A Letter to American Trotskyists

(Memorandum on the Problems of
Building a Rev­olu­tion­ary Party)

From Rev­olu­tion­ary Age Vol. 3, No. 4 (1974/75). Rev­olu­tion­ary Age was the irregular journal of Fraser’s supporters after the 1968 split in the Freedom Social­ist Party.

Continued from left column

Jim tried to begin a remedy in the creation of the Trotsky School, designed to dignify Marxist schol­ar­ship in the party. Every year a group of leading activists were to be selected for a six-month study course—full time and at party expense—on the fun­da­mentals of Marxist Political Economy, Dia­lectics and Historical Materialism.

Beginning in 1946, it was, indeed, a fine Marxist school, but it was allowed to degenerate into an indoctrination seminary and then quietly passed on. It had no pro­found effect on the party; it was too little and too late. All it accomplished was to create a few malcontents who, after a rigorous study of the first volume of Capital and the method of Historical Materialism and research, realized the shallow and non-Marxist method of virtually the whole party leadership.

It had a pro­found effect on me, however, and I became one of the malcontents. This resulted in a fourteen-year struggle to “reform” the party which, along with others, I gave up as hopeless.

From Leadership in Black Liberation to Failure

The first disastrous effects of the degenerative process I have described were to be felt during the period from 1942 to 1948 around the prob­lem of assim­ilat­ing black workers into the party.

During World War II the Trotskyists were the only ones who did not desert the black struggle. Most prominently the CP, which had always held a large influence in the ghetto, was most treacherous in its fanatical support of the war, the government and the demand for domestic peace. They re­nounced and even condemned all struggle except for a second front and to sell war bonds.

Black workers were demanding a piece of the war industry employment, defending them­selves mili­tantly against police and racist attacks in the northern cities and around southern army bases, and resisting persecution and discrimination in the Army and Navy. Almost alone among the social­ist parties, the SWP mili­tantly defended them. Con­se­quently the SWP newspaper, the Militant, became a popular paper in the ghetto, and soon black workers and some professionals began to stream into the party. We never had it so good.

The party faced two basic contradictions as it attempted to cope with this devel­op­ment. The first was in Theory and Program. The party leadership had been indoc­tri­nated in the 1939 res­olu­tion, which was arrogantly nation­al­istic, calling for self-determination and separation, and char­ac­ter­izing the struggle for equality as reformist, and implicitly anti-rev­olu­tion­ary. But the blacks coming into the party were mili­tant integrationists and had enough of separation, and rightly con­sidered the demand for self-determination to be a justification for seg­re­ga­tion.

The second contradiction was in the realm of Strategy and Tactics. The SWP, having substituted tactics for strategy, devel­oped a trade-unionistic conception of the black struggle. We had been skill­ful and successful in trade union work, and in the absence of a concrete analysis, the tactical and stra­te­gic prob­lems of any mass struggle should follow the trade union blueprint.

I shall discuss this second contradiction first, because if we had solved this strategic-tactical prob­lem as it was offered to us, it might have even­tu­ally overcome the deficiencies in Theory, Program and Social Base.

The prob­lem arose in this way: A prominent black doctor in Detroit had been awarded a com­mis­sion in the Navy on the basis of his professional qualifications, never having seen him. When he went for induction the Navy took one look at him and told him it was all a mistake. His draft board then ordered him inducted into the Army. He put up an his­tori­cal fight against it and, with our support and help, won the case.

He became our foremost spokesman in the black community, and wrote a regular column in the Militant under the name Jackson. He built a tre­men­dous black SWP in the Detroit ghetto, composed principally of mili­tant workers. I don’t know if anyone knew how many members he had, but I heard estimates as high as “over 200.”

In any event, he wasn’t satisfied that the propa­gan­dis­tic life of the SWP, supplemented by union politics, was adequate for this for­ma­tion, which was beginning to assume the char­ac­ter­is­tics of a mass move­ment. In 1946 he came to the Political Com­mit­tee with the proposal to create a new and independent black move­ment for the day-to-day struggle for equality. The Political Com­mit­tee referred the prob­lem to the Trotsky School (held at the Grass Lake Summer Camp near Detroit), plus all N.C. members visiting the camp or in the area.

