Sunday, April 12, 2009

Conversations with Wohlforth - 6

Marxist Bulletin No. 3 (Part IV - 1965)


Sixth Session 5 August 1965

Present: Spartacist: Robertson, Turner, Nelson (Harper, Secretary)
ACFI: Wohlforth, Mazelis, Michael

Meeting convened at 8:00 p.m. Chairman: Michael


1. Minutes of 4th Session
3. Election Statement
4. SWP Discussion

1. Minutes:

Minutes of the third meeting have not yet been stencilled. Draft minutes of fourth session have been submitted for approval. Approval can be relayed by telephone and minutes typed up without waiting for next meeting.

2. Proposals:

Robertson: At the last meeting Wohlforth finally agreed that unity is politically principled and desirable "despite differences centered on method.'' He also made the following set of demands: (1) common work and joint collaboration should be pursued; (2) that we should have common fractions where possible; (3) that past disputes be tabled to the end of this series of our negotiating sessions; and (4) in the event of unity, discussion of past disputes be tabled for at least a year.

We don't see these questions merely as "past disputes" but as having a bearing on whether or not unity will be fruitful --"The past is the future." If the 1962 split was principled, then unity now is unprincipled. However, as long as we have this discussion at some time in the course of the negotiations, that is all right with us. What we are interested in in this discussion is not whether you were wrong or right in 1962 but how you can square a stated desire for a non-spurious unity now while maintaining the position that you were right in 1962. In such a case we don't believe we can have a unity that will last, not necessarily that we saw everything correctly then. This must be discussed directly rather than approached sideways the way it has been. This is the only issue. On your points from the last meeting, we are glad you have finally admitted unity is politically principled and desirable -- we have been urging this for some time. (1) On common work, it is our understanding that, largely on our initiative, this has already been coming into existence. Michael was introduced into the Garment Center Viet Nam Committee. Sam and Fred are working together in local 1199. (2) But there is a limit. We can have common blocs, not fractions. What we are against until we have completed the preliminaries to unity is any artificial fusing of our organizations. Our fractions not only discuss tactics but also any differences arising among the comrades. Fractions decide policy and that is their right. (3) On past disputes, we would prefer not to wait, to go into them now. Wohlforth's analysis at the last meeting of the extent of our agreement and disagreement was straight to the point. However, we will agree to wait till the end of this series of discussions in order to appraise the past as it relates to our future. (4) On agreeing to table discussion of past differences for one year should unity result--we propose to table this question till concluding the final discussion, and then we will see where we stand on what we project for a unified organization. In addition, we have at this point one proposal to make to you; that is, we urge the earliest completion of the present series of discussions in order to initiate concrete merger steps, now that Wohlforth has admitted that unity is principled and desirable. (Turner and Nelson concurred in these, points.)

Wohlforth: Agreement then seems to be general except for the one point, the question of common fractions, and this would seem to be merely a matter of formulation. I meant common caucuses. A caucus moves ahead depending on agreement of two parts, not on simple majority vote. What we should strive for in our common work is to function together and not against each other. This requires discussion and attempts to formulate a common line while leaving open to each side the right and necessity for their on fractions to work and come into the caucus with their own policy. The main thing is to get the common work going and then see haw far it can go and how necessary the individual fractions are.

Do you mean that the bar to unification at the present time is our adherence to our original position on the split in 1962 and related questions? This is the first time this has been raised by you in this series of negotiations or at any time. Why are you raising this as the central issue now? We felt that while there was no basis for unity while we were in the SWP, now that we are out there may be a basis. I can tell you now that there will be no coming together on the question of the 1962 split. Our general feeling is that there is enough agreement between the two groups on basic political questions to make unification possible and that differences on method can be resolved within a united organization. The major question in our minds is whether these theoretical differences will effect the way we work. This is what drove us apart in 1962. Rather than going back to 1962 and seeing if we now agree on the differences that divided us, we should see whether differences divide us today. This should be the way we explore. This is the only way unification can take place. Unifications never take place over the issue of the old split. This can be discussed in time but should be put off in a united organization so that the wounds will heal and the organization pull together. This is the spirit with which we approach it. I can't understand why you ever proposed unity to us to begin with, since you know our position on 1962 and since you never stated in your letters that you first wanted to discuss the 1962 split and see whether we had changed our position. Seeing how this past question is being raised as an absolute block to unity, we should proceed immediately to this discussion. I urge comrades to strongly reconsider their inconsistent position that on the one hand there is a basis for unity and on the other that no unity is possible unless we change our past positions. There will be no reconsideration of our past differences. We feel you were clearly wrong but had hoped you had learned something in the interim. You should take the same attitude toward us if you really want unity with us. If you don't want unity, you will function just as comrade Robertson proposes. The last thing we want, and the reason we have dragged our feet, is a spurious unity, a unity leading to a split. We don't want to enter into either an external or an internal factional battle with you. This would hurt our work in this country, paralyze us. We urge you to reconsider. You might be surprised, might find out there is a basis if you tested it out. The question is not what happened in 1962 but in 1965. If we proceed along this line there is an excellent probability of unification. The only thing that would hold it up would be if we find we cannot work together in common work.

