Marxist Bulletin No. 2

The Nature of the Socialist Workers Party—Revolutionary or Centrist




The Tendency and the Party

By Geoffrey White

The American Minority, originating and remaining a tendency within the SWP, is faced with the necessity of constantly defining and redefining its position with regard to that organization. It is only within the matrix of such an evaluation that any general perspective for the minority becomes realistic and helpful. Not only must this evaluation be made, but it must be adjusted and amended as time goes on to conform to changes in direction, or more likely, acceleration or deceleration of the process now taking place in the SWP.

The degeneration of the SWP, as developed by us in "Towards a Revolutionary Perspective" has been proceeding unchecked. "Trotskyism Betrayed" indicates the depth of the seriousness of this problem as our British co-thinkers see it. The party, losing confidence in the revolutionary role of the working class and hence in itself as the potential leadership of that class, is falling rapidly into a centrist position internationally. It is true that this sickness has manifested itself as yet primarily outside the Party’s field of direct work, in the area especially of the colonial revolution. This is only natural because it is on the American question that the weight of our revolutionary Marxist traditions is most felt, and that element within the Party are most likely to perceive the process for what it is and put up the most energetic resistance. The formation and training of the SWP leadership has been in the American trade union field. But more important, the very bleakness of the American scene retards the degeneration to which it gave rise by not providing those "leftward moving forces" which in other arenas have become the channels for capitulation and liquidation. This temporary lag in the process of degeneration must not, however, delude us into believing that the SWP leadership will not follow the same road on the American scene as that which they are taking internationally. The appearance in the field of Civil Rights of even such relatively feeble "left-ward moving forces" as the SNCC leadership has led to the liquidation of southern work, partly, it is true, for factional reasons, but more basically because this follows necessarily from their view of the "new world reality" in which we, Marxist revolutionaries, have but at best a dispensable, advisory role. Thus the cancer has already metastasized into the American scene, a process which, under the present circumstances, must inevitably continue. The accommodationist position taken already in the face of Castro, the FLN leadership, the SNCC leadership, and, by tacit complicity, in the face of the Renard leadership, constitutes a consistent position essential to the whole outlook of the majority, and it awaits but the emergence of some American Frank Cousins for it to be applied directly to the development of the class struggle in America.

We cannot understand the seriousness and the organic, non-fortuitous character of this process without attempting to see its genesis, and placing it in the context of the American scene.

First, it must be seen as a product of years of increasing isolation from the class. In the thirties and early forties, although the SWP was never an essential part of the basic leadership of the American working class to the degree that even the Stalinists were, nevertheless, the SWP did maintain bastions within the class where, as in Minneapolis, as in the Bell strike, or briefly in Maritime, it was able to influence and direct local developments, and more important, where it received the fructifying and rejuvenating flow of day to day contact with the real class struggle. Since the late 1940’s, however, the Party has gone through a period of deep isolation from the centers of class struggle. We have been wiped out of Maritime, reduced close to vanishing point in Auto, and so forth in each industry and every city where we were once a force. This isolation is a serious political defeat which has sharply reduced the Party in size and in influence in various areas of activity, The deep McCarthy period, not yet lifted, also increased the isolation of the American section from the rest of the world movement, and encouraged the Party to concentrate its gaze more and more exclusively on the American scene.

Cut off from effective participation in the direct class struggle in more than just a peripheral way, the Party correctly sought and found opportunities in other fields of work which were, unfortunately, necessarily of an essentially petty bourgeois character. The most important of these alternate fields of work were the regroupment campaign on the Stalinist front from 1956 to 1958, the fruitful work with the LWC, and more recently the opening presented for student work through the YSA. However correct it undoubtedly was energetically to enter these fields, nevertheless the Party had to pay the price in absorbing from them further petty-bourgeois opportunist pressures, as exemplified in the 1959 NY ISP campaign.

Against this background of defeat and of isolation from the direct class struggle, the political decay of the aging leadership of the Party, from which a whole generation was missing, was inevitable.

Having no taste over a sustained period of even small victories, seeing the class reject them and turn to relative passivity or even reaction, the old leadership of the Party, aided by younger elements trained in a petty-bourgeois political milieu, lost confidence in the class and its own ability to achieve victory. Thus it sought to win ersatz victories by riding the coattails of elements like M-26, FLN and SNCC. This leads directly to accommodationism, liquidationism, and the revisionist anti-Marxism it now practices.

It is a tribute to the calibre of this leadership and the power of its hitherto Marxist ideology that this process did not manifest itself earlier than it did.

The central question which we must answer is: "What constitutes the Bolshevik movement in the USA?" Is it still the SWP? In view of the foregoing, we must answer, no. We have shown here and elsewhere that the SWP’s anti-Trotskyist course is not an aberration on the part of the majority, but is an inevitable conclusion drawn from their revisionist world outlook. In view of this underlying and fatal revisionism in the SWP, we must conclude that the Bolshevik movement in the United States is posited today not in the SWP as such, but in the American minority as a revolutionary Marxist tendency within the broader centrist grouping.

If the foregoing conclusion is correct we must face certain consequences which inevitably flow from it.

Recognizing our tendency to be Bolshevik in content but a minute subgrouping in form, we must seek at all costs to win to our program the most advanced and class conscious workers and intellectuals, to create the nucleus of a combat party and to fortify ourselves by this recruitment against the extreme hazards of sectarianism and narrowness which are inherent dangers in our present position. We must soberly recognize that while 40 people cannot lead the masses, even less can they afford to become isolated from meaningful contact with them.