There was some justification for this change of venue, as there were several members of the N.C. at the school (including myself), the director of the School, William Warde [George Novack], was a member of the P.C., and there were always N.C. members visiting the Camp. However, it was char­ac­ter­is­tic of the SWP that the central leadership almost invariably chose to have very little to say on black lib­era­tion, abdicating this responsibility to “specialists.”

The meeting was quite a gathering. Jackson made his proposal and the roof fell in on him. All the brains at the meeting landed on him with the following line: We predicted correctly in the early ’30s that, as the work­ing class began to come to union con­scious­ness, it would first come to the traditional and established organ­iza­tions in the AFL. They did just that, and the CIO was formed first within the AFL. While we had a correct eval­ua­tion of the prob­lem, the CP was hung up with their dual-union policy of Red Trade Unions.

So, they said, the Negro move­ment will inevi­ta­bly go to the NAACP first, and your pro­position is equivalent to the Stalinist Red Trade Union policy. You must take your mili­tants and go to the NAACP.

There were three black members at the School, but none of them nor myself had a word to say. Myself, because I didn’t know enough about it to have an expressible position. The black comrades, Joe Morgan, Milton Richardson and Ernie Dillard, were probably intimidated by the force of the attack.

I was very uncomfortable during this discussion and the trade-unionistic tirade by the smart ones, and determined to get to the root of the prob­lem, which I found could be done if you just try a little. The fallacy of the majority opinion—although it should be obvious—I will summarize here:

1. The trade union move­ment is an exclusively class move­ment. The move­ment for black lib­era­tion is multi-class, and the classes have different and sometimes opposing interests.

2. The work­ing class move­ment of the 1930s was a move­ment of a class just coming into elementary con­scious­ness for the first time in modern history. The move­ment for black lib­era­tion has been in almost continuous existence in one form or another on a massive scale for long over a century. In modern times witness the Garvey move­ment, the World War II March on Washington Move­ment, the Black Muslims, CORE. None of these messed with the NAACP.

3. The NAACP is and always has been a middle class move­ment which rarely rep­re­sented the work­ing class except in court. (It did, however, during the class upheaval of the ’30s, establish a good reputation among auto workers when Walter White—then president of NAACP—pulled the black workers out of the Ford-Dearborn plant: an action which effectively broke the back of the corporations’ resistance to union organ­iza­tion.) In spite of the untiring work of Herbert Hill in building a labor department, the NAACP was and remains the property of and instrument of the black middle class.

It was exclusively concerned with legal prob­lems and opposed to mass action. All attempts to “reform” it (mostly by radicals) ended in disaster. It took the Montgomery bus boycott to shake it up somewhat, but even then it was totally inadequate for a mass move­ment. This is why Randolph bypassed it in the for­ma­tion of the March on Washington Move­ment.

In 1946 the mili­tant workers refused to go to the NAACP; and, although Jackson had an entirely legitimate proposal, and had the forces to begin it, at least on a local scale, he was overwhelmed by the obvious majority pressure and gave up. He left the party soon after this and his move­ment dispersed.

Later that year, when I had had time to think the thing out a bit, I made a protest of the policy to the School. I was greeted with silence. Too little and too late.

Nearly twenty years later Jackson came to a social event in New York during our National Convention in 1963. This was at the height of the popularity of the Black Muslim move­ment, which the SWP was courting. I recalled that Grass Lake meeting to him, saying that I wished we had accepted his proposal, par­ticu­larly in light of the Muslim devel­op­ment, which merely filled the vacuum created by our failure. He said, “Yes, it is a shame. We could have had all that.”

Theory and Politics

Our move­ment held itself together through years of adversity and persecution by the profundity of Trotsky’s writings, the best expression of Marxist theory of the era.

However, we were never able to open up Marxism to the black rev­olu­tionaries. When con­fronted with our pro­position that the prob­lems of race relations in the U.S. could be solved through racial separation, they said—if that’s Marxism, it’s not for me.

So, even while many were coming in, many were always going out.

Black Nationalism Abets White Chauvinism

However, the nationalist theory had other nega­tive results. It would be no discovery to observe that the white work­ing class is saturated with race prejudice. However, on occasion, either in the neces­sity of class solidarity in struggle or in pro­found con­vic­tion of the need for rev­olu­tion­ary change toward social­ism, the mili­tant white worker is prepared to rid himself of this obnoxious and self-destructive prejudice. But when you tell him that racial separation is a necessary part of the class struggle, this gives him an opportunity to hold on to his prejudice as a virtue. This has happened.

