because it depends upon one false equation, to wit: party members, even if organizationally loyal and disciplined (as we are) can be really loyal only if, in the course of carrying out party decisions, they agree with the leadership.
No matter from what side the Dobbsian interpretations given in the PC and CC material are approached, it always turns out that to the central leaders, loyalty to the party means loyalty to the leaders. Because our acceptances of discipline justifies and is justified by our inner-party struggle against the leadership policies, our carrying out of party decisions is dismissed as cynical and presumably then defective because it lacks sincerity. Thus, many of the quotations, even in their selected and trimmed form, offered of the views of tendency supporters can have as their only purpose making the point that we dont believe in or agree with the partys changing policies and direction of recent years, nor do we respect the initiators and directors of those changes, either. It is elementary, but no longer obvious in the SWP, to note that discipline has meaning especially when there is disagreement. Democratic-centralism is most fully called upon to regulate differences and mobilize the entire party for carrying out arrived-at decisions when there are sharp and deep-going divisions. To exclude from the party those who have sharp and deep differences, those who believe that the policies and course of the Majority leadership are part of a profound degeneration, is to amply prove the existence of that degeneration.
11. For our part, we have and do declare that our political loyalty lies exclusively with the Trotskyist program. It is as a derivative of this prime consideration that our tendency has always sought to abide fully by the discipline of the party, despite the rapidly advancing disease of degeneration in the party. It is in this sense and no other that the much-quoted phrase in the Robertson-Ireland document was advanced about avoiding mistaken concepts of loyalty to a diseased shell. We would be peculiar people indeed should we find our loyalty resting with the cancer growing within the party! This should have been evident to any honest reader of the materials in question, for otherwise many other statements in these inner-tendency documents would be in flat contradiction and would reduce the entire set of opinions to a meaningless jumble. Notable in this connection is the statement in comrade Harper's draft Orientation of the Party Minority in Youth Work that we must act as disciplined SWP members at all times. Again, in comrade Irelands What the Discussion is Really About, is found: But since our perspective is one of remaining in the SWP, we can hardly afford to violate party discipline or party statutes. (Incidentally, this latter document had been turned over to the Control Commission by comrade Ireland to remove any possible ambiguities about his opinions on actionable subjects. However, the CC in its Report... gave no acknowledgement of the receipt or very existence of this document, much less any mention of its contents!) Finally to put this whole point another way, if the SWP has become centrist in character as we stated in our main resolution to the last party convention, Toward Rebirth of the Fourth International (that ... the centrist tendency is also prevalent among certain groups which originally opposed the Pablo faction), then some organizational conclusions reasonably follow that justify our acting as disciplined party members despite the partys centrist politics. Further, it necessarily follows that such a conclusion is no more or less incompatible with party membership than is holding the political analysis which led to it.
IV. What Our Expulsion Would Mean for the Party
12. It may be that sections of the National Committee have not thought through the international implications of expelling our tendency from the SWP. Within the limitations of the Voorhis Act, the American party has been a prime mover in the recent reunification with the Pabloist forces of the International Secretariat. In an effort to draw into the unity as many of the scattered and divided groupings as possible, big promises were made to those opposed to the basis of the unification to convince them to come along anyhow. For example Dobbs and Hansen wrote in the article Reunification of the Fourth International (Fall, 1963, International Socialist Review) as follows:
Even more recently the United Secretariat of the Fourth International itself declared in its statement of November 18, 1963, in reply to the Healy-Lambert grouping, that:
13. Our tendency opposed the projected unity move. Indeed the tendency itself was born in opposition to the political course which underlay the projected unification. We stated our opposition and proposed an entirely different political basis for reuniting the world movement in our 1963 draft international resolution, Toward Rebirth of the Fourth International. We also made it crystal clear in advance that should the pro-Pabloist unification win a majority and go into effect, then the dissident and opposing minority internationally who shared our general outlook should go through the experience of the falsely-based unity attempt. We stated our willingness demonstratively to accept the reunification in the entire concluding section of our recent international resolution which states:
And we ourselves have more than fully met the conditions set forth by Dobbs-Hansen and by the United Secretariat. On top of abiding by discipline and accepting decisions, we have resisted abuse, disloyalty, calculated incitement, and outright provocation by the American leadership to force us to leave voluntarily. Our tendency is therefore virtually unique in its ability to be the living test of the genuineness of the claimed democratic-centralist based and inclusive reunification. Several things will be clear should we be thrown out for holding opinions by no means more critical of the U.S. and international Pabloist leaderships than views held by others who have been publically and repeatedly invited to join in the unification. If we are excluded, then the true scope of the unity as an act of bad faith and deliberate fraud by its instigators will be definitely shown to all Trotskyists.
