Source: Self-published pamphlet, 1983
Mark-up: Steve Painter
During the years 1978-1983, the Socialist Workers Party of the United States has been making sharp shifts in its policies, political positions, methods of work and internal norms. These shifts reflect an effort by the leadership of the SWP to develop an orientation in the post Vietnam antiwar movement period. Some important steps forward have been taken by the SWP. Two important shifts, which reflect fundamentally positive steps, have been the decision to colonize industry and to recognize the revolutionary proletarian character of the Cuban Communist Party, the FSLN in Nicaragua, the FMLN in El Salvador and the New Jewel Movement in Grenada.
Along with these positive steps, however, there has been a hardening of increasingly sectarian positions which threaten to undermine the positive aspects of the two points mentioned above. This document is a review of the increasingly sectarian positions developed by the SWP in the last five years. Why this is happening is beyond the scope of this document, although it is clearly related to the years of isolation from the broader workers’ movement. The development of hardened sectarian political views has occurred quite frequently in groups which have developed within the world Trotskyist current. While the causes of the sectarianism of the SWP are undoubtedly related to these broader questions, this document takes up each political question at its face value, independent of broader judgments.
The SWP leadership codified a conjunctural analysis in 1978-79 which contained certain errors of an ultraleft and workerist nature. As they were further developed, these errors of analysis were intertwined and often confused with the turn to colonize industry.
The decision to begin orienting members into basic industry in mid-1975 was correct for three fundamental reasons:
However, such a colonizing campaign must proceed as a process geared to actual political developments. It cannot be based on historical guesses, moral judgments, or hygienic prescriptions against the dangers of petty-bourgeois infections. While the turn to colonize industry is part of an international process, differences in objective and subjective conditions dictate that the tempo and manner of this process will differ in every country.
For the United States, the failure to make a turn towards industry would inevitably have disoriented the party. However, if a turn to colonize industry is not based on political developments, but is made for hygienic reasons, the party would also be disoriented. The process to colonize industry, beginning with the effort to get members into the steelworkers’ union and to participate in the Sadlowski campaign, was a fundamentally correct orientation for the SWP.
Unfortunately, the subsequent course of the turn to industry was associated with an analysis of the developing class struggle in the United States which had many weaknesses. In spite of the fact that many important and valid points were made, the resolutions adopted by the SWP in the 1978-79 period presented an inaccurate analysis of the existing reality of the class struggle.
Those resolutions stated that, during the period from 1971 to 1974, political activity had shifted from outside to inside the industrial unions. This process had already reached a culmination, thereby placing the industrial unions in the center stage of North American politics.
The working class was also supposedly at its highest point of anti-capitalist consciousness ever. The leadership of all social movements — women, Blacks, Chicanos, antiwar, ecology, etc — would now come almost exclusively out of the industrial working class. According to the reports of 1978, the United States had entered a crisis since 1974, and this would lead to gigantic battles for power. Also, under the growing class polarization and increasing danger of new imperialist wars, the radicals of the 1960s, not rooted in the industrial unions, were, as a whole, turning away from the working class and capitulating to the pressures of imperialism. This last point was fully developed some time later, but it was an integral part of the framework which was codified starting in 1978.
1. “We have no Armageddon point of view based on conjunctural economic estimates. But we know that by 1974-75, we had entered a period of crises for capitalism — one we will not come out of without gigantic battles for power. That’s what we are convinced of.” (SWP Discussion Bulletin, Vol. 36 No. 6 p. 31, Leading the Party into Industry by Jack Barnes, adopted by the National Committee, February 24, 1978.)
This prediction of when the battles for power will take place is rather reminiscent of Ernest Mandel’s prediction in the early 1970s that the decisive battles in Europe were coming within three to five years. Some ten years later we have still not had the decisive battles for power in Europe, nor is there a pre-revolutionary situation in any country of Western Europe.
Such a statement was wrong in Europe and doubly wrong in the United States because it was not based on concrete political developments within the working class and in the class struggle as a whole but simply on an historical guess based on economic projections (the recession of 1974) on when the Third American Revolution will occur.
Today, at the end of 1983, some five years after this judgment was adopted by the SWP NC and ten years after the 1974 recession when we supposedly entered the era of the battles for power, there still does not exist even one national class struggle left-wing in a major industrial union, much less any indication that we have entered or are about to enter a pre-revolutionary period in North American history.
We are at the early beginning phase of a new stage in the radicalization of the working class. Our orientation at this stage must be towards viewing the period as a continuation of a process of class polarization and not as preparations for “gigantic battles for power”. The present radicalization will not proceed in a straight line; it will have ups and downs. As the contradictions build up, it will involve sudden explosive steps forward. How far the process will go in the next immediate historical period cannot be predicted. There is no way to know how long periods can last. There is no built-in guarantee that any particular economic downturn will set off an irreversible process towards actual “battles for power”. Nor can the forms the radicalization will take be fully predicted. On the contrary, these forms can be expected to include many surprises for us.
2. One very important error in the SWP’s analysis is exactly a misunderstanding of the forms of radicalization. The SWP leadership fails to understand that the radicalization of the ’60s and early ’70s — itself a continuation of the civil rights mass movement starting in the 1950s — was an unexpected form of the beginning of a new rise in the North American working class.
The most visible aspects of the ’60s were that of a student and generational radicalization. But these, in turn, reflected deep molecular processes which were transforming the consciousness of the working masses. Thus the present stage of working class radicalization is not a break from the ’60s but a continuation in a different context. The pre-1974 and post-1974 radicalizations within the working class are different stages of one process.
The SWP majority faction leadership rejects this. They see a class dichotomy between the two stages of radicalization. To them, all that came before 1974 is now something of the past or even worse. They have developed the theory that the radicals of the ’60s as a whole have turned tail and have abandoned politics or else have gone over to the bourgeoisie. This view comes from the mistake — reversing previous positions of the SWP — of seeing the radicalization of the ’60s as “petty-bourgeois” and the new radicalization as “working class”. Even if the present majority faction does not state their position as explicitly as the above, this is the logic of their analysis.
This incorrect approach has led the present majority in the SWP to talk of a mass phenomenon of marielitos in regard to the radicals of the ’60s. By the term marielitos, they refer to the people who in 1980 wished to abandon Cuba and go to the United States — the Cuban government allowing them to embark from the town of Mariel. The term marielito has come to mean those abandoning the revolution and, more recently with the growing revolutionary offensive in Central America, those seeking to avoid conflict with imperialism by abandoning the struggle.
“But there is no question whatsoever that we face a Mariel in the American radical movement,” stated Jack Barnes before the March, 1982, SWP plenum under a section entitled “A Mariel in the radical movement”. (Internal Information Bulletin No. 1, 1982, entitled Defending the Organizational Principles of a Proletarian Party ).
Barnes continued: “That is without doubt what is happening on the U.S. left as the blows against the working class come down, as the polarization deepens, and as the imperialist war pressure mounts. The difference between conditions and consciousness borne of being a worker and that produced by being immersed in a petty-bourgeois milieu is widening. And the ranks of the North American marielitos — with Susan Sontag and her ilk leading the scramble for the boats — are growing.” (Ibid. p. 5)
At an earlier date, Barnes used the example of Jerry Rubin as an example of the marielito phenomena. Rubin, a colorful protester during the anti-Vietnam war period who was associated with the Yippies, took a job on Wall Street and argued in defense of capitalism. The New York Times made a great deal of Rubin’s new job and gave him plenty of space to explain his views. The New York Times was overjoyed to find at least one figure from the radicalization of the ’60s who would speak in favor of capitalism. The Times ’ campaign around Rubin fooled only a few people, probably because the Times did not follow up with other examples or any comments supporting or endorsing Rubin’s outlook by other well-known leaders of the ’60s.
The radicals of the ’60s have not, as a whole, turned to the right. Caught in the beginnings of a class polarization, the generation of the ’60s has gone in various directions. Some, under the pressures of bourgeois society and without any clear orientation, have abandoned political activity or become conservatized. Others have not, and their views cover the spectrum of positions existing at this stage of the radicalization in North American society.
The solidarity movement in support of the workers and peasants of Central America is led in great part by the radicals of the ’60s. Struggles against sexism, racism, mass actions against nuclear weapons and nuclear power or against pollution involve many of those coming out of the ’60s. Such activists are far more typical than the Rubins or Sontags among ’60s radicals, or the Eldridge Cleavers among Black activists.
There is a profound interrelationship between the ’60s and the new objective conditions that are both transforming the older radicalized elements and adding new layers of awakened workers, oppressed nationalities and youth to social protest. One area where this phenomenon has developed importance is precisely in the trade unions. Quite often, it is radicals from the ’60s who are behind one progressive action after another occurring within the unions on a whole range of issues. When thousands of hands go up in votes at national conventions of unions representing millions of workers opposing U.S. intervention in El Salvador, even a superficial study would soon discover the link between these raised hands and the events of the late ’60s and early ’70s.
The present SWP majority leadership does not understand this interrelationship. They oppose, for instance, having fractions in the NEA, AFT, or social service unions like AFSCME and SEIU. Yet, it is in precisely these white-collar unions, which involve millions of workers, that one will find on some issues the strongest currents of radicalized workers influenced by the radicalization of the ’60s. Members of precisely those trade unions that the SWP majority faction opposes working in joined the 100,000-strohg demonstration against U.S. intervention in Central America on May 3, 1981.