Probably the most disastrous of all the con­se­quences of the nationalist theory was in the prob­lem of interracial marriage. The party oper­ated upon the following theorem: If the black move­ment will, when it matures, become a nationalist-separatist and anti-white move­ment (like the Garvey move­ment), any black rev­olu­tion­ary who marries whites will be ostracized.

During the years under consideration, 1942-48, ours was an interracial party, and in these cir­cum­stances close personal relations devel­oped inter­racially, both in the organ­iza­tion and its periph­ery. Such relations sometimes easily devel­oped into marriage. The leadership did every­thing it could to discourage this practice, from friendly reasoning, to pleading, to pressure and social ostracism.

Milton Richardson, our candidate for Governor or Lieu­ten­ant Governor in one of our post-war elections in New York, married white. She was socially ostracized and he was highly pressured. He finally left the country a broken man.

Joe Morgan was hounded out of the Party.

Louise Simpson, candidate for New York Lieu­ten­ant Governor in about 1944, married a white sympathizer. When persuasion was to no avail, harass­ment began, and became so intolerable that the husband threatened to go to the NAACP with a griev­ance. Jim finally told one of the offenders in the leadership to for Christ’s sake leave those kids alone. Finally, at the 1949 Convention, an announce­ment was made by the N.C.—through the presidium—that the SWP does not oppose interracial marriage. The damage, however, had already been done. It was just too little and just too late.

When Dobbs’ daughter married Clifton DeBerry and finally moved to New York, they were, of course, tolerated, and probably escaped the pressures exerted upon other like couples. However, this occurrence did not ameliorate the prob­lem in New York to any appreciable degree, even spreading westward when Tom Kerry invaded Los Angeles in the ’50s—witness the case of E. Banks.

Under the impact of all of these factors, our black membership eroded. False stra­te­gic concepts, false theory and program made it impossible for the SWP to change its social base, a factor which might have prevented the ultimate degen­er­a­tion which even­tu­ally overcame it.

As a result of accumulated griev­ances and frus­tra­tions the last substantial group of black members left in anger at the 1948 Convention. As Dobbs expressed it to me (as I was negotiating to get one of them back), “They shit on the floor as they left.” One of the ironies of this sit­ua­tion was that it was at this convention that the first res­olu­tion on the black struggle which made any sense was adopted. Johnson had just come back to us and had modified his 1939 position drastically and produced a fine literary document. However, it was super­im­posed upon the Party, and bore no relation to the real prob­lems that the Party had encountered and failed to solve. While being objectively a refutation of the 1939 res­olu­tion, it didn’t say so; we never dis­associated ourselves from this horrible document. Con­se­quently most of the leadership and the old timers in general, who had been indoc­tri­nated in the old res­olu­tion, saw in the new one only a temporary tactical compromise with the overwhelming mili­tancy of the move­ment demanding equality. There were, too, a few statements in the new one justifying this view.

Because of this, I at one time erroneously laid our failures to this res­olu­tion. At any rate, it also was too little and too late. The SWP returned almost to its original pristine purity with a few dark-skinned members for window dressing.

The leadership was constantly plagued with demands to explain the loss of its large black cadre. The leaders replied with a series of bromides which explained nothing and were, of course, at the expense of the dear departed. However half-true some of these explanations may have been, the prob­lems and experiences I have related contain the basic truth.

The Bitter End

The substitution of Doctrine for Theory, Organ­iza­tion for Strategy, Tactics for Program, and the continued narrowness of social base had a cumu­la­tive effect on the SWP. In the mass move­ment we rarely had an independent policy, and the pro­longed blocs with anti-com­mu­nists—Lundberg, Paul Hall, Reuther, Curran, Roerback, etc.—led us into oppor­tun­istic phases.

Adventurism soon followed, destroying our forces as we tried to extricate ourselves from com­pro­mis­ing positions. The notable exception was in the UAW, where opportunism continued unabated. Cochran, the mentor of this work, succumbed to the prevailing tendency of the old-time mili­tants of the ’30s to continue to maneuver between power blocs and take it easy polit­ically. This led to the for­ma­tion of a polit­ically liquidationist tendency which destroyed our UAW work in a split.

These cycles of opportunism and adventurism resulted in eventual disaster in the mass move­ment and had a conservatizing polit­ical effect on the Party policy, which finally came to rest in its present condition: polit­ical opportunism, a fetish for legal­ism, and a demand for conformity and respectability replaced the class struggle.