Mazelis: We have an opportunity to make a major step forward toward unification tonight. The general tone and substance of Spartacist's reply makes this possible. We can't stress too strongly that to us the process of unification is a deadly serious process and not something we take lightly., If we can make a breakthrough toward unification it has got to be on this basis, one that will not lead to an immediate or almost immediate split along the same lines which would hurt all concerned. You must have assumed that because we found ourselves outside the SWP we had changed our minds about it. You should have raised this somewhere along the line. Because we were suspended, because we took action that led to the suspension and expulsion, doesn't mean we changed our position of 1962. If Robertson saw the 1962 differences might be a bar to unity, then we should have an early discussion on this. I think we can have a more objective discussion than the ones of the last few weeks. I think we won't wind up agreeing with each other but hope we can end up understanding each other. In 1917 Lenin and Trotsky didn't put forward that before unification they had to have agreement on past disputes. Even in the case of Pablo and the SWP, what we were demanding was not simply a rehash of past differences but taking them in context and exposing their revisionism in the course of a discussion with the Pabloites.

Nelson: Our main concern with the 1962 split lies in the contradiction we see between your stated position tonight that there is a principled basis for unity and your maintaining the position that the 1962 split was justified, was a good, clean, justified split. We said from the beginning we thought the split was criminal because the political differences were not substantial enough to warrant a split. Last week you said that in 1962 you had had no intention of abiding by what you felt to be an incorrect line toward the Party and no intention of abiding by the majority decision. You think the 1962 split was a correct split but there were no great differences then. This implies that there would be no obstacle to your repeating it. You told us last week that this was a contradiction we had to live with. What has changed since 1962? The burden falls on you. If the 1962 split was correct and nothing has changed since then, what is the basis of your seeking unity with us and what will prevent a recurrence of 1962? Under these conditions unity would be a "visit" by the ACFI comrades rather than genuine unity. You must explain this contradiction.

Robertson: We accepted what you put to us last week as an ultimatum. Wohlforth has responded strongly, saying this is the first time we have raised the question of the original split. But in our initial July 1964 unity letter and repeatedly since and in 1963 we said the only barrier to unity was that you saw yourself as being closer to the SWP Majority than to us. We said at the time of the split that "this split lightly made will not be lightly healed." We were against the split at the time and have been for unity at each point since. You were putting words in my mouth when you had me saying there would be no unity We said we don't see haw there can be a real unity, and we gave the reason. Because we expect the same kind of differences to come up now as came up then. You exploited a tactical nuance of the kind that we would expect to come up several times a year. We hoped you would at least see now we hadn't wanted a split from the SWP in 1962. One year later you said we had pulled back. You gave us an ultimatum last week about postponing all discussion of past differences and now you turn around and say you are willing to take them up immediately. Tonight, however, we came prepared to deal with the SWP. If it is agreeable to hold off a week the discussion of past differences, I am willing to accept your latest modification. The 1917 unity didn't come about only because there were new tasks but because implicitly or explicitly there were real changes in the positions of people. Trotsky had hated the Bolshevik party but now he accepted it. In our opening letter to you and in all our correspondence we raised in a central position the old split as the central obstacle in our minds to unification.