This attitude of seeing radicals of the ’60s as a “petty-bourgeois” phenomenon turning against the working class has led the SWP leadership to turn its back on almost all united-front activity. They want an untainted “workers” radicalization not associated with or complicated by the “petty-bourgeois” infection of the 1960s. Thus one movement after another is rejected as petty-bourgeois, driving the SWP further away from living activity and towards general propaganda.
If a mass marielito phenomenon as described by Barnes really existed of the generation of the 1960s, it would mean that a major defeat and downturn had occurred in the class struggle. It would also be international in scope. Can the generation of radicals coming out of the ’60s and their fragmented evolution really be considered a Mariel? Not at all. In this regard, it is useful to keep in mind that out of the radicals of the late ’60s and early ’70s there appeared the leadership which is today driving forward a proletarian socialist revolution in Central America.
3. With the downturns in the capitalist economy in the early ’70s, an important shift occurred in the North American political scene. The ruling class could no longer offer concessions of the kind that they had granted during the period of economic rise. Instead the ruling class took the offensive against the working class and oppressed layers, beginning a process of “cutting back”.
The ruling class took advantage of the decline in the civil rights movement at the end of the 1960s and the rapid demobilization of broad radicalized milieus after the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam to press forward on many fronts in their new offensive. These factors, combined with the continued hegemony of the entrenched reactionary trade-union bureaucracy, handed the bourgeoisie a great advantage and a series of quick victories which spread from secondary social layers to the heart of the industrial proletariat.
If any class has stood in the center of U.S. politics in the last ten years, it has been the bourgeoisie. Following its sharp divisions during the Vietnam war and the Watergate scandal, it has been able to reunify itself (a unity which may be once again coming into question), and go on the offensive. The industrial working class — along with the oppressed nationalities, white-collar workers, women and students — responded to the attacks in disarray and disunity. No leadership arose in these defensive struggles to promote an effective united response, nor has there yet been any nationwide class struggle political alternative to challenge the complete dominance of the bourgeoisie in electoral politics.
As the economic crisis has grown, generating an increasing number of unemployed and worsening conditions both on the job and in life in general, there has been a reaction reaching into the industrial unions. The capitalists, forced by their drive to maintain their profits under increasingly difficult economic conditions, have begun testing and challenging the power of the industrial unions. The results at this stage are a stand-off. While the ruling class has made some important gains and has forced a series of concessions, they have not been able in open struggle to destroy any major industrial union. All their victories, at least in terms of the relationship of forces, can be rapidly put in question by the first generalized upsurge of the industrial workers.
The resistance by the industrial unions has been pragmatic and confused, with occasional flashes of their potential power. But to describe this stage of the class struggle as one that has put the industrial working class in “center stage”, leading the other sectors of society against the capitalist attacks, is not accurate.
A clear example of where the industrial workers have been in center stage in recent history is Poland. There we have no problem in identifying the industrial workers as the central force in the events of the class struggle and in seeing their leadership role on all social questions and before all other layers of society. Unfortunately this is not the case in the United States at this stage.
The conception that the industrial workers are, in terms of political activity, in center stage in North American politics was announced in 1978, although in a somewhat confused manner, a confusion which has never been unravelled. After 1978, it was gradually soft-pedalled with growing modifiers such as “moving towards center stage” — modifiers in clear conflict with the views expressed in 1978. Such modifiers were necessary for the majority faction because their political analysis was in such conflict with reality.
The majority faction’s original vision of the phrase “center stage” was at first clearly meant as political activity, but since 1978 it has been used more as a confused statement of the objective fact that the social weight of the industrial workers makes them the most important and strongest section of the working class and thus they occupy, historically, the role of “center stage”.
Of course, the historical trend is in this direction. But to say the industrial workers were in center stage in 1982 both in Poland and in the United States makes the term purely abstract and not a useful description of the stage of political activity in the class struggle.
This is how Barnes began his explanation in 1978: “Prior to 1974 much of the political activity took the course around, and not through, either the industrial unions or the workers in industry. But following Nixon’s 1971 wage freeze, that changed. As we got closer to the 1974-75 depression, it changed more and more. Prior to this, though, the best arena for recruitment to our working class program was not in these unions.” (Ibid. p. 31)
It is obvious from this quote that Barnes at first held that political activity and potential recruitment to the SWP had already decisively shifted to the industrial unions between 1971-1974, that is, more than four years prior to 1978. Unfortunately Barnes puts the statement in the negative, which detracts from its clarity.
Barnes’ contention is repeated with occasional modifiers throughout the documents during the 1978-79 period. Another example of a more cautious statement is the following formulation: “We are still in a preparatory period — not a period when we are leading mass class struggle actions. We must make no mistake about that.” (It would be rather difficult to make a “mistake about that” since anyone half awake knew the SWP was not leading any mass struggles.) “But,” Barnes continues, “it is a preparatory period in which the center of American politics has shifted to the industrial working class. That’s the central political judgment we put before the plenum.” Barnes concludes regarding the need to colonize industry: “By not making this move now, we would unnecessarily cut ourselves off from the center of American politics.” (Ibid. p. 30)
This presentation of Barnes as to where the political activity exists within North American politics in 1978 does not see the beginning radicalization of industrial workers and the resulting potential political activity as a process, but as an already established fact. Thus, he confuses the objective historical role of the industrial working class with the present stage of political activity. And he confuses molecular processes of changing consciousness among industrial workers with overt political activity. The resulting error was a one-sided analysis.
The position adopted by the National Committee was correct in a general broad historical sense but incorrect conjuncturally, thus disorienting the party. The process was only beginning. An enormous amount of political activity which is part of the class struggle was still taking place outside of the industrial trade unions and would continue to do so. Barnes’ report de-emphasized that reality and thus led the party away from many living struggles. Instead the party was oriented towards involvement in a stage of the class struggle that did not yet exist.
4. “The Political Committee became convinced that there are more workers developing anticapitalist sentiment or greater openness to anticapitalist conclusions and solutions today than at any other time in American history.” (Ibid. p. 31)
Some 70 years ago, a million workers voted for Eugene V. Debs for president of the United States. In today’s framework, this would be the equivalent of a revolutionary socialist receiving roughly five million votes. Debs was a genuine proletarian revolutionary fighting for socialism. Support for the socialist movement had mass roots within the North American working class at that time. This is not true today.
On some questions, the workers of today are more advanced than they were in the days of Debs. This is true on such matters as rejecting racism, being more supportive of the rights of women, and having a greater understanding of the role of U.S. imperialism, as well of course of having greater trade union consciousness. These are gains from the radicalizations of the 1930s and 1960s. But in one very important sense, namely, conscious support for a working class political alternative against the bourgeoisie, the working class today is still behind earlier periods of its history. Thus, the flat statement in 1978 that the working class has reached a new zenith of anti-capitalist consciousness, along with other exaggerated judgments, amounts to an ultraleft view of the real state of working class consciousness today in the United States. The existing consciousness can best be characterized as contradictory, with important advances on various social questions but lagging in political consciousness.
5. The concept that the leadership of all social movements will come out of the industrial working class is false. Marxists are not economic determinists. We do not believe that because one layer of workers is more oppressed and exploited, or objectively has a greater social weight, that they are at any given moment necessarily more actively opposed to the bourgeoisie. Likewise, the process of the formation of revolutionary leaderships tends to reflect the stages and historical course of living struggles.
Also, history has shown us that petty-bourgeois elements of the intelligentsia have played a rather large role in the development of working class revolutionary leaderships. Lenin’s Central Committee, which led the first proletarian revolution to establish a workers state, was made up overwhelmingly of individuals from petty-bourgeois backgrounds like those of Lenin and Trotsky.
The leadership group around Castro, like Castro himself, included many individuals coming out of the student movement or from petty-bourgeois backgrounds. The same is true of the FSLN leadership. In the United States, where the working class has a relatively high cultural level and approximately an eight-hour day, it is quite likely that the percentage of leaders from working class backgrounds will be substantially higher than it was in Russia of 1917 or in Cuba or Nicaragua. There is indeed a trend towards a heavier percentage of leadership coming directly out of the working class.
As Marxists, however, we understand that the class struggle affects all social layers. We will continue to see important elements of the leadership that will fight for the Third American Revolution and help lead many of the mass social movements — such as those of the oppressed nationalities, the women’s movement, the anti-war movements, as well as of the workers’ movement itself — coming out of the student movement or from other social layers outside of the working class. These elements, politically going over to the working class, will combine with class-conscious workers in leading mass class struggle actions. This process of a combined source of leadership is inevitable, although for individuals coming out of non-proletarian backgrounds there must be a process of fusion into the workers’ movement or their role can, and has often been, a hindrance to the workers’ movement. Inevitably, the workers movement will both suffer the problems of petty-bourgeois individuals within its ranks and reap the benefits of genuine revolutionaires who have come over to the working class from petty-bourgeois backgrounds. To reject the concept of a combined source of leadership in the workers’ and other social movements is to break with a materialist Marxist approach on this question.
In his report to the February 24, 1978 plenum, Jack Barnes introduced the novel idea that the leadership of all social movements in the next period of U.S. history will come almost exclusively, if not exclusively, out of the industrial working class — not just the working class, but its industrial sector.