The national disaster was intimately related to the collapse of the Party’s rev­olu­tion­ary inter­na­tional outlook, as revealed most of all by its approach to the Chinese Rev­olu­tion. This rev­olu­tion was the longest and most bitterly contested civil war of the modern era, beginning as a proletarian rev­olu­tion (1925), retreated into an anti-imperialist war with the Japanese invasion (1931), but re-emerging in a victorious proletarian rev­olu­tion in 1949.

Mao Tse-tung was in both overt and covert opposition to Comintern policy, beginning in 1927 (he was thrice expelled or suspended from the Central Com­mit­tee). Finally, in 1935, he gained ascendancy and finished a process of remaking the Com­mu­nist Party along Leninist lines.

This was the formula for the final victory—an essentially de-Stalinized Com­mu­nist Party.

However, the SWP, unable to analyze theo­ret­ically and concretely the rev­olu­tion­ary current in the U.S.—black lib­era­tion—was hardly in a position to do so with far-away China. Thus it was forced to rely upon doctrine. Its guide was the Resolution of the founding Congress of the Fourth Inter­na­tional (1938) on “The War in the Far East and the Rev­olu­tion­ary Perspectives.”

However, this document, not written by Trotsky, was basically false, including gross misrep­re­sentations of the actual devel­op­ments in China. Alleging that the “Stalinist” leaders had turned this grandiose agrarian move­ment, despite its historic battles, back into the fold of the Kuomintang, the key passage is as follows:

“What remained of the Chinese Com­mu­nist Party after Chiang Kai-shek’s forceful liquidation of the peasant soviets, has publicly surrendered the last remnants of its rev­olu­tion­ary policy in order to enter a ‘People’s Anti-Japanese Front’ with the hangman of the Chinese rev­olu­tion. The Chinese Stalinists have formally liquidated ‘Soviet China,’ handed over to Chiang Kai-shek the remnants of the peasant Red armies, openly renounced the agrarian struggle, explicitly abandoned the class interests of the workers. Publicly embracing the petty bourgeois doctrines of Sun Yat-sen, they have proclaimed them­selves the gendarmes of private property and, in conformity with Stalinist practice everywhere, the enemies of the rev­olu­tion.”

The monstrous lies and distortions of this key statement are too obvious for comment in this arti­cle, and, irrespective of the fact that its author, John Liang [Frank Glass], later essentially repu­di­ated this thesis, the SWP has remained glued to it in their constantly-reiterated Hate China campaign.

Vietnam and China

The total misunderstanding of the Chinese Rev­olu­tion could not help but reflect itself in the practical work of the Party. This was most obvious in the SWP’s refusal to give public support to the Vietnamese Rev­olu­tion. The SWP/YSA expended enormous energy in the service of pacifism around the slogan “Bring the Troops Home Now.” But they would never face up to the basic question of whose side are you on? They flatly rejected the pro­position that it was our polit­ical duty to proclaim that WE ARE FOR THE VICTORY OF THE NATIONAL LIBERATION FRONT, THEIR CAUSE IS JUST. Among other objections, they said it would be against Trotsky’s “Proletarian Military Policy,” worked out for World War II.

I recall a heated debate on this subject. I don’t remember whether it was at the 1965 Convention or at the N.C. Plenum where they boiled me in oil. I tried to explain that we couldn’t fall back on the old doctrine for WW II because this was a different kind of war. I was refuted by M. Alvin, who accused me of trying to make WW II look good (implying that I was moving toward the Stalinist supportive position on WW II). I mention this because it was typical of the SWP leadership, when con­fronted by polit­ical criticism, to label or insinuate something sinister about the criticism and the critic.

It was proposed by a minority in 1966, I believe, that we adopt Lenin’s policy of rev­olu­tion­ary defeatism, which would demand that we come out openly for the victory of the NLF. They would have none of it. However, I am not overcome with sympathy for this formulation. In reality the sit­ua­tion was not so complicated. When workers are on strike and the National Guard is called in, one doesn’t have to be a Marxist-Leninist to determine whose side one is on. All it requires is a little bit of class solidarity.

Likewise, when an imperialist army invades a colonial country struggling for independence and freedom, it is over-dignifying the shabby politics of the SWP to have to go to doctrine to become a partisan of the NLF. All that is required to take this elementary dignified course is more elementary, and a quality that the SWP has lost—a sense of solidarity with the oppressed.

