Marxist Bulletin No. 4

Expulsion from the Socialist Workers Party




Expulsion from the Socialist Workers Party

documents on the exclusion of Revolutionary Tendency supporters

Marxist Bulletin #4 documents the provocations, suspensions and finally expulsion by the Socialist Workers Party of its left wing minority, the Revolutionary Tendency (RT), the predecessor to the Spartacist League. This collection of discussion material consists of the most significant portion* of material -- well over half -- from a special five-bulletin series, the SWP’s “Internal Information Bulletin,” originated on the occasion of our expulsion. In addition, there is included here some material which has never before been circulated outside the leadership of the SWP, and some, never circulated at all, anywhere. This suppressed material fully documents, among other things, the ugly provocation of the attempted “raid” on a minority tendency meeting, a provocation clearly intended as a first effort toward our expulsion. (See document #1.)

The purge reached its peak at the end of December 1963 when five members of the RT were expelled. Of the five, Lynne Harper, Larry Ireland and James Robertson were expelled on the grounds that they had manifested a hostile and disloyal attitude toward the party in written discussion circulated privately within their own tendency. The others, Shane Mage and Geoff White, were expelled in effect for association, for having been leaders in a tendency which held or permitted views such as those expressed by Harper, Ireland and Robertson. These expulsions were based on purely ideological grounds; despite provocations, attempts at entrapment, etc., the RT was simply too strongly fortified by its consistent Trotskyist politics to permit itself to be provoked into either breaking discipline or voluntarily leaving.

Hence, neither the Control Commission nor the Political Committee could produce one piece of evidence showing a single disloyal action on the part of the RT. In fact, through the whole course of the struggle, the RT members pointed out their past disciplined acceptance of the political line of the Majority and reaffirmed their intention to comply with it in the future. It was not the RT which wished to flout discipline; it was the SWP Majority which sought by its actions to remove internal party democracy.

The Majority was so concerned with ridding itself of critics who would point out the SWP’s increasingly precipitous surrender of a working-class perspective that it refused to heed the warning given by a prominent majorityite party spokesman at odds with the Dobbs regime, Myra Tanner Weiss: “The ‘evidence’ of ‘disloyalty’ submitted in the report consists entirely of opinions, and no one in the history of the Socialist Workers Party has ever been punished for thoughts that differ with those of the majority -- nor ever can be if we are to remain a revolutionary force ….To violate the right of a faction to its own internal life is to destroy the Leninist conception of organization.” (See document #5.)

Dobbsian Logic

The logic of the argument with which Dobbs defended the purge, first in his report to the New York branch, then in his report to the plenum, could be ordered into the following set of neatly patterned syllogisms:


The Minority is hostile to the Majority. (See our characterization of the Majority, made first in internal tendency discussion, subsequently published as Marxist Bulletin #2.)

2.But, says Dobbs, “the Majority is the party.” (See document #7.)

3. Therefore, hostility to the Majority is party-wrecking.

4. Therefore, the Minority are party-wreckers.

5. Therefore, the Majority leadership needs no evidence of specific acts of disloyalty to the party -- hostility to the Majority is enough. (See document #20, especially p. 76, for Dobbs’ admission: “We don’t have to await formal proof of specific hostile acts, nor do we have to let concrete evidence pile up, one fact upon another, until the sheer weight of their attack on the party makes their patent disloyalty obvious even to the most blind. Disloyalty requires corrective measures, right here and now.”)

6. Therefore, purge!

The Majority’s solution to the problem of its own political degeneration, brute organizational force designed to remove all critics, helped to speed up the demise of the SWP as a revolutionary organization. And these expulsions were not the last. More RT supporters were expelled; then supporters of other tendencies, both left and right, (Wohlforth, Philips and Swabeck) were pushed until they broke discipline, then were formally expelled, while whole local branches (New Haven, Seattle and Milwaukee) left. At length, the SWP had purged its ranks of nearly all who could have served as any kind of brake on its own increasing revisionism, abstentionism from class struggle and opportunist adaptation to non-proletarian forces, or even of those who offered any opposition to the organizational strangulation being perpetrated by the Dobbs regime.