“Our work in industry, and getting into industry, is the central responsibility of the party. It is the central leadership responsibility of all cadres. This is where the next leadership of the proletarian party historically, and the leaders of the next stage of the mass movement, will be found. It is true not only for the future class struggle-left wing in the unions, but for the Black movement, the Chicano movement, the Puerto Rican movement, the women’s movement. It’s from here — and not from the ranks of lawyers, preachers, professors, labor fakers, petty bourgeois politicians and ex-government officials — that the leaders of the Black movement, the women’s movement, will come. They are going to be found among the American working class and that is where we have to go and get them.” (Ibid. p. 38)
This is a completely mechanical schema, camouflauged with a false debate. It poses the alternative of finding leaders among the industrial workers to that of finding them among “labor fakers”, “petty-bourgeois politicians” or similiar types. No one believes future revolutionary leaders will come from “labor fakers” or “petty-bourgeois politicians”. Barnes avoids the real question of interest to Marxists, namely, will not an important part of the workers’ revolutionary leadership and that of the Black, Chicano, Puerto Rican, as well as the women’s movement, also come from white-collar workers who make up the majority of the working class?
Will there not be many representatives coming out of the student movement, considering the number of 12 million youth today on U.S. campuses? After all, the composition of the present SWP leadership is overwhelmingly from a student background. Will we not see many leaders of the women’s movement coming out of white-collar jobs where the majority of working women are to be found? Will there not be an important levy in the future, as there has been in the past, of leaders coming out of the student or religious movements within the Black, Chicano and other oppressed nationalities’ movements? The above quote and the position it represents is a rather clear “workerist” error. It is one manifestation of a general workerist slant in the SWP majority analysis since 1978.
We should probably also note the phrase “go and get them” which ends the above quote. One does not “go and get them” when it comes to the leadership of mass movements. One participates in mass struggles and fuses with the developing leadership. Leadership can only arise out of struggles. Leaders cannot be “chosen” or appointed. Lenin’s whole concept of a vanguard party is based on the organizational unification and political homogenization of a vanguard layer which arises out of mass struggles.
Inevitably, mass struggles of workers and genuine mass social movements affect all social layers. The Third American Revolution, by the very nature of the late stage of capitalism we are living under and the spectrum of problems it has created, from the threat of nuclear war to pollution and unremitting racial and sexual oppression, will be led by a proletarian leadership that will arise out of various struggles. This leadership will reflect the social weight of the industrial proletariat both directly, through industrial worker leaders, and indirectly, through university students coming from industrial working class homes or influenced by the workers’ movement. It will also include leaderships formed in a variety of social movements coming from various backgrounds, including a substantial sector from white-collar sections of the working class.
Barnes’ workerist conception of where the leadership of mass social movements will come from, the exaggerated claim of the industrial workers being in the center stage of political activity, the misjudgment of the present stage of the class struggle, the ultraleft prediction of the coming “battles for power” showdown, the rejection of the radicals of the ’60s as marielitos — all combine to give a workerist ultraleft slant to the SWP majority faction’s outlook which blinds it to the current reality of the class struggle. The predominant leadership in most of the ongoing struggles today does not come from the industrial working class but comes in great part from the so-called marielitos. Yet these struggles are genuine expressions of the present level of class conflicts. To this reality the SWP has responded with growing abstentionism on all levels including in its trade union work.
These workerist ultraleft views were first presented in 1978 and they included a series of modifiers which made the sectarian direction the leadership was heading towards somewhat unclear. In 1978, Barnes argued strongly for continuing work in the white-collar unions. He insisted, rather mechanically for a period, that the Young Socialist Alliance (YSA) should be strictly student-oriented.
At first it appeared that the effort to colonize industry would reinforce instead of breaking with Lenin’s insistence that a revolutionary workers’ party work not only among all layers of the working class, but even among the non-working class oppressed, including the student movement.
Even the exaggerated statement of what stage of political activity existed within the industrial working class was made along with some modifiers.
“The key thing for us,” stated Barnes, “is the fruitful party-building work to be done right now in the center of political life in the United States — the industrial working class.” With this sentence Barnes begins a paragraph that attempts to somewhat modify the “center stage” concept.
Here’s how Barnes stated it in 1978:
“By center, of course, we’re not saying this is the only place. There are no big street actions taking place there. But more and more, what happens in the unions and to the unions deeply affects the entire relationship of class forces. And it’s here that the leadership — the future class struggle leadership of all the movements of the oppressed and exploited — is being forged and has to be forged if they are to be led to victory. Thus the changing composition of the party, while not a hygienic or therapeutic need, becomes the source of a great strengthening of the party as a whole. We’ll not only have our fingers directly on the pulse of the key sections of the American working class, but we’ll get to know workers who are being tested and trained, including ourselves, to become leaders in the coming battles. This is the single most important arena of training for the proletarian leaders — including women and the oppressed nationalities — of the struggles to come.” (Ibid. p. 36)
This paragraph certainly does not sound like the kind of advice one would get when entering the arena which is in the center of political activity. Such advice would be to jump into the existing activity and become an integral part of it, helping to lead it. Barnes’ inability to present any concrete examples of the activity SWP members should get involved in outside of taking the political pulse of the industrial working class should have been a warning that the turn to colonize industry was not being based on a clear understanding of political developments.
What might have appeared at the time as a one-sidedness was corrected by projecting other activities for the party. For a party actively involved in the ongoing class struggle, regardless of its form, to begin a process of colonization of industry, even if activity in industry was limited, could be perfectly appropriate, taking into consideration some of the broader factors which were mentioned earlier.
A series of modifiers to the turn to industry were presented that made it difficult to discern exactly what was meant by the various and somewhat contradictory statements and what direction, politically, the leadership was moving in.
In 1978 Barnes assured the party that work in white-collar unions would continue:
“This doesn’t mean we won’t do work in, or pay careful attention to, AFSCME, or the teachers’ union. In fact we will grow, we will recruit bigger fractions in the AFT, NEA, AFSCME and so on. This does not distract from the importance of the work of our comrades there either. Or the political struggles coming among teachers for instance. Or the recruitability of many AFSCME members. Some of our best trade union work is being done by two of the party leaders in this room — Jeff (Mackler) in the teachers’ union, and Ray (Markey) in AFSCME.” (Ibid. p. 33)
In his summary Barnes added,
“This will also help our work in AFSCME, in the teachers’ union — work that becomes more important, not less. We are making a concrete explicit decision that we are not putting people in AFSCME, the OPIEU, or the teachers’ unions as a normal policy. But we are going to recruit teachers and other public and clerical workers. We will have fractions in these unions.”
“We will build bigger and better fractions. If out of all this, five years from now, three years from now, two years from now, we don’t have a bigger and more powerful teachers’ fraction or an AFSCME fraction, due to recruitment and increasing influence, then we’ve messed up.” (Ibid. p. 45)
At this point Barnes returned to the two party leaders who were referred to as carrying out the best trade union work.
“We are not deciding, by the way, to pull our national leaders out of AFSCME or the teachers. We would be out of our minds to pull Jeff (Mackler) out of the teachers. Jeff symbolizes the class-struggle opposition program on a nationwide scale to Shanker’s reactionary policy. That’s a fact. Ray (Markey) is the spokesperson for a class-struggle, proindependent political action opposition to the entire Gotbaum and Wurf machine in AFSCME. He represents that alternative.” (Ibid. p. 45)
These statements were explicit and clear. The white-collar fractions would be maintained. The party’s work would include other areas of trade union activity beyond the industrial unions. At the time, as we will see, it was also made explicit that the party would continue its work in other milieus, such as among students.
What happened was quite different. Five years later, all the existing SWP white-collar fractions are not “bigger and more powerful,” but instead have been dissolved. Not one remains. The AFSCME fraction, the teachers’ fraction in the AFT and NEA, and the OPEIU fraction — all specifically mentioned by Barnes — were dissolved. The two trade union leaders, Ray Markey and Jeff Mackler, who were recognized as representing a “class-struggle” alternative in the unions were told to abandon their excellent work and influence. They disagreed with the change in the party line, which was shifted without any clear discussion or vote. By 1981, all the modifiers of 1978 that had leaned towards a balanced Leninist approach to the living class struggle were dropped and an increasingly sectarian line began to dominate.
By the April 1981 plenum, the concept of a party with everyone except full-timers and retirees being in basic industry was introduced. This openly anti-Leninist concept was presented in a report on Trade Union and Organizational work by Malik Miah. Referring to tasks, Miah stated,
“First, is the need to deepen the turn itself. Currently 50 percent of the party is in industry. About 10 percent of comrades are on layoff or looking for work. Then there is another 17 percent of the party on full-time staff or retired. This leaves approximately 20-25 percent of the party as potential candidates to get jobs in industry — in their current cities or in new parts of the country.” (DB Vol. 37 No. 3 p. 20)
This evolution led to both Mackler and Markey being dropped from the National Committee at the 1981 convention of the SWP. Both Jeff Mackler and Ray Markey, who decided not “to mess up” and go “out of their minds”, to paraphrase Barnes’ 1978 judgment on what it would mean if the SWP white-collar fractions did not grow with the turn, went into opposition to the workerist-ultraleft line of the majority faction.
Comrades Mackler and Markey did not change either their views or their political activity. They continued the same work — once labelled “class-struggle” by the party leadership. But what the majority faction previously called “proletarian” it now calls “petty bourgeois” and what it once called “petty bourgeois,” such as workerism, is now called “proletarian”. Thus, Markey and Mackler, without either changing their views or activity, went from being examples of proletarian practice to being “petty bourgeois”, reflecting “alien” class pressures.