Wohlforth: In your July letter you said the barrier to unity was obviously
removed by our expulsion from the SWP. This was proper. You concluded that our actions showed that we no longer held what you felt was our 1962 position, and thus unity was opened. This was proper. We wanted to find out if formal agreement covered fundamental differences. Orientation is reflected not by program but in how a group functions -- this is the real test, not program. We have a big question mark about you. There are important questions of method which might be reflected in functioning. We know of no other way to proceed than to tackle this question directly. Organizationally one learns more by. empirical practices than by evaluating the past. We have to test by your action whether or not you are applying the same wrong method you did in 1962. Your tactics in 1962 and as long as you were in the Party did damage to our work by poisoning the SWP and making it impossible for us to clarify issues. We will document this when we discuss this point. You looked at it differently. Our whole approach from 1962-64 was essentially an unsuccessful attempt within an arena that you had played some role in poisoning. We both adhere to the 1962 IC statement -- this is good. Nelson's question was fair, and this answers it, whether since we split in 1962 won't we split again. The only guarantee on the question of splits is not words but action. That is why we need common action now - as a test. Our differences have always been reflected most clearly on tactical problems. We now see that bringing this up has a logic which was not clear to us last week. So we should move to this at the next meeting and break the deadlock. Turner; We want to be convinced that we are going to have a real unity that mill not be ripped apart without there being any real political differences.

The basis for the break in 1962 was not political, based on real disagreement, but tactical, and was of an unprincipled nature. We are not asking you to "recant" on 1962; however, we must come to an understanding and evaluation that our future relationship will be based upon a comradely, honest relationship which will produce a really unified organization. A discussion of the past along these lines can't be ignored or avoided. There must be a discussion of the past, not as a barrier to unity, but so that we can be convinced that you people are really serious. We want to have a unity that will be a gain, and this is the question that is being raised. If you are going to feel that the tactics and approach you took in the past were "valid, correct, and necessary," and you will do the same in the future, then whatever unity is created will crumble at the first serious tactical difference. We are not attempting to heap indignities upon you, but this must be discussed. We want to build a living movement in this country.

Mazelis: On Nelson's point which I think was well taken, we will try to tell you in more detail at the proper time why we think the 1962 split was principled and why we feel that the tactical and organizational differences at that time were the reflection of deeper methodological and political differences. This is why the tactical differences at the time generated as much heat as they did, and why we feel your outlook cannot explain why such heat developed and why it developed on your side also. Putting things in perspective and looking at the whole past relationship between our two tendencies inside the SWP and out, we have taken an approach toward unity which naturally you have not taken since you have a different may of viewing the original split. We have tried to see if there are growing differences between us, and in the course of this discussion we feel we have clarified the methodological differences, especially on history, which exist. But despite methodological differences, we have not seen growing tactical differences. However, oral and written statements are not enough. We must have common work, not just common statements, on a more extensive basis. In working together we can see if methodological differences are leading to sharp tactical differences. We are definitely hopeful. If we can agree on this, then we have come a long way. We need more than words. We need trust of each other. The nub of the dispute is your view of the 1962 split as an unprincipled and unpolitical action. Though we view it as politically principled, this does not preclude reunification. The differences we had in 1962 about what was then the axis of our work--the SWP--necessitated a principled split. The axis of our work now is not the SWP. We may have outgrown these differences. Both may have developed. We want to test out if we have grown to the point where these questions will not arise.

Nelson: We had better have a discussion on 1962. After 1962 we were fighting a combination of you and the party majority, and you were developing the "method" which you now have. You subordinated your own political role in the Party, blocked with the Majority -- on the Cuban missile crisis, on Black Nationalism, on our right to exist in the SWP and YSA. Now you ascribe our past differences to differences of method. Then you said we were bent on a split, but you split our movement. In doing so our effectiveness as a polarizing force in the party, and since we have been out, have been greatly decreased. If you view your past performance as a model to be repeated, we don't need this kind of unity.

Turner: We can discuss this at the next meeting. Tonight we should go on to the next point.

3. Election Statement:

feels revisions are needed in the joint leaflet.
Discussion: Nelson, Wohlforth, Mazelis,Turner, Mazelis, Turner, Nelson, Wohlforth, Robertson, Turner, Nelson.
It was agreed to substitute "Because it is a partly independent movement with mass support, the Mississippi FDP has a potential of developing as a genuine expression of the Negro people" for the current statement on the FIP. The popular leaflet will be finally adopted at the next meeting.