Our discipline must on principle lie with the Bolshevik tendency, whose discipline, as long as the Voorhees Act organizationally severs us from the International, is ultimate and final. The discipline we owe to the Party, however, is tactical and conditional, conditional to our overriding desire to stay in its ranks.

The Party we must regard in terms of its motion, not statically, in terms merely of where it is at the moment. Seen thus, it is a rightward moving centrist formation.

However, the Party is and remains the cornerstone of our perspectives. It is within its ranks that we find the most conscious workers, the best Marxists, the most resolute fighters. We will find healthy elements among all sections in the Party in those who are not prepared to throw their ideological arms at the feet of the first left moving bureaucracy they encounter.

In this light we must consider the geographical distribution of our forces. New York, while it is the political center and we must seek always to maintain a force there, offers few practical opportunities for the most direct participation in the struggles of the decisive section of the class.

Furthermore, it is traditionally the center of petty-bourgeois influence in the Party. It is therefore desirable that our forces there be reduced to a minimum, and that comrades who are unable to function effectively in New York and who are able to make a shift out of the city be encouraged to do so. In deciding recommended destinations for these comrades, special consideration should be given to such locations as Detroit, New Haven, San Francisco and eventually Chicago which combine the possibility of effective work immediately with long range possibilities of involvement with important sections of the direct class struggle.

Furthermore, especially in a youthful tendency such as ours, great care must be given in the occupational guidance of our young people. Youth who are able to do meaningful work politically in the student movement, or whose academic studies are potentially fruitful in reinforcing our woefully weak cadre of trained intellectuals, that is, students with a genuine academic vocation, should not be pressured out of the student category in the name of a false proletarianization policy. Where neither of these factors exists, our young comrades should be encouraged and be guided toward occupations where they will have the potentiality of participating with and eventually coming into leadership of decisive sections of the proletariat, and away from the Bohemian fringes. Factors to be considered are: economic survival, physical demands, job mobility, and strategic position within the structure of the class. This means special attention to the acquisition of skills which give a degree of job security, job mobility, economic sufficiency, and whose physical demands are not so great as to render after-work political activity impossible. A policy which sends young people into grueling dead end jobs is not only destructive, but also rather than being truly proletarian in fact reflects petty-bourgeois romanticism.

To the extent compatible with maintaining our position in the Party, we must seek to pick and choose our areas of activity, concentrating on those which give us maximum access to the class and maximum opportunity to influence the ideology of incoming contacts. This would mean primarily civil rights work at this stage, educational work in the Party and YSA, and trade union work above all where opportunities for meaningful work in this field present themselves.

Will our continued membership in the Party inhibit our activities on many occasions? Yes, it undoubtedly will, as the Shirley case illustrates. Because we say that our discipline to the Party is tactical and conditional, that does not in any way make our party discipline less rigid. We will be held to a higher standard than the majority. We must expect and accept this. This means that we must from time to time accept the sacrifice of promising lines of mass work, but this is a necessary price we should be prepared to pay in order to remain in the Party.

If any individual or group of individuals is victimized and expelled, we should resist this if it is unjust, but not at the price of the expulsion of the whole tendency.

Furthermore, in a rightward drifting party, the formal position always lags behind and is better than the actual position. We must be prepared to take advantage of this contradiction.

It also follows that we must be prepared to engage in what are usually called "party-building" activities, for two reasons. First, because it is tactically necessary in order to maintain our position in the Party, and second because in building the Party we are building a field from which we will create our own foundations. But here a cautionary note is necessary. We cannot be trapped into doing the majority’s dirty work for it. If an incorrect motion needs to be introduced, let them do it. How much of a fight to make is an immediate tactical question, but under no condition should we take responsibility for incorrect policies just to prove we are good guys. We must appear as the rational, principled elements, they as the bitter factionalists.

Under these conditions we absolutely cannot have a split perspective. But to seek at all costs short of political suicide, that is, the loss of the right to present our ideas and being forced to repudiate them, to avoid a split, is not to preclude the possibility. If the majority is willing to pay the price, we can be expelled. This currently unlikely variant is always with us, and our comrades should be prepared for any eventuality.

We must seek to recruit to the Party, to our program and our tendency. It is to our interest to have as many people as possible in the Party where they will face the full impact of our ideas. Where our supporters are unjustly refused admission to the Party, as seems to have happened in one case in S. F., we must consider that in principle we are responsible to them and they to us, but for tactical reasons they must not be a formal part of the tendency, or attend meetings at which Party questions are discussed.

As far as our internal life is concerned, we must recognize that we are now in the process of passing over from a tendency to a faction. International events will increasingly force this on us. This does not mean that we must confront the Party monolithically on every occasion. Such confrontations should be held to a minimum. However, this transition does require a sharpening of our discipline and internal structure. We must recognize that this carries with it the dangers of increasing our isolation in the Party.

Serious attention must be given to theoretical questions, not the least of which is Cuba. This work must involve the maximum number of comrades.

Internally there must, and because of its size and consciousness there can be, a maximum of internal democracy. Political and crucial organizational decisions must be arrived at by all. International communications will become more of a security problem once the break with the I.C. is formalized, but even here, there must be no monopoly. Internal documents and correspondence must, of course, be made accessible to all.

In sum, we must organize now for a long battle for the survival of the Bolshevik movement in the U. S. While we regard this movement as posited in the minority, we regard the SWP as both the field of battle and the vehicle for the propagation of our ideas. We seek to remain within this organization at any cost short of political extinction. As a self-conscious revolutionary Marxist tendency, we seek to counterpose on every suitable occasion our own principled politics to their opportunism. This is the path to the reconstitution of the Marxist movement in North America.

October 10, 1962




Posted: 16 July 2005