Similarly, regarding student work, Barnes said in 1978: “There is no chance of the party turning away from a youth organization and the permanent political importance of the campus to a workers’ party.” (Ibid. p. 44) Soon after, this orientation was changed from a strictly student orientation to an exclusively worker orientation. In the main this was positive, since, in general, the youth should be working in the same arena as the party. Both should be involved in the turn to industry. However, it became one-sided, and the student arena was abandoned. All campus fractions have been dissolved. If there is an exception, I am not aware of it.
Mass work in other areas has also come to a halt or become sharply curtailed. Yet in 1978, referring to the turn to industry, Barnes stated: “It will strengthen us in the community struggles, in NOW, in the Chicano movement, in the NAACP, in the anti-Bakke work, in every single campaign that we are involved in.” (Ibid. p. 43)
The key phrase in the last quotation is “involved in”. At the time the orientation seemed to be a continued involvement in mass organizations and mass work regardless of what milieus such work may develop around. Since 1978, activity ended in relation to the NAACP and almost completely ended towards NOW.
In 1977 the SWP had played a leading role in organizing the largest Chicano conference in years. Over 1,500 participated in the San Antonio Conference against Deportations, and the SWP began to increase its recruitment of Chicanos. By 1981 Barnes admitted that he thought the SWP should not have helped initiate and build the San Antonio conference because it derailed the party from an orientation towards colonizing industry.
Barnes went through a fast evolution of his views in the years right after 1978-79, an evolution which appears to be still in full swing. The majority of the SWP leadership has followed each turn. Those showing any hestitancy, such, as Markey and Mackler, have been dropped from central leadership roles.
Politically, the trend has been towards sectarianism with workerist justifications. The party has failed to develop any transitional instruments through which new members could be recruited. To a great extent, it has pulled back from participating in united fronts. Throughout the ’60s and ’70s, the party had helped initiate united-front formations through which it could work with independent forces around specific issues. Such formations played a transitional role in helping the party recruit. They provided a framework for joint activity that facilitated winning new members to the party.
The party has stopped functioning in this manner and has resorted more and more towards exclusive propagandism. Its activity has become increasingly limited to sales of the party press, weekly forums and token election campaigns. The failure to carry out a balanced approach based on a non-sectarian and non-workerist analysis has fed upon itself in a rapid evolution. The turn to colonize industry inevitably took on a hygienic and therapeutic course, regardless of how often Barnes protested this would not be the case.
The contradiction between reality and the workerist-ultraleft analysis inevitably led to a needless loss of members and internal opposition at varous levels. Their inability to justify their unbalanced approach to the colonization of industry in terms of actual political activity forced the leadership more and more to justify it on the basis of internal therapeutic argumentation.
The turn to colonize industry could have been carried out as a process with the party’s activity rooted in the living class struggle. The party should have grown in the present period of rising activity, as both the CP and the social democratic DSA have. Once separated from most of the existing activity, however, the party’s campaign to colonize industry began to lean on internal, factional considerations. By 1983 the turn to colonize industry has evolved into a campaign to cleanse the party of all dissent. Those who agree with the majority faction are “proletarians” and those who disagree are “petty-bourgeois”. The ultimate result can be the molding of a hardened faction loyal to the leadership and not to a program or the party in an historical sense. The possibility of correcting errors through Leninist norms of internal discussion are being rapidly curtailed by the factional “petty-bourgeois” versus “proletarian” internal campaign. This campaign is not limited to disputes inside the SWP. Internationally it is extended to anyone who disagrees with any position on any question adopted by the SWP majority faction. Meanwhile, the workerist-ultraleft political errors have been reflected internally in terms of party norms.
This process is weakening the SWP and has blocked its potential growth in this period. Under relatively similar objective circumstances, the Australian SWP has grown over 50 percent in the last two years while the U.S. SWP has declined, losing over 1,000 members since 1978-79. Yet the Australian SWP, without the “workerist” sectarianism, has achieved an equal if not higher percentage of its members working in industry. Naturally, the SWP would have lost some members even if it had made no errors. Not everyone leaving the SWP is doing so for correct political reasons. Some of the opposition in the SWP, for example, while being correct on some points, is itself sectarian towards the Cuban Communist Party, the movement around the freeze and other questions. In addition, the SWP has recruited some new people, thereby reducing its losses. But the overall balance sheet is that, in a period of rising activity in which other currents are growing, the SWP has experienced a sharp drop in membership.
Stuck with their workerist-ultraleft analysis, the SWP leadership could not adjust to a different reality. Activity began to pick up outside the industrial unions quite rapidly after 1978. Some activity also appeared within the industrial unions and an interrelationship developed between the two. Although some positive work was done by the SWP with the miners’ union and the anti-nuclear power movement, as a whole the rising activity put the SWP leadership in a crisis. Recognizing that their timing and judgments had been wrong regarding the pace and forms of political developments, they could have shifted and led the party into the new activity. Or they could have continued to insist that they had been right all along, that the new activity either was not genuine or that the role of the SWP was no longer to lead these movements, as it had in some cases in the past, but was to be, at best, the “let’s-get-labor-involved”, “proletarian” wing of these movements.
The SWP National Committee met in April of 1981. It was no longer possible to continue to claim that political activity had shifted to the industrial unions. Yet the leadership refused to admit that they had misjudged the tempo of developments. Instead they plunged deeper with their sectarian orientation.
Malik Miah, giving the Trade Union and Organizational Report at the plenum, acknowledged reality in these words:
“Almost every day, it seems, some group is calling a protest against Reagan’s cutbacks. Already, there are a series of national demonstrations scheduled for April and May, not counting numerous local actions. Coalitions are popping up everywhere.”
Miah continued, “Most of these actions on important questions are being led by people and groups that don’t share our understanding of the need to involve the labor movement.” (DB Vol. 37 No. 3 p. 30)
Obviously, if people leading these protests on “important questions”, which are “popping up” everywhere, do not understand the need to involve the labor movement, then they are not being led by the industrial unions or the industrial workers. Who are these people? Where have they come from? Are they marielitos, the sell-outs of the ’60s? What is the overall meaning of this wave of actions outside the labor movement? What stage are we at in a new working class radicalization if struggles on “important questions” are still led by people outside the industrial working class which is supposedly in the center stage of political activity?
Miah offered no answers to these questions because the line he was trying to defend provided no explanations. Instead, referring to these growing actions from outside the labor movement, Miah said, “Of course, without the coalitions and actions, there would be nothing to bring labor around these vital issues.” (Ibid. p. 21)
There we have it. There is “nothing” to bring labor into action except from outside the labor movement. This is stated in a report that begins by informing us that the 1978 report recognizing that the industrial unions were in center stage was correct. This is quite advanced dialectical thinking. The center stage of activity is where “nothing” is happening.
As it turns out, Miah was wrong on both counts. It is wrong to say there is “nothing” happening in the industrial unions on “these vital issues.” This statement reflects another side of the sectarian course the majority faction is pursuing. They have evolved towards abstaining from most ongoing struggles in the trade unions at the present level of consciousness. Such activity is rejected under the charge of being “economist.” Instead, they substitute propagandism as the only appropriate activity in the unions today.
Thus, Miah exaggerated when he was forced to recognize the errors of the 1978 resolutions. Of course, the recognition took the form of proving that the leadership has been right all along. It would seem that at least this more accurate view of reality should be welcomed. At least now the leadership was not exaggerating the present level of political activity in the industrial trade unions.
However, instead of correcting the one-sided workerist approach, Miah twists and turns to try and keep the party’s orientation away from the living struggles and on a workerist orientation.
Miah does not advocate that the SWP participate, in a Leninist sense, in all struggles regardless of which layers may be in motion. Despite occasional lip service to the need to participate in struggles, Miah’s report set the axis of the party’s intervention as one of becoming the “labor committee” in each coalition. The task of the SWP, according to Miah, is to try and involve the labor movement. The logic is simple. The SWP leadership has stated that labor is supposed to lead, in fact is already in center stage. But the leaders of these actions “don’t share our understanding” — that is, objective reality does not fit the SWP leadership’s scheme, so we will make it fit it. The task of the SWP is, therefore, to get labor involved as “a step toward labor actually beginning to initiate and lead such protests”.
“The labor outreach committees of such coalitions,” Miah explained, “are the main tools we have at present to begin drawing labor into this movement against the war drive.” (Ibid, p. 21) In case the orientation was not clear, Miah warned of a potential “big error”: “Since the unions aren’t yet leading the social and political protests, it is possible to do antidraft or El Salvador solidarity or antiracist work today without paying much attention to drawing in the industrial unions. There is enough motion developing that sizable actions can be organized without doing this. But it would be a big error for us to fall into this trap, and it would hurt these struggles. What’s new is the willingness of sections of the labor movement, including the top officials, to be drawn into social protests. This is a step toward labor actually beginning to initiate and lead such protests.” (Ibid. p. 21)
This is exactly turning reality on its head. It would be an error to organize sizable actions in defense of El Salvador, for instance, without seeking to involve the labor movement. But it would be a ten times worse error not to build sizable actions because the labor movement is not “yet leading” the El Salvador solidarity movement. And this error is exactly what the SWP majority faction is guilty of.
The danger for the party was not that it would fail to seek to involve labor or recognize the importance of every step, even small ones, to involve the unions. The danger was that it would fail to involve itself and help lead the antidraft or El Salvador solidarity work “since the unions aren’t yet leading” these movements.
History did not wait to bring its balance sheet on the workerist-sectarian course set by Miah’s report. One month later, a 100,000-strong demonstration, involving many trade unionists together with students and oppressed nationalities, marched against U.S. imperialist intervention in El Salvador while the SWP sat on its hands on the sidelines, not even mobilizing its own members to attend the most important anti-imperialist action in a decade.