International Implications

These expulsions revealed not only the SWP’s own political bankruptcy. They also cut away all the centrist verbiage which had circumspectly clothed the Reunification Congress of the “United Secretariat of the Fourth International” (U.Sec.). The Pabloist forces had sought in 1963 to effect an all-inclusive reunification of the world Trotskyist movement, on a revisionist basis and with all past differences buried. In order to attract the many groups opposed to the political basis for reunification, the Pabloists promised full democratic-centralist organizational principles. Dobbs and Hansen, in the Fall 1963 International Socialist Review, claimed that: “The course now being followed by Healy and Posadas and their followers is much to be regretted. Under the democratic centralism which governs the Fourth International, they could have maintained their political views within the organization and sought to win a majority.”

On the basis of these pledges, we appealed our expulsions to the U.Sec., asking it to rectify the SWP’s flagrant organizational abuse of our democratic minority rights. The U.Sec. reply gave the lie to its claim that the reunification had aimed to include all “Trotskyists” who would abide by the decisions of the organization. It upheld, on the basis of ideological differences, our expulsion, attempting however to throw up a smoke screen with the assertion that the publication of Spartacist No.1, coming three months after our expulsions, was a “violation of the principles and practices of democratic centralism which require a minority in a revolutionary socialist party to abide by majority decision”(Our emphasis, see document #28).

By its action the U.Sec. proved that it was neither an international nor a democratic centralist organization: It corroborated, by its refusal to intervene, the open knowledge that the Pabloists had made a deal with the SWP, offering a “hands-off” policy toward the U.S. section, in exchange for the SWP’s defection from its earlier principled struggle against Pabloism. And it indicated, by its disregard of our rights as a minority tendency, how little its own promises of democratic centralism had meant.

Final Break

Finally we did become “splitters” (more accurately, the SWP’s departure from revolutionary Marxism became a categorical split). The November 1965, Washington, D.C., anti-war conference marked definitively and publicly the SWP’s betraya1 of class-struggle politics and revealed its passage into reformism. Its organizational maneuvers there, designed to build a centralized national membership organization of independent anti-war committees on a single-issue basis, marked its rush into classless, popular-front politics. The basis for any truly revolutionary party’s participation in a united front must be its class program. The SWP should have utilized a Marxist understanding of the objective processes of capitalism in order to educate sections of the anti-war movement toward class struggle against the cause of war --the capitalist social order. But the SWP at that conference subordinated its program to the possibility of building a petty-bourgeois pacifist coalition around itself. It subordinated program to the Stalinist idea that a classless peace movement can stop an imperialist war. Such subordination was a betrayal of the anti-war movement and of the working class, for it can only lead to the movement’s eventual support of the liberal bourgeoisie. More particularly it completed the destruction of the SWP as a proletarian revolutionary party. When the SWP destroyed its own class program, it became impossible for us to henceforth defend or support the SWP as loyal members -- we withdrew our remaining supporters still inside the SWP, who resigned in principled fashion.

Non-Split Orientation

An interesting aside is the implicit refutation of the Majority’s charges against us contained in the fact that a fraction of Spartacist supporters on the West Coast could remain within the SWP for more than a year and a half after the initial expulsions. That comrades could continue acting as both loyal SWP members and disciplined supporters of Spartacist’s politics gives the lie directly to the Majority’s earlier accusations of wrecking and splitting. It was only the ever deeper and fuller political transformation of the SWP that later made membership by revolutionary Marxists untenable.