4. The SWP :

Robertson: The most serious discussion in the SWP is taking place around the American question. Miller-Philips and Marcus-Lawrence are opposed to the Majority. You have asked that our friends stand on the basis of the Marcus-Lawrence document. In 1963 we amended the Majority American resolution which we saw as having a correct appraisal of the economic conjuncture and as posing the correct central task of a propagandistic role. However, the resolution left out the living side of any such resolution--the attempt to develop activity and become engaged. This we added in an amendment which the majority bitterly declined as hostile to their intent. In formally voting for resolutions, it is what they say that is important, not what intentions are behind them. The 1965 document of the SWP is not amendable; it consists solely of abstentionism. On the Marcus document, "The Coming American Socialist Revolution", the Appendix was not bad. However, as regards the main presentation... I can only say that if you are 99 per cent in agreement with it, I will make the prediction that before long you will find that the 1% is an extremely large 1%. It has an economist quality throughout. What struck me even more obtrusively is the following sorts of things: on pg. 14 appears the sentence, "A workers' state, socialism, is brought about only..." To equate a workers state with socialism is about as elementary a conceptual error as a professed Marxist could make. A workers state, i.e., coercion, is that transitional agency directing the passage to socialism, i.e., a class-less, state-less society. On page 10 Marcus presents what he takes as a key connection in his argument: "The material means of existence of modern life represent the product of many kinds of labors. It is therefore impossible for man individually to liberate himself from alienation. He must accomplish this socially. Marx underlines: '...individuals must appropriate the existing totality of the productive forces.' This is the 'secret' of the United Front and the transitional program." This is typical of Marcus' treatment throughout centering on the United Front as an all-powerful, extra-temporal fetish of some kind. Directly relating the United Front as the solution to human alienation skips over huge intervening layers of history, theory, and class struggle. The United Front is a specific tactic for unsettled periods to both mobilize a broad mass in struggle and to strengthen the authority of the vanguard party within the class. The UF can also be the beginning of soviet power should the given struggle reach such a pitch. The document has a very peculiar quality indeed. The SWP leadership will be riled by it and be able to rip it to pieces. The summary is interesting, but basically it is a right-wing and objectivist document.

With the exception of three criticisms we are in substantial agreement with the Miller-Philips document and our friends might well stand on this in the SWP pre-convention discussion. This document is a considerable advance over the 1963 document of Philips-Wohlforth which was wrong in economic prognosis as against the Majority. The time-table of events is a vital part of politics. Philips with more justification today is awaiting the economic crisis which he saw as imminent in '63. Our criticisms of the present document are that Philips treats Black Nationalism ambiguously. However, there is no attempt to use BN as the majority does to avoid building a revolutionary party of black and white workers. The most serious error appears at the beginning of several pages of otherwise effective and correct description of why the Federal troops slogan is wrong. Philips states that the issue is not one of principle. This implies that the bourgeoisie are prepared to carry through the democratic revolution in the south. This document has a theoretically primitive quality also expressed by absence of much attempt to generalize. We are four-square in support of the Miller amendment on the organizational question in the SWP, which takes out the deliberate ambiguity of the Majority's attempt to prohibit factions without using the words. We hope our friends will also introduce a motion to the convention to readmit the expelled Spartacist comrades. We have heard that Marcus is planning to introduce a motion to readmit the expelled ACFI comrades.

Wohlforth: The Marcus international proposal calls for the readmission of the comrades of both groups. You said that the majority's economic perspective in 1963 was essentially correct and ours incorrect? I feel we have a fundamental difference on the American question. We need discussion on this and on economic prognosis. However, it is not what we said in 1963 but what we think today that is important. Let's discuss this at the next meeting rather than the 1962 split question. The 1% disagreement I have with Marcus is not on this document but internationally -- we differ on Cuba. While we have not taken a formal position on the Marcus document, my own impression of it is excellent. Your assessment of the document as objectivist reflects your almost complete lack of understanding of Marxist method. The quote from the document you cited was absolutely excellent. Your opposition to the Marcus document reflects your opposition to our economic prognosis. There are three basic documents, all of which have the identical analysis that the U.S. has been in crisis since 1958-59. These are (1) the 1963 Philips-Wohlforth American resolution; (2) the Fall 1964 basic statement of the American Committee, "The Crisis of American Socialism"; (3) the Marcus American document. Your differences with these is a political problem.

Mazelis: On the Philips-Miller document, I found it to be an excellent job along the lines of a continuation of what we did in 1963, combining the American question and our discussion on the Negro resolution at that time. It certainly
merits support, as does the Marcus-Lawrence document. I don't really see how we can have a discussion of this tonight at 10:15 p.m.

4. Next Meeting:

There was general agreement with Wohlforth's proposal to hold the discussion of the American question at the next meeting, postponing treatment of the 1962 split until the following meeting. Next meeting set for Thursday, 26 August.

The secretaries were authorized to proceed on the minutes in the absence of difficulties.

Meeting adjourned at 10:25 p.m.