Instead of helping to lead the real, existing movement, the SWP leaders had attempted to build a counter-demonstration which would be more consistent with their resolutions, until the clash between their schemas and reality became so overwhelming that the alternative demonstration had to be cancelled.
The events of May 1981 were a shock to the SWP membership. The demonstration the leadership had assured them was the real “proletarian” action collapsed and the “petty bourgeois”-led one became a massive united front success. The majority leadership had claimed to be the most sympathetic to the leaderships advancing the revolutions in Central America and the Caribbean, yet when the first massive outpouring of support for those revolutions swept into the streets, the SWP was completely on the sidelines. Doug Jenness was assigned to quickly write a self-criticism. The membership was assured that bad judgments that left the party sitting on the sidelines were only conjunctural errors, that they would be corrected and wouldn’t be repeated. No error in political line was involved. No explanation was offered of why the SWP, with its strong cadre base and experience, was not in the vanguard of this movement — as it had been in the Vietnam solidarity movement.
What should the SWP have done? Long before May 1981, the SWP should have recognized that the radicals of the ’60s were not marielitos and that most support for immediate action on El Salvador, at least initially, would not come out of the industrial unions, but out of milieus most influenced by the radicalization of the ’60s.
The SWP should have taken the initiative, as it did against the imperialist intervention in Vietnam, and sought to build the broadest possible coalition of any and all forces to defend El Salvador. This coalition should have included not only workers but should consciously have been built as a multi-class united movement against U.S. intervention. Hundreds upon hundreds of organizations were prepared to join such an effort, but such a united front approach was rejected and no effort was made to initiate or participate in such a campaign. When the author of these lines, as the national director of El Salvador solidarity work for the SWP, proposed in June 1980 that such an orientation be taken, PC member Larry Seigle, among others, explained that such a course was not possible in the “new situation”. The tunnel vision of the workerist-ultraleft line was setting in. A great historical opportunity for the SWP was lost.
The much smaller Workers World Party went out and attempted to imitate, at least in part, what the SWP had done in the Vietnam antiwar movement, that is, build a united front for mass action. They met with great success, resulting in the 100,000-strong demonstration. There can be no question that, were it not for its sectarian orientation, the SWP could have played a central role and helped to build an even greater demonstration. Today the SWP would be a central part of the leadership of the solidarity movement in defense of Central America and would have won hundreds of the best solidarity activists to its ranks.
The defense of the socialist revolutions in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Cuba and Grenada is crucial for the future of the vanguard of the Third American Revolution since it is our own imperialism that these revolutions are fighting. It was the duty of the SWP to take the initiative, in a completely non-sectarian manner, and help lead the movement regardless of what social layers could be involved at this stage. In fact, it was this orientation that would have best facilitated the potential involvement of growing sectors of the labor movement. Miah’s orientation, however, stood everything exactly upside down. It left the SWP on the sidelines and blocked the best openings to involve the labor movement. It has led to rifts with other forces in the solidarity movement, especially those closest to the “Castroists”.
The lack of solidarity work by the SWP has stood out in stark contrast to the propaganda in its press supporting the unfolding socialist revolutions in Central America and the Caribbean. This contradiction between what the SWP said and did was deeply felt by the party rank-and-file. In many cities local branches tried to involve themselves in solidarity work. City by city, the picture became quite mixed. But the general national workerist-sectarian line kept limiting the framework in which the work was being carried out. Here and there, small successes were registered. However, the balance sheet has been one of growing abstentionism and factionalism in solidarity work.
Following the logic of its increasingly workerist political views, the SWP majority faction set out to find the “proletarian” wing of the Salvadorean movement in order to build what they considered a “workers” solidarity movement as against the existing “petty-bourgeois”, marielito-led formations. Barry Sheppard and Matilde Zimmerman went to Mexico and met with a central leader of the World Front in Solidarity with the Salvadorean People. They returned with a rather unique version of the reality in El Salvador. Their imaginary vision just happened to fit their workerist-sectarian schemas.
Sheppard reported to the party that he had discovered the proletarian wing in El Salvador. This turned out to be the FAPU current led by the National Resistance of the FMLN. The SWP was to link up with the “proletarian” current to fight the “petty-bourgeois” wing which was none other than the BPR led by the FPL, the current which carries important influence in much of the solidarity movement in the United States. The FPL represents the largest current in the FMLN.
Thus began a short-lived adventure of attempting to build, in the name of the World Front-FMLN, an SWP-led solidarity movement against the existing U.S. formations. The SWP majority faction’s rank-and-file felt relieved and became filled with enthusiasm. Finally, they could see why the contradiction had existed between their propaganda and activity.
Their leadership assured them they were truly for the Castroists and in full support of the revolutionaires leading the struggles in Central America, but that they had not been able to lead the solidarity movement in the United States because there was a petty-bourgeois force in the way. It turned out that in El Salvador, just as in the United States and inside the SWP as well, there was a “petty-bourgeois” opposition blocking the way forward for the “proletarian” current.
This not-too-original formula, imitating the Morenoites, was now used to explain any and all questions under dispute in the SWP. At the same time, under the new internal situation in the SWP, any member that dared to try and confirm whether or not what the leadership was saying was accurate would face the threat of expulsion. Few SWPers supporting the majority faction realized that Sheppard was in effect reporting to them that the majority of the fighting forces in the Salvadorean revolution were led by a petty-bourgeois current! They did not realize that the FPL-BPR is one of the largest “Castroist” formations outside of Cuba itself. Thus Sheppard was changing the analysis of Castroism from being proletarian to petty-bourgeois, at least in one of its most advanced formations — the leadership of the Salvadorean revolution. Nor did the membership note the obvious contradiction of Sheppard claiming to be working with the FMLN while he attacked the majority of the FMLN as petty-bourgeois.
The Salvadorean revolutionary movement is divided into three major currents and a few smaller formations. The largest is the BPR-FPL. The second largest is the LP-28/ERP and the third is the FAPU-RN. Other important formations include the PRT(C) and the Communist Party. The Cuban and Nicaraguan revolutionary leaderships have consistently sought to unite these forces and to help them overcome their previous differences and factionalism in order to strengthen the workers’ and peasants’ mass movement so that it can be victorious. It is the duty of any genuine revolutionary outside of El Salvador to join with the Cubans, the Nicaraguans and the Salvadoreans themselves in backing the efforts towards unity.
It is not constructive for a North American organization to attempt to play on the differences within the Salvadorean movement for factional advantage in the North American solidarity movement. Yet this is exactly what the SWP majority faction leadership set out to do.
The SWP leadership did not bother to consult with any of the three steering committee members of the World Front who reside in the United States, elected in Mexico City in May 1982 during the founding of the World Front. Instead they printed leaflets in the name of the World Front, giving an SWP headquarters phone number for further information. (Leaflet at right.)
Letters were sent out in the name of the World Front signed by Matilde Zimmerman, the 1980 SWP Vice-Presidential candidate. (See Appendix 2 for a copy of the letter.) In this manner, the SWP leaders attempted to set up their own supposedly “proletarian” solidarity movement. They attempted to represent themselves as the World Front-FMLN instead of seeking to build a broad united front.
Despite problems which may exist within the FMLN, no wing of the FMLN is interested in this kind of sectarian factionalism. Neither the World Front leadership nor any wing of the FMLN backed the SWP’s sectarian adventure, and the SWP was forced to pull back and terminate its World Front campaign. The meetings that were announced that would feature FDR-FMLN speakers were cancelled. (FDR stands for the Revolutionary Democratic Front, which is broader than the FMLN.) In Mexico City, the World Front was forced to disassociate itself from the actions of the SWP and from Barry Sheppard, thereby hoping to minimize the damage done to the solidarity movement. (For further information on the discussions which took place in Mexico City see Boletin Interno de Discusion e Informacion No. 58 Abril de 1983, printed by the Mexican PRT.)
The end result of the short-lived World Front adventure was to further aggravate the disunity which exists in the solidarity movement in the United States. Some of those close to the Cuban and Nicaraguan revolutionaries have tried, in discussion, to alter the sectarian direction of the SWP leadership regarding solidarity work. These efforts have been to no avail.
In the United States, CISPES has between 200 and 300 affiliated organizations carrrying on solidarity and anti-interventionist work. There is no World Front organization in the United States. On the contrary, CISPES is one of several groups in the United States which is affiliated to the World Front. The World Front, as its name implies, is a broad coalition formed on a world scale to help co-ordinate activity internationally. The political guidance of the World Front essentially comes from the FMLN in collaboration with other forces.
The SWP leadership in their imaginary world of “proletarians” and “petty-bourgeois” in the solidarity movement have attempted to present the World Front as a “proletarian”-oriented formation as against CISPES which is “petty-bourgeois”. Such a dichotomy is absurd. The political orientation of the CISPES leadership and the World Front is one and the same. In fact, during the discussions in Mexico City regarding the SWP adventure, the World Front restated its recognition of CISPES as the main organization representing it in the United States. Both formations respect and look to the FMLN.