As further refutation stands the fact that the party tops knew full well from other sources that what Wohlforth had handed them on a platter was nothing other than a pure frame-up of us. First, a precise anticipation of our overall course had been developed by R.T. supporters as early as the Fall of 1961! (See MB #2, document #1; this document was later made available to the entire SWP membership by the R.T. as an appendix to its document, “Discipline and Truth”, SWP Discussion Bulletin, June 1963; it is to be reprinted in MB #3, part II.) Second, the Control Commission (i.e. Anna Chester) had Ireland’s second document which had made absolutely unambiguous the falsity of Wohlforth’s accusations; this document had been written a year earlier as a contribution to our internal tendency dispute (i.e., this document was not written after the fact as a “cover”). (See MB #2.) However, the C.C. never once acknowledged it had seen this document. Finally, in response to Dobbs’ outrageous demand to see the tendency’s internal documents, Robertson as an extraordinary concession submitted a copy of his own inner tendency draft contribution. (See the cover letter accompanying it, document #2.) Dobbs, however, carefully obfuscated this fact also. He told the New York membership the following half-lie: “I asked Comrade Robertson for copies of the Robertson-Ireland and Harper documents. He rejected this request and said the proper procedure would be to convene a Control Commission inquiry.” (See document #7.) Thus, the Dobbs regime obviously knew the falsity of Wohlforth’s charges against the R.T., and just as obviously, by its concealment of this knowledge, the party leadership showed its contempt for the SWP’s own membership.

1967 SWP Convention

But all this does not mean that no more revolutionary Marxists will come into existence through struggle within the SWP! Far from it; in this sense the SWP is far from written off. Indeed within a few months of the final “final solution” of the SWP’s minority question -- getting rid of virtually all the inner party opponents and critics of the whole period since 1958 -- new differences have broken the surface in the pre-convention period. Thus a provocative discussion has erupted over whether to set up a separate (but equal?) all-black “Trotskyist” party. As one poor, naive SWP comrade put it: “No one is calling into question our accumulated experience concerning the necessity for a vanguard party. It is only that the peculiar situation in the United States calls for two such parties, not one.” (How nice this discovery is for the security of the American bourgeoisie; too bad Lenin never discovered that the Czarist empire, the “prisonhouse of peoples,” needed a multiplicity of parties, all “vanguard” of course.) In the 1963 pre-convention discussion article, “For Black Trotskyism,” we accused the Majority of presenting a dual-vanguardist resolution. This accusation was bitterly denied; today this liquidationist conclusion is rampant in the party.

Of much more practical importance is the SWP’s current anti-war discussion because the party -- not despite, but -- because of its effusive lip-service to Black Nationalism is steadily losing its few Negro members, while it is very heavily committed in the “peace movement.” But here a party critic has pointed out absolutely correctly and very clearly in attacking the party’s proposed anti-war resolution:

….The struggle for withdrawal and the struggle to build an anti-imperialist antiwar movement are one and the same. They are inseparable; to give up or subordinate one means to give up or subordinate both. Even if the withdrawal slogan did stand in the way of building mass actions, then the mass actions would have to be given up and not withdrawal.

But does the withdrawal demand stand in the way of building mass actions? If other participants in the antiwar movement cannot agree with us on the withdrawal slogan -- the absolute minimum upon which we can agree programmatically -- then we should propose only a united front of action against the war in Vietnam. We would demand that there be no official slogans and that each group has the right to build and participate in the demonstration under their own banners. With this agreed -- and this should be the simplest thing to get an agreement on -- we would participate in a committee to coordinate and publicize the action. This would be real non-exclusion, and would offer the best prospects for building the largest demonstration possible. At the same time, it would not contradict the main activity of our antiwar work, that is, building the anti-imperialist wing of the antiwar movement. This would probably take the organizational form of programmatic united front based on withdrawal through which we would work and participate in the antiwar movement as a whole. At the same time, this united front based on withdrawal would initiate and carry out its own independent actions and propaganda work.

Our principled participation is based on program and we never subordinate this program to united action. A united action resulting from such subordination would only be temporary and illusionary, and would in the long run, not only lead the antiwar movement to support the liberal bourgeoisie, but also would destroy the foundations and traditions of our own party.

