Friday, April 10, 2009

Conversations with Wohlforth - 1

Marxist Bulletin No. 3 (Part IV - 1965)


First Session 18 June 1965

Present: Spartacist: Robertson, Turner, Stoute (Harper, secretary)

ACFI: Wohlforth, Mazelis, van Ronk (Michael, alternate)

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

1. Organizational:

(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 duplicated.

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 grouping, etc..
(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 the IC.

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 out:
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 conference.

Wohlforth: Accepting the latter. We feel we can't make judgment about fusion until we ascertain where Spartacist stands; we don't yet have enough information to make such a judgment but have enough to now 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 in January.

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 Red Flag.

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 group.

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 don't share the Posadas line on nuclear war, guerilla warfare or their Pabloist view of the overwhelming objective onrush toward socialism. We haven't 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 favor 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 unity.

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 organizations.

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 discussions.
(2) On touring different locals – the normal procedure is a joint tour just before or after a unity conference. We shouldn't 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 Trotsky's 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 Leninist position.

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 you've 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. I in the relations between our two groups. Robertson's 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

5. Policies:

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.

6. Other:

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 mtg. It was agreed that the author of the draft could be present and speak on this point.

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.]