Yet Sheppard states: “At bottom, there are two class orientations underneath the general line of the CISPES leadership and that of positions taken by the World Front. We chose the proletarian orientation of the latter.” (Northern California District Convention Bulletin, Winter of 1983 No. 4 p. 7)
There have been two conferences called by the World Front in Tijuana, Mexico, in which both Mexicans and North Americans have participated. These conference have led to some local border actions in solidarity with Central America. Referring to the first Tijuana conference, Sheppard stated:
“Since the Tijuana conference, we have seen opposition to building the World Front in this country on the part of one current among the supporters of the FMLN. At this time this current appears to be oriented toward lobbying congresspeople, backing peace candidates, and seeking aid among the rich rather than building a proletarian movement against U.S. intervention. The CISPES leadership tends to work with this current.” (Ibid. pp. 2, 3)
Fearing the consequences of his own words, Sheppard tries the ridiculous disguise of calling the FPL — the majority of the fighting forces in El Salvador — “a current” without naming it.
“The CISPES leadership,” he says, “tends to work with this current.” There is hardly a soul on the North American left that does not know that it is the BPR-FPL which has worked closely with CISPES since its founding.
According to the ultraleft fantasy of Sheppard, the FPL “current” looks to aid from the “rich” instead of the “proletariat”. This is totally inaccurate — pure slander. The BPR-FPL is based on the plebian masses of El Salvador, both workers and peasants. It seeks international solidarity first of all from the world workers’ movement, but also from all democratic forces that oppose U.S. intervention. CISPES, responding to the needs of the peoples of El Salvador for a broad North American movement against intervention, has worked among all layers it can mobilize.
What more clear admission could exist of the workerist ultraleft orientation of the SWP majority faction than when an organization leading the masses in an armed insurrection against U.S. imperialism appears anti-working-class to them because they seek aid on a democratic demand — non-intervention — from forces broader than the working class?
The banning of Solidarity in December of 1981 in Poland revealed the sectarian line of the SWP majority faction in a new form. The SWP rejected participating in any solidarity activities in support of the Polish workers except those organized by the SWP itself, which were limited to holding forums. The SWP explicitly rejected the use of the tactic of a united front approach and instead introduced the novel concept that to work with others in support of the Polish workers, a programmatic front was necessary.
This new line was codified in a letter from Larry Seigle, a PC member of the majority faction, to the Iron Range branch of the SWP. The Iron Range branch leadership had succeeded in forming the beginnings of a united front campaign in support of the Polish workers that was clearly against the anti-communist campaign of Reagan and the AFL-CIO bureaucracy. Seigle wrote to them explaining that no united activity was possible around the Polish question without agreement on four programmatic points.
The four points were: 1. Agreement that Poland is a workers state and that being a workers state represents an advance over capitalism; 2. U.S. imperialism is the most powerful and dangerous enemy of the Polish workers; 3. The United States and not the USSR is the main problem in the world, and there must be a conscious rejection of third campism; 4. Most importantly, there must be agreement that socialism is superior to capitalism. (These four points are to be found in IIIB No. 2, 1982, pp. 12-13.)
It just turns out that no organization in the United States agrees with these four programmatic points except the SWP. Point two actually requires workers in the United States to have a higher consciousness than the Polish workers themselves on the Polish question before they can show any solidarity in action.
The SWP majority faction’s poisition is that it cannot participate with anyone in support of the Polish workers. Again, we can compare this sectarian course to that followed by the Australian SWP. In marked contrast to the U.S. SWP, they immediately took the initiative and called demonstrations that gained a great deal of publicity. They were able to influence the nature of the demonstrations and work with other currents in a manner that placed these actions against the anti-communist campaign of the imperialists and their supporters within the labor movement. Thus, the Australian SWP helped educate broad layers on the hypocrisy of rightist anti-labor “solidarity” with the Polish workers while showing its own working class that the SWP was for the Polish workers and ready to unite with others in their defense, thereby fulfilling a fundamental duty to the Polish workers’ movement.
So far, the SWP majority faction has failed to explain why the Australian SWP could successfully carry out a united-front approach while the U.S. SWP could not.
The result of the policies of the U.S. SWP leaders was to hand over the streets and any possible publicity to the anti-communist campaign, withdrawing to the safety of their own forums to assure themselves once again of how “proletarian” their policies were.
In some other countries, sections of the Fourth International, in seeking to do what they could in support of the Polish workers, may have fallen into the error of bending to forces trying to turn the solidarity actions into anti-communist actions. Criticisms of such errors, where valid, are important but not as an excuse for an abstentionist, sectarian course — which is what in fact the SWP majority faction carried out.
Another event which revealed a sectarian error in the SWP’s approach was related to the growth of mass sentiment against nuclear weapons. The largest initiative vote ever on an issue in the history of the United States took place around the proposal for a nuclear freeze.
A development of this sort must be placed in its historical context. Such movements and, more concretely, votes are not progressive or reactionary by some generalized standard. They have to be evaluated within the overall context of the class struggle and levels of consciousness within the working class and its allies.
The SWP majority declared that there was nothing progressive in the freeze vote and urged people not to vote. That line, also supported by the Breitman-Lovell minority in the SWP, was sectarian. Reagan, campaigning for an imperialist offensive against Central America and the workers states as a whole, saw the growing peace sentiment reflected in the freeze movement as a threat. Reagan urged a no vote on the freeze initiative. He argued that a yes vote would weaken U.S. resolve against “communism”.
The task of revolutionaries was to join in the momentum the freeze campaign created to deal Reagan a political defeat and to promote the related mass actions which led to one million demonstrating June 12,1982, in New York. That demonstration favored not only a nuclear freeze but gave expression to opposition against U.S. intervention in Central America. It was only in the framework of a yes vote on the freeze that any intervention within this movement could move forward to raise more concrete problems such as opposition to the MX missiles, intervention in Central America, etc. The massive yes vote’s overall impact was positive. It helped set a climate which posed Reagan’s war drive as against the will of the American people, thus weakening imperialism both at home and internationally. It helped create a framework among broader milieus such as the churches for increasing mass opposition to U.S. intervention in Central America.
Barry Sheppard wrote an analysis published in The Militant which followed a classical sectarian logic. He pointed out that the freeze would not solve the problem, that sectors of the capitalist class and bourgeois politicians supported it, and that such forces would try to use the freeze movement for anti-working class and pro-war purposes. Therefore, Sheppard concluded, the vote had nothing progressive in it, and socialists should not vote for the freeze. According to Sheppard, whether the result was a massive yes vote against Reagan or a massive no vote in support of Reagan, the American workers would not benefit one way or the other. Actually, Sheppard’s logic is applicable to almost any reform struggle that involves the masses, since there is no mass struggle that bourgeois politicians and sectors of the bourgeoisie will not appear to champion in order to control and derail. Nor will any reform solve the “problem”.
Sheppard’s conclusion was dead wrong. A massive vote against Reagan, combined with a million people in the streets carrying thousands of signs against U.S. intervention in Central America, weakened imperialism and helped the workers and peasants of Central America. It had little to do with the actual wording of the initiative or the utopian conception behind the freeze that peace can be achieved through negotiations. The freeze movement was and is a starting point for broad layers coming into action. Our tasks are to win them over to our ideas, to join their efforts for peace and to move them in a class struggle direction, not to turn our backs in sectarian purity.
The SWP leadership at first informed its members that the Cuban Communist Party agreed with its analysis against the freeze movement. But the Cuban Communist Party and the FSLN both voted for a resolution in the United Nations fundamentally similar to the U.S. freeze vote and have clearly indicated their support for a positive approach to this movement. (See Appendix 4, as an example of how Granma indicates the Cuban attitude towards the freeze.) [Unfortunately, this could not be scanned properly because the source document was too dark. It is an article from Granma with the heading U.S. Bishops Support Immediate Nuclear Freeze in Spite of Official Pressure.]
During the period from 1978-1983, there have been some rather dramatic shifts in the SWP’s internal organizational conceptions.
The right to a tendency has been altered. The majority has decided that, to form a tendency or a faction, permission must first be obtained from the majority. The concept that there is a “right” to a tendency by definition means precisely that it is not a matter that can be put to a vote.
Throughout the almost two decades the author of this document served on the Political Committee of the SWP it was explained over and over again that anyone in our movement could set up a tendency any time they wanted to. The policy of the French LCR was criticized because they had set a minimum number needed to declare a tendency, and the Moreno-led PST was criticized because they obligated tendencies to dissolve after a convention.
The right to a tendency was clearly a right, not something for which one applied to the leadership bodies. But that right to form a tendency also did not give anyone any special rights. They could not try to force the majority, that is, the party as a whole, into a discussion. The majority had the right to set the timing and the manner in which discussions and conventions could take place within limits set by the constitution, which was simply the same as saying by limits set by the previous convention.
This is no longer true in the SWP. The majority faction has not only declared that in order to form a tendency the majority must approve it; they have simply refused requests for the formation of tendencies.
The majority faction claims they are defending the 1965 organizational resolution. The truth is they are violating that resolution, and therefore it is not surprising that they announced they intend to replace the 1965 resolution with a new one. The 1965 resolution makes it clear that there is a right to a tendency in the SWP. In fact the document goes further and uses the term “the right to organize” itself in reference to tendencies. It states, “A dissenting minority has the right to organize itself, but the conduct of organized minorities, just as that of every individual member, must be subject to regulation by official party bodies. The party is therefore entitled to organize its internal discussion and to determine the forms and limits.” (1965 Organizational Resolution p. 20.)
The present leadership of the SWP has not only violated this provision of the 1965 resolution but has openly violated the constitution of the SWP by refusing to hold a convention within the specified two-year period.
“Article X National Conventions. Section 1. National Conventions of the Party shall be held at least every two years.” (Constitution of the Socialist Workers Party p. 13.)
