Monday, June 1, 2009

Whatever Happened to the Workers League? (1974)

Workers Vanguard No. 53 (27 September 1974)

Whatever Happened to the Workers League?

Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man; but will they come when you do call for them?
– Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part One
Tim Wohlforth's Workers League, which for years has attempted to conjure up a mass party by simply putting out a fake mass press, appears to have fallen on hard times. WL activity in the unions has recently dwindled to nearly zero. Its "Trade Union Alliance for a Labor Party" (TUALP), never more than a paper organization, was unable to bestir itself even to support last winter's British miners' strike, one of the most significant class battles of the present period.

At the same time the WL has apparently given up on any perspective of struggling against the other ostensibly revolutionary organizations either in the trade unions or anywhere else. Thus the WL has abstained on the struggle to defend left-wing Chilean militants held by the reactionary junta, not participating in or initiating a single demonstration in their defense, instead preferring to limit its confrontations with the reformist SWP and CP to the pages of the Bulletin. Instead of seeking to do battle with the revisionists in the real arenas of political and class struggle, Wohlforth and Co. have retreated to a liquidationist perspective limited to peddling their twice-a-week "mass paper" and engaging in apolitical community youth work.

This political liquidationism is clearly expressed in the pages of the Bulletin, the WL's organ of Wohlforthite revisionism. Stories of concrete struggles by WL and/or TUALP supporters against the labor bureaucracy and Stalinists are few and far between. Reflecting the empty-shell character of the WL, most Bulletin coverage of the labor movement is either second-hand or empty posturing, consisting of rewrites from the New York Times or photo stories of Bulletin salesmen posing at some plant gate.

The other side of the same coin is the Bulletin's "no comment" posture toward the major political struggles that are fracturing various fake-left organizations. The recent split of the Progressive Labor Party; the splitting of the left-Shachtmanite RSL away from the American IS; the expulsion of the pro-Mandel Internationalist Tendency from the SWP – all these events have been passed over in silence by the WL. Further, the major fight within the Pabloist United Secretariat, between the SWP and the forces grouped around Mandel/Maitan/Frank, has received very scant attention from Wohlforth. Instead the reader of the Bulletin is treated to endless turgid, hackneyed tracts by Wohlforth and Fields (e.g., on the 19th-century American utopians) and "sensational" exposes (a little late, though) of the "crimes of Chappaquiddick."

This indifference to political developments in the camp of the Maoists, social democrats and Pabloists reflects a profound political incapacity and is simply the literary expression of the WL's flight from political struggle to neighborhood-oriented youth work. Put another way, over the last several years the WL has been unable to regroup with a single authentic left current breaking from Maoism, left social democracy or Pabloism in the direction of Trotskyism.

These recent difficulties do not arise out of a sudden political turn on the part of the WL leadership. They represent the morbid effects of a political cancer that has been gnawing at the mangy WL for years.

The difficulties facing the WL have been recently and duly noted by Tim Wohlforth himself. Reviewing the Writings of Leon Trotsky (1930-31), Wohlforth comments:
"There is another valuable lesson to be learned from that period [the early years of the International Left Opposition] – the very careful attention Trotsky paid to the training of cadres themselves. This concern with training only increases in urgency the more outward developments allow for an outward turn of cadres."
Bulletin, 12 September
Wohlforth's brooding sense of urgency over the training of "cadres themselves" is apparently well grounded. For it seems to be the case that a large fraction of the tiny pool of experienced and able (albeit cynical, trained in the principle of having no principles) individuals whom Wohlforth had relied upon to run his operation have quit the WL over the past year. Several ex-WLers interviewed by Workers Vanguard have alleged that among those leading cadres who "voted with their feet" and left the organization are included: Lucy St. John, Dennis O'Casey, Karen Frankel, Dan Fried, Pat Connally, Marty Jonas, Juan Farinas, Ed Smith, Ronnie Roberts, Alex Steiner, Bruce McKay, Diane Isaacs, Debby Goldstein, Abby Rodriguez, Irving Hall, Ernie Lewis and Kiki Mendez. This is merely the bulk of the WL central leadership. These allegations tend to be corroborated by the disappearance of these names from the pages of the Bulletin and Young Socialist. Prudently, instead of listing the new editors (who will be left next week?), both papers have gone for months without listing an editorial staff.

It is alleged that most of this exodus occurred in an individual fashion, being more an expression of poor working relations with Wohlforth and acute personal demoralization (growing out of the WL's frenzied attempt to posture as a mass party) than a reflection of overt political differences with the WL's opportunist line. Reportedly this mass desertion has greatly alarmed Gerry Healy, who, so the story goes, has intervened to amnesty the shell-shocked dropouts, hoping to reintegrate them into the WL central leadership. Although it is reported that a few of the dropouts (e.g., Marty Jonas) have returned, how successful this attempt at retreading will be remains to be seen, as indeed does the question of Wohlforth's future role in the WL.

(A number of the dropouts, while recoiling from Wohlforth, still politically embrace Gerry Healy. But while Dr. Frankenstein may be superior to his run-amok creature; he does bear the real responsibility for creating his abomination.)

For Wohlforth, the exit of most of the central WL leadership and of many of the more able youth the WL has managed to recruit over the past period is a stunning personal and political defeat. For the Spartacist League, and for the struggle to construct an authentic Trotskyist party in the U.S., section of a reborn Fourth International, the current anemic condition of the WL is most satisfying and a confirmation of our political evaluation of the liquidationist course of Healy, Wohlforth and the WL.

A Bolshevik organization cannot be created upon a foundation of lies and political banditry, upon the methodology of subordinating program and political principles to the pursuit of transient organizational opportunities. Wohlforth's conceptions that he could construct a mass party by publishing a phony "mass paper" out of all line with the WL's influence in the class; that he could avoid the long and arduous task of constructing communist fractions in the labor movement, instead turning the Pabloist dictum on its head and going from "the center to the periphery" with his apolitical neighborhood youth work; that it is somehow possible to avoid a direct struggle with the revisionist currents within the working-class movement – all these "get-rich-quick" nostrums have come to naught.

As Trotsky so aptly points out:
"What critically thinking left workers, not only outside the party but inside it as well, demand at present of the leadership, above all, is not political infallibility – this is impossible – but revolutionary devotion, personal firmness, revolutionary objectivity, and honesty."

With such a leadership it is possible to forge a cadre that will

"...not leave unpunished toying with principles, journalistic lightmindedness, moral looseness, and pseudo 'irreconcilability' – in the name of personal caprice. Only in this manner can the organization be secured against catastrophic surprises in the future."
– "The Crisis of the German Left Opposition," 1930

Wohlforth and Healy are capable only of producing cynics, not cadre. With such leadership and methods it is not possible to create an organization able to carry the class struggle forward to victory. For those who have not yet abandoned ship, and the gullible souls who are tempted by Healy's promises of a fair deal, we warn: expect to be fed a lot more of the same old garbage in the same old pails. Nothing less than a fundamental break with the whole corpus of Healyism and a return to the principled struggle for the Trotskyist program, as currently represented by the international Spartacist tendency, can provide a way out of the impasse.