And this comrade’s written remarks end with a question, the answer to which raises all the issues which the leadership had sought to bury by purging the minorities. He concludes: “It is for the above reasons that the party must reject the position of the PC draft as totally unacceptable and must begin to work out a new one. In so doing, there remains one question to be answered: How has a petty bourgeois tendency been able to reflect itself in the party? It is only by answering this question that the party will be able to put itself back on the proletarian revolutionary road.” And all 15 pages of Tom Kerry’s supercilious, irrelevant reply detract not one iota from this critic’s views.

The reason for the SWP’s continuing difficulties, which have barely begun again, is simple: they flow from the contradiction between the party’s claim to a “Trotskyist” heritage and its reformist practice. In other or earlier organizations it is the “Marxist” or “Leninist” heritage of social democratic or Stalinist groups which, coupled with direct experience in struggle, propel some inquisitive youth or worker militants in a revolutionary direction. Just as with such other groups, so too the SWP is necessarily driven to disparage and ultimately formally to vacate its “heritage,” i.e., its revolutionary Marxist origins.

The Main Point

What emerges from the great mass of documents making up MB #4: parts I and II, is a clear verification of our claims about the workings of the SWP in regard to our expulsions: by 1963, the degeneration of the party had reached such a point that for the first time in the history of the SWP, the leadership used expulsions to rid itself of an internal opposition which met the Bolshevik conditions for party membership -- disciplined acceptance of the policies of the Majority. The Majority’s assertions, contained here, that we were “splitters”, that we were “hostile” and “disloyal” to the party, are shown for what they are: lies, designed to protect the Majority from any criticism which might have stemmed its headlong flight into reformism. The clearest example of the SWP leadership’s fear-inspired organizational maneuvers is the last document (#32) in this collection. In this prototype of double-talk, the SWP leadership attempted to convey the impression that it was allowing our appeal to the 1965 SWP Convention at the very instant it was in reality denying our right to present an appeal before the highest body of the SWP. This last document serves also to point up for what it was the sophistry of the U.Sec.’s denial of our right to appeal to that body on the grounds that “the proper place to direct your request is, consequently, to the next convention of the SWP.” (See document #30.)

The last documents included here clearly show that we did exhaust every recourse constitutionally and organizationally provided in an attempt to reverse our expulsions. These final actions, attempting to reverse the expulsions, were simply an extension of our history inside the party. Within the SWP, we had maintained an active and disciplined membership; we never sought exit from the party.

Thus we forced the decomposing SWP Majority leadership to a historic turning point: our expulsion turned into a lie James P. Cannon’s proud old boast that the only people ever thrown out of the SWP were those who sought it. Since that qualitative change, factional struggle -- the attempt to fight to win other members of the party to one’s own views -- has been effectively, and almost formally, ended. “Pre-convention discussion” has become just a ritualized safety-valve mechanism.

First established by fiat or the leadership, the SWP’s departure from Bolshevik organizational principles was codified at the 1965 Convention. During the Convention, the refusal to hear our appeal was so crude and unprecedented that even a few Majority National Committee members found it too much to swallow and pleaded that the Convention be allowed to “waste” even ten minutes to hear the constitutionally-provided-for appeal. But even this concern for “appearances” was voted down at the direction of the central party leadership. And finally the new 1965 Resolution on Organization gave formal cover to the SWP’s long-developing departure from Bolshevik organizational principles.

Marxist Bulletin staff

23 October 1967

*Note: MB #4, parts I & II, includes over 60% of the volume of material printed in the five SWP Internal Information Bulletins on the expulsions. More importantly, care was taken in our printing to give full weight to the majority position, views and arguments; thus, for example, we print in full the two main presentations, one to the New York branch, the other to the party plenum, by the principal Majority spokesman, Farrell Dobbs, National Secretary. In addition over 20% of the material in MB #4 is not to be found in any other source.



Posted: 22 October 2006