Through the years, James P. Cannon raised certain concepts of how a leadership should function. Many of these concepts were once known as norms in the SWP. For example, in trying to learn from the experience of Lenin in Russia, Cannon argued that when a higher body, say an executive committee of a local branch, has a meeting, its deliberations should be kept to the members of that body. The purpose was to make it possible for members of the executive committee to feel free to express their views without feeling that they would have to defend or be responsible for whatever they said before the entire membership. The executive committee discussion should aim at arriving at a collective decision. These norms are valuable but they are not the same thing as regulations or rules. Cannon himself wrote a letter to the party in 1965 making this explicit when he felt that the party leadership might be turning the norms into rules.
Another example of a norm that is not a rule is the concept that after National Committee meetings the National Committee members are not supposed to present their own reports on what happened at the plenum to select people but that reports should be presented to all members. These norms are never maintained once serious political differences, with tendency and faction formations appear. That is also a law of politics, as Cannon explained.
Barnes stated at the February 1982 National Committee meeting that he felt Cannon was wrong. Throughout the party those norms which reinforce centralism are being turned into regulations that bring disciplinary action if they are not followed.
Lenin, for instance, prepared a report after the Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. which is reported on page 19, volume 7 of his Collected Works. His report took the form of a letter which he mailed to whomever he pleased. His letter begins with the following words, “This account intended for personal acquaintances only, and therefore to read it without the consent of the author (Lenin) is tantamount to reading other people’s letters.”
Today Lenin would be expelled from the SWP for his methods of functioning, undoubtedly charged with anti-Leninism. So would Cannon, who likewise did many of the things for which members of SWP are now being brought up on charges, such as writing private letters on political matters to whomever he pleased.
These organizational changes have been based on factional considerations. The atmosphere in the SWP today is one of heightened factional tension. A bunker mentality has gripped the majority faction who see their struggle as one of driving class enemies out of the party. Under such an atmosphere, rational political discussion is impossible.
Almost all the major points of differences which exist today in the SWP have never been discussed during a pre-convention period nor at a convention. In fact many of the positions now presented by the majority as the party line are in conflict with previous convention decisions. Yet the majority leadership, in complete contradiction with the history of the SWP, has decided to resolve the internal differences by splitting the party.
There is genuine feeling in the ranks of the majority that they are not violating any of the norms of the movement because to them the real party is their faction. In their minds those who disagree are petty-bourgeois who belong outside of the party. Thus, any and all excuses are justifiable to expel such people. This is the method that all the sects that have developed in the world Trotskyist movement have used to prevent internal discussion while claiming to adhere to internal working class democracy along Leninist lines. For the SWP this is still a new development.
The real reason for the long list of rather bizarre expulsions is political. The logic of the position of the majority faction is that they believe that the politics of the minorities are incompatible with membership. This is their real position. The complication they face is that many of the political positions of the minority currents are also held by others in the Fourth International, and thus it would create an unsolvable contradiction for them to remain in the Fourth International while declaring such views incompatible with membership in the SWP.
The result has been the use of rather ridiculous pretexts for expulsions. The expulsions and trials in the last two years number more than all previous trials in 43 years of the SWP and the entire history of the Bolshevik Party under Lenin. And this is in a party of just over 1,000 members.
All of these trials are carefully guided from the national office. Yet the local leaderships have to act as though they are strictly locally motivated. At the plenum in August of 1983 Barnes predicted many expulsions would soon take place. And sure enough, right after the plenum, a whole series of local leaders “discovered” violations which required formal charges. Such cynical and hypocritical organizational methods break down the moral fiber of cadres.
Gradually the SWP majority faction has adopted the stance that anyone who disagrees with them and their latest views are only reacting against being in a genuine proletarian party because of their petty-bourgeois weaknesses. This posture has been extended internationally. The SWP majority faction has broken with any and all of its previous supporters unless there is acceptance for every position they have developed and any changes as they continue to evolve. The result has been that almost all those who had blocked with the SWP on the discussions around the Fourth International’s Ninth World Congress, arguing against ultraleftism, in support of the Cuban Communist Party as genuine proletarian revolutionaries and in support of the turn to industry, no longer support the SWP leadership.
The first victim of a highly factional atmosphere is, of course, the truth. Reports filled with factual errors have been given to the SWP membership. Yet if any member attempts to indicate that there is evidence that what the leadership is saying is not accurate, the first reaction of the majority is to threaten to carry out disciplinary action. The use of any source of information not from the party leadership is considered an act of disloyalty. For instance, if a member of the SWP were to consult with the PRT of Mexico to verify whether the charges being made against the PRT within the SWP are true, that person would be charged with going against the SWP regulations which require that his or her communication with the PRT must go through the majority leadership.
For years the SWP prided itself with being different from the Communist Party which prohibited its members — at times with formal resolutions — from talking with Trotskyists. New members of the SWP used to be educated in the concept that they were free, especially if they had any doubts about the validity of what the leadership was saying, to talk to anyone, including for instance Communist Party members, to ascertain the truth. This is no longer the case.
There is much more that could be said about organizational questions in the SWP. Endless examples could be given of the methods being used. But space does not permit a longer presentation of what comprises another aspect of the SWP’s sectarian politics which are the root cause of the turn away from the norms established by Cannon.
It would be possible to take up many other concrete examples showing the trend towards sectarian positions by the SWP majority faction. The few that have been mentioned suffice to show the general direction. This trend is also revealed at another level, however.
The SWP has refused to seek out U.S. currents which are today influenced by the Cuban, Nicaraguan, Salvadorean, Grenadian or Guatemalan revolutionaries, to work with them and to try to begin a process aimed at becoming part of one and the same revolutionary movement. The SWP also turns its back in sectarian purity against those previously influenced by Maoism who today are attracted by revolutionary events in Central America and have become open to a genuine dialog for developing a perspective for a socialist revolution in North America.
Worst of all, of course, the SWP majority leadership rejects as enemies those out of its own ranks who question its present polices, seek to discuss them and to improve the SWP by changing its present course.
The list of “enemies of the party” is rapidly growing. The list now extends internationally. Precisely when the PRT in Mexico began to make headway in reaching workers and peasants, the SWP majority leadership launched a campaign of false attacks against the PRT. The Australian SWP, learning from their own experiences, have tried to work out their own tactics. They have disagreed with the SWP majority on some questions, such as Afghanistan. This is unacceptable to the SWP majority leadership who now consider the Australian SWP as against the “turn to industry” (of course!) and basically finished.
The underlying arrogance that permeates how the present majority leadership approaches other formations, which is a break with the traditions established by Cannon and most of all by Joseph Hansen, was epitomized by Barry Sheppard when, as National Chairman of the SWP, he presented a report on the Draft Political Resolution in May of 1981. In that report he made the following statement: “Furthermore the whole idea that we may be politically withdrawing from the Fourth International implies we are some foreign body in the International. No, politically we are the Fourth International; the Fourth International is us.” (DB Vol. 37 No. 3 p. 8.)
A rather amazing statement: “No, politically we are the Fourth International; the Fourth International is us.”
After Sheppard made this statement the SWP leadership had time to reconsider, to edit the report, or to disassociate itself from this phrase. They nonetheless chose to print the statement as their political line. Such a statement would be wrong made by anyone in any country of the world. For a North American to make it is ten times worse.
What understanding of internationalism do these comrades have if they think they are the International!
No, the SWP majority leadership does not have a worldwide franchise on wisdom, politically or otherwise. There is much they could learn from the PRT in Mexico, or the LCR in Spain or France, or the SWP of Australia, or from many other groups and struggles, including those not associated with the Fourth International.
This is the kind of statement that Lenin would never have made, even as the head of the victorious Russian Revolution much less the leader of a small cadre formation without any mass base. Lenin understood that no matter what great accomplishment any sector of the world working class or any sector of its leadership may make, the working class is an international class and only a collective international leadership can be politically an international.
This document has attempted to show that ultraleft and workerist errors of analysis and judgment were introduced in the SWP during the period between 1978 and 1983. It further tries to show that these positions have been reflected in growing sectarian and factional developments. Undoubtedly, with the passing of time, the nature of the present positions of the SWP majority faction will become clearer. These positions have been shifting rapidly and continue to do so. It is not impossible that corrective steps will be taken in the future or that some of the judgments made in this document will turn out to be an incorrect description of the main line of development.
This document cannot take up the rather important and interesting question of why this is occurring. There is a short appendix which can be considered an introduction into the why.
An empirical study of the Fourth International would show that it has been plagued by the appearance of sects from within its ranks. Some of these sects, such as that of the Posadas cult which advocated nuclear war and accused Castro of assassinating Che Guevara, have become quite well-known for their bizarre positions. In its own way, the sect which developed in England around Healy is just as peculiar. The Healy outfit has devoted its time and resources accusing those who disagreed with its sectarianism, especially Joseph Hansen and other central leaders of the SWP of the United States, of being FBI agents. Healy’s main “proof” for his charges is that an important percentage of SWP leaders, including Jack Barnes, all came from the same university campus!
Such extremes of cult/sects can prevent us from seeing the development of less exotic formations. There are more rational, and therefore more damaging, sects that have grown out of the Fourth International. For example, the Lambertist sect in France, together with the Moreno sect, out of South America, have literally campaigned with public meetings against the Sandinista-led government in Nicaragua that is fighting to defend the working people of that country against U.S. imperialism. The political errors of the Moreno-Lambert sects around Nicaragua were echoed within the still more politically correct Fourth International. In my contribution entitled, “Cuba and the Central American Revolution”, which is a criticism of the IEC majority’s resolution on Cuba, I outlined each major current within the world Trotskyist movement and their positions towards the Nicaraguan revolution (pp. 19-22) to show that all of them, without exception, revealed left dogmatism when confronted with the complex reality of Nicaragua.
What is the source of the left dogmatic errors, which had the SWP of the United States printing in its Spanish-language Journal, Perspectiva Mundial, in January of 1979, that the FSLN was the main block to the Nicaraguan revolution? Even the most uncritical supporter of the Fourth International has been struck by the errors committed around the Nicaraguan revolution and the continued appearance of sect/cult-type formations from out of the ranks of the world Trotskyist movement, a movement based on the ideas of Marx and Lenin.
It is rather curious that this movement, far from short of writers and theoreticians, has never produced any study to explain why the majority of people considering themselves “Trotskyist” in the world belong to sects. Joseph Hansen, one of the most devoted defenders of the Fourth International and a serious theoretician, stated before an SWP convention just before his death that he felt a sect/cult danger existed in what is today the majority current in the Fourth International led by Ernest Mandel. Unfortunately Hansen never developed his thinking on this problem or wrote anything that can be referred to.
There are so many similarities in the kinds of methods and logic used by groupings such as that of Moreno, Lambert, the lesser known “Workers Struggle” sect in France and that appearing within the SWP that one is forced to consider whether there isn’t an underlying cause to all these sectarian developments.
Undoubtedly part of the explanation is rooted in the long decades of isolation from the working class movement, and often from any mass struggles. Yet the Moreno cult always maintained a position of colonizing industry and in fact in Argentina the Moreno organization, the PST, had an important working class implantation. This did not prevent it from developing sectarianism to its extreme in the ultraleft adventure of the best-forgotten Simon Bolivar Brigade that sought to “liberate” the Nicaraguan people from the “petty bourgeois” Sandinista leadership.
Having roots in the working class can only be helpful. From the example of Moreno, however, we can see that by itself it does not guarantee anything.
There seems to be a deeper problem regarding the understanding of the relationship of theory to practice within the world Trotskyist movement. There exists a completely accepted premise among Trotskyists that, in the long run, success is assured because the Fourth International has the “correct” program. The correctness of the program is judged quite independently of practice. In fact there is a permanent effort to prove a direct ideological continuity from Marx and Lenin. It is believed that if one is “the” continuity, then one is ordained to be the vanguard of the working class, independent of any material practice to substantiate the claim.
Endless efforts are made to prove ideological continuity. When differences arise, as they inevitably do, they immediately threaten or challenge the legitimacy of “continuity”. The ensuing debate rapidly degenerates into what is called a “class analysis,” which, of course, results in definitive proof that those who disagree turn out to represent the petty-bourgeoisie. The charge is usually mutual. Factionalism hardens, a split in loyalties results. Loyalty shifts to what each member perceives as the protectors of the true “continuity,” that is, loyalty to the leadership replaces loyalty to the working class, the socialist goal or even the organizational expression of the party.
This process to one degree or other can be seen repeated over and over again. Out of these polemics arises the “Trotsky-of-today” or more commonly the “Lenin-of-today” to defend the true ideological continuity. Reams of documents and books come forth. Years pass and the debates drift off into forgotten corners of historical footnotes since the debating participants are invariably disassociated from living struggles.
The conception that there is a continuity of ideology since Marx is obviously true. But the manner in which the Trotskyist movement has approached the question has strong overtones of dogmatism and idealism. The development of a correct program is impossible without practice. A program is not a Ph.D. thesis which is deduced from study. A program is part of the living struggles. The very concept of the party of Lenin is of a party that is itself a product of the living class struggle, not of cadres who ideologically defend the “true” program. There has been an oversimplification in an idealist direction of Lenin’s concept of a party.
Once, when asked how the Bolsheviks achieved their discipline, Lenin answered,
“And first of all the question arises — how is the discipline of the revolutionary party of the proletariat maintained? How is it tested? How is it reinforced? First, by the class-consciousness of the proletarian vanguard and by its devotion to the revolution, by its perseverance, self-sacrifice and heroism. Secondly, by its ability to link itself with, to keep in close touch with, and to a certain extent, if you like, to merge with the broadest masses of the working people — primarily with the proletariat, but also with the non-proletarian labouring masses. Thirdly, by the correctness of the political leadership exercised by this vanguard, by the correctness of its political strategy and tactics, provided that the broadest masses have been convinced by their own experience that they are correct. Without these conditions, discipline in a revolutionary party that is really capable of being the part of the advanced class, whose mission it is to overthrow the bourgeoisie and transform the whole of society, cannot be achieved. Without these conditions, all attempts to establish discipline inevitably fall flat and end in phrase-mongering and clowning. On the other hand, these conditions cannot emerge instantaneously. They are created only by prolonged effort and hard-won experience. Their creation is facilitated by correct revolutionary theory, which, in turn, is not dogma, but assumes final shape only in close connection with the practical activity of a truly mass and truly revolutionary movement. (From Left Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder, pp. 10-11 in the book Against Dogmatism and Sectarianism in the Working Class Movement.)
For Lenin, the building of the party, the program, and discipline itself, was a process directly related to the mass movement. Today, a thousand members, a few resolutions called a program (mainly references to historical documents), and a few expulsions qualifies for the self-delusion that a Leninist party has been constructed.
An understanding of the underlying causes of the tendency towards sectarian errors within the Trotskyist movement is necessary.
There is no question that efforts are being made by the present Fourth International to overcome sectarianism, and two examples stand out. The PRT in Mexico and the Australian SWP, both in their own ways, have been making efforts to root themselves in mass work and to reconsider the arrogance once quite typical of Trotskyist formations. They are not the only examples.
On the left, the conception that genuine proletarian revolutionaries can disagree is far from understood. This document is written under the assumption that, regardless of errors, the SWP as a party and its leadership as individuals are dedicated proletarian revolutionaries, as is the Fourth International as a whole. Likewise, currents such as the FMLN, the FSLN, the Cuban Communist Party and the New Jewel Movement are considered by the author to be genuine proletarian revolutionaries with the added quality of having succeeded in finding their way to the masses.
c/o Galdames, Graphics Dept
Mission Cultural Center
2868 Mission St, San Francisco
28 December 1982
We would like to invite you and everyone who is concerned about the danger of U.S. intervention in Central America to participate in a series of important events during the month of January.
On January 23, representatives of the FDR/FMLN of El Salvador and the World Front in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador will address a public meeting in San Francisco, to explain to the American people the current situation in El Salvador and the need for a massive united campaign against U.S. military intervention in the area. The World Front, based in Mexico City, is the international body that coordinates the work of committees in many countries working against U.S. intervention in El Salvador. The policies of the World Front are outlined in the enclosed resolution from the conference held in Tijuana, Mexico, last October 30 and 31.
The January 23 public meeting will be the culmination of a weekend of solidarity actions involving a media blitz, a bus caravan from San Francisco and other Northern California cities, and a march and rally on Saturday, January 22, at the border between Tijuana and San Ysidro (San Diego), California.
Plans for building the caravan and the January 23 meeting will be concretized at a planning meeting at the Mission Cultural Center, 2868 Mission, in San Francisco, on Friday, January 7, at 7 pm. This meeting is open to all groups and individuals who want to build a massive campaign, along the lines projected internationally by the World Front, to try to stop Washington’s war on the people of El Salvador. We hope you will endorse the January 23 meeting and send a representative to the January 7 meeting.
Quisieramos invitados a ustedes y a todos aquellos que esten preocupados acerca del peligro de la intervencion de Los Estados Unidos en Centro America, a participar en una serie de eventos importantes que se llevaran a cabo en el mes de enero de 1983.
El 23 de enero, representantes del FDR/FMLN de El Salvador y del Frente Mundial de Solidaridad con el Pueblo Salvadoreno celebraran una reunion publica en San Francisco, para explicar al pueblo norteamericano la situacion actual en El Salvador, y la necesidad para una campana masiva unida contra la intervencion militar de Los Estados Unidos en Centro America. El Frente Mundial, cuya base se encuentra en Mexico, D.F., es la estructura internacional que coordina el trabajo de los comites en muchos paises trabajando en contra de la intervencidn de E.U. en El Salvador. La linea del Frente Mundial esta delineada en la resolucion adjunta a esta carta, procedente de las resoluciones de la conferencia llevada a cabo en Tijuana, Mexico, los dias 30 y 31 de octubre de 1982.
La reunion publica del 23 de enero sera la culminacion de un fin de semana con acciones de solidaridad tales como conferencias de prensa, una caravana en bus, desde San Francisco y otras ciudades del norte de California para asistir a una marcha y un rally el dia sabado 22 de enero en la frontera entre Tijuana y San Isidro, California.
Los planes para formar la caravana y la reunion publica del 22 y 23 de enero respectivamente se concretizaran en una reunion el dia vierens 7 de enero en el Centro Cultural de la Mision, 2868 Mission St. en San Francisco, a las 7 de la noche. Esta reunion esta abierta a todos los grupos e invididuos que quieran ayudar a levantar esta gran campafta, de acuerdo a las lineas propuestras por el Frente Mundial de Solidaridad para detener la guerra de Washington en el pueblo de El Salvador. Esperamos que ustedes respaldaran la reunion publica de 23 de enero y mandaran un representante a la reunion del 7 de enero.
En solidaridad/In solidarity,
Maria Rosa Galdames, Matilde Zimmermann