In a very practical and concrete way, the SWP-NC by its action towards us at its December 1963 Plenum will go far in making final for this period both the shape of its own relations with the world movement as well as those of its international allies.
14. Are all sections of the National Committee prepared to take responsibility for the kind of developing internal life which our exclusion would formalize? We are by no means the only people in the party who believe that the SWP is degenerating apace or that the Dobbs regime is a disaster for the party. If these views become proscribed through the awful example of our expulsion, then such opinions would be driven into a fetid underground existence. Inevitably there would be a multiplication of the symptoms of organizational degeneracy -- the flaring up of intensely hate-filled quarrels on the permitted secondary questions, cliquist plots, hysterical reactions by a leadership fighting dimly seen enemies. Such an atmosphere could only accelerate the rightward motion of the party's cadres and train the newer members in a caricature of Marxist party life.
These are some of the general considerations which have always kept the Trotskyists from proscribing opinions within the party, however obnoxious they may be to the leadership, or of expelling the holders of such views. Moreover, in the specific case before the NC action against our tendency will not achieve its desired aim of turning the party into a docile machine. Others will continue as oppositionists within the party, and we will press our struggle from outside for readmission and for acceptance of our political viewpoint. It is within the province of the NC to prevent the demoralization and splintering of the party being brought on by a bureaucratically heavy-handed leadership.
15. For the NC to intervene to return the party to the revolutionary organizational practices of the past is to hold open the possibility of a revolutionary future for the SWP. If the NC permits the destruction of our party membership, it thereby acquiesces to the destruction of any chance for a reversal of the rightward, revisionist course of the party because those who opposed it would be excluded. By eliminating the content of party democracy, the degeneration of the party becomes irreversible. This need not be!
The SWP Majority reflects no implacable bureaucratic social layer. Its loss of a proletarian, revolutionary perspective, its eager search for substitutes and short cuts -- idealizing the radical petty bourgeois leaderships: the Castros, Ben Bellas, Malcolm Xs -- is not some inevitable automatic reflex based upon a position of privilege. Rather despair and ensuing degeneration have come through prolonged isolation, persecution, weakness, and aging.
The NC stands now at a last crossroads, at which it yet has open a conscious choice. Sections of the party leadership may already have gone much further in political revision or bureaucratic organizational practice than they ever intended.
Although it would be idle to deny that it is very late, there is still a choice; the party does not have to, is not predestined to, continue down the road it is traveling at full speed. To repeat: to halt now is to leave open the way back so the party might again have a revolutionary future.
V. Conclusion: Rescind the Suspensions!
16. In the normal course of seeking to rectify a mistake or an injustice within the party, one would normally turn readily to the NC as a resort, but under the extraordinary circumstances in which the central party leadership has plunged the party with the NCs acquiescence to date, we must offer a reservation. Presumably we are expected to appeal the disciplinary action of the PC against us. But how can we appeal against what has not been the finding of any trial; how can we appeal against accusations which have no relation to any alleged intended violation of the rules of democratic-centralism?
17. Despite the outrageous position in which we would be placed in appealing to the NC from a non-existent trial, we are prepared to send a representative to appear before the NC at its coming plenum to present our case and to answer questions the plenum may wish to put to us. Because of the grave defects in the present situation we do not turn to the NC with an appeal but with the demand: RESTORE PARTY DEMOCRACY! RESCIND OUR SUSPENSIONS!
18. Finally, we call upon all party members, branches, individual NC members, and political tendencies in the party to present letters and statements to the NC calling for the lifting of the suspensions and restoration of our party rights as a vital interest of the party itself!
December 10, 1963
Posted: 22 October 2006