Many young rev­olu­tionaries who have ex­pe­ri­enced the SWP only in its recent years of degen­er­a­tion didn’t like the way the Party oper­ated organ­iza­tionally (they certainly have a point there), and tend to concentrate their attention on this aspect of the prob­lem.

This is a one-sided approach, however, the organ­iza­tional question being basically derivative. The fate of SDS should sound a warning. I do not mean to say that the organ­iza­tion question will solve itself, and will flow automatically from higher principles. There is much legitimately to be said about what we want a new party to look like organ­iza­tionally, espe­cially in contrast to the old ones. Problems of free­dom of discussion and criticism, the right to chal­lenge, public discussion of party prob­lems, personal relations between members, edu­ca­tional principles and methods, the sanctity of leadership, and all the criteria of organ­iza­tion, deserve special examination.

There is one thing for sure, however. Nearly every Marxist-oriented organ­iza­tion claims to oper­ate on the basis of Leninism: dem­ocratic cen­tral­ism. But in all cases every principle of Leninism has been turned upside-down and wrongside-out, until its basic tenets have been buried. Leninism must be re-discovered and—if found adaptable to our prob­lems and conditions—adapted and used.

It would be redundant to independent radicals to observe that the move­ment is dispersed. Never­theless, I must say it, because that is the starting place of this memo. This condition is brought about by the degen­er­a­tion of its major parties, the Com­mu­nist Party and the Social­ist Workers Party, the dis­in­te­gra­tion of SDS [Students for a Dem­ocratic Society], and the ebb tide of the class struggle. At the same time, the rad­ical­iza­tion of the ’60s, principally in the ghetto and on the campus, has left a residue of high social con­scious­ness. Dozens and perhaps hundreds of rev­olu­tion­ary-minded groups, group­lets, leagues, and thousands of unorganized indi­vi­dual radicals, are seriously debating what to do next. This condition objectively demands a massive regroup­ment of rev­olu­tion­ary forces and the for­ma­tion of a new party. This memorandum is designed to be a contribution to the discussion of how this may be accomplished.

The ev­olu­tion of an aspiring rev­olu­tion­ary party is determined by the reciprocal relations of four basic elements:

THEORY. The understanding and ability to use creatively Marxist polit­ical economy and his­tori­cal/dialectical materialism.

STRATEGY. The foresight and ability to put the organ­iza­tion in a position to struggle effectively for polit­ical hegemony over the proletariat in a con­stantly changing sit­ua­tion. From stra­te­gic concepts flow most of the decisive tactical elements: fusions and splits, the United Front, opponents work; sup­port and critical support, entries or partial entries, etc.; mass organ­iza­tion orientation.

PROGRAM. The polit­ical program. The eval­ua­tion of current polit­ical prob­lems facing the work­ing class and proposed solutions, designed to heighten polit­ical con­scious­ness. This applies not only to the formally adopted res­olu­tions, but to the daily life and work of the organ­iza­tion, its leadership and organ­iza­tional principles.

SOCIAL BASE. That social sector from which the organ­iza­tion derives its basic support and to which it has its main sensitivity. The extent to which it suc­cess­fully seeks that social base in non-privileged sectors of the proletariat will be decisive to its devel­op­ment.

Any one of these categories can become decisive in determining the direction of motion and the final product, because all are interacting.

The CP Degenerates to Reformism

For instance, the Com­mu­nist Party after 1929: Despite its developing mass influence and mili­tancy, it had come under the complete domination of the Soviet secret police (GPU), and found its social base in the Soviet bureauc­racy. The first consequence of its change of social base was the erosion of theo­ret­ical concepts, and wild stra­te­gic gyrations. The stra­te­gic failures on an inter­na­tional scale led to defeats (Germany, Spain) which strengthened the reac­tion­ary character of the social base—the Soviet bureauc­racy. The outcome of this process led finally to programmatic degeneracy, even­tu­ally to reform­ism; in no way qualitatively different from Social Dem­ocratic reform­ism.

The interrelationship between these categories is elaborately demonstrated and devel­oped in the founding documents of the Trotskyist move­ment: “Criticism of the Draft Program,” “The Strategy of World Rev­olu­tion,” etc. (contained in The Third Inter­na­tional After Lenin).

The Social­ist Workers Party

More pertinent to those seeking to profit from the prob­lems of the past is to examine the history of the Social­ist Workers Party (SWP) from the criteria outlined above. More pertinent, because the SWP was a native move­ment, and because it was the best of the Marxist-oriented for­ma­tions to emerge from the turbulent class struggles of the ’30s. It had, however, basic defects at the time of its for­ma­tion in 1938, which it is necessary to examine. For this, I will have to rely on my recollections. I entered the Trotskyist move­ment shortly after the fusion of the (Trotskyist) Com­mu­nist League of America and the (Musteite) American Workers Party (AWP), form­ing the Workers Party of the U.S. in 1934.

At the time of its for­ma­tion the SWP had a dual social base: 1. Middle-class intellectuals. 2. Two white craft unions: the Sailors Union of the Pacific (SUP) and the Minneapolis Teamsters (even­tu­ally designated Local 544). In this discussion I shall ignore the question of the intellectuals’ influence, because this was solved in the 1940 split when the Shachtmanites left: solved only for the period under consideration, however, as the SWP has lost its work­ing-class orientation and become essentially petty-bourgeois in both composition and social base.

The 1934 Teamsters’ strikes in Minneapolis were, in terms of elementary class struggle, classics. The General Strike, masterminded by V.R. Dunne and J.P. Cannon, combined a well planned and bril­liantly executed civil war with a phenomenal rise in social con­scious­ness. This strike put the CLA on the polit­ical map and created the magnetism which drew the Musteites and the Social­ist Party mili­tants toward it, developing new stra­te­gic possibilities.

The 1936-37 Maritime strike (its West Coast seg­ment) gave us the opportunity for decisive inter­ven­tion in support of the mili­tant struggle of the SUP against the conservative policies of the Stalinist-led unions.

Regardless of the militance and even his­tori­cal significance of these episodes, the narrow social base which they supplied the SWP at the time of the emergence and turbulent devel­op­ment of the CIO was to produce devastating con­se­quences in other categories—Theory, Strategy, Program—as I shall demonstrate.

The Sailors Union and the Teamsters

Both of the unions of our social base were pitted against the CP. In Minneapolis, the Stalinists weren’t a real danger, as we were powerfully situ­ated. They were mainly a polit­ical nuisance. But in the SUP there was a struggle—“to the death”—with the Long­shoremen (ILWU), the Marine Cooks and Stewards (MC&S) and finally the National Maritime Union (NMU).

The Lundberg machine which effectively ran the SUP was based on three semi-privileged groups of coastal seamen. 1. The Matson Shore gang: seamen who stayed in San Francisco and did maintenance work on the large Matson fleet. 2. Steam schooner sailors: work­ing the coastal trade bringing lumber from the Pacific Northwest to California (steam schooners were being rapidly replaced by modern ships, however the trade retained its designation). 3. The Alaska run, largely based in Seattle. After the 1936-37 strike these sailors, work­ing a short season (approximately May to October) made fabulous wages loading cargo from the Alaska canneries—overtime, double-time and triple-time, etc. They could usually make much more in five to six months than an off-shore sailor could make in a year. Most of them were in home port half the year and frequently during the season.

The relative stability of these groups gave them a preponderant influence on the affairs of the union, at the expense of the off-shore sailors, who rep­re­sented the majority of the union. These conditions also applied to the Marine Firemen (MFOW).

In many of the issues of the struggle of the SUP against the CP, the former demonstrated a superior mili­tancy on the elementary level of union issues. However, its fanatical anti-Stalinism sounded more like anti-communism, and had distinctly reac­tion­ary connotations. The SWP was a polit­ical spokes­man for the SUP, and our comrades became experts in the struggle against Stalinism in the unions.

Expertise at Anti-Stalinism

Most prominent in this field of expertise was Tom Kerry. In support of SUP policy, he led the fight against Walter Stack and the CP group in the MFOW, finally driving them from the offices they held. He accomplished this largely in the capacity of editor of the West Coast Fireman. He was also associated with the West Coast Sailor and the Seafarers’ Log. After coming to New York he guided a “pro­gres­sive” opposition to the Stalinist leadership of the Painters Union, which was successful in dislodging them.

By pursuing our specialty we came to the edge of disaster twice in the Auto union.

Both of the unions of our main social base were strongly committed to the AFL—partly because the CP was the dominant polit­ical force in the CIO. In this cir­cum­stance we drifted rather unconsciously, I think, into a kind of pro-AFL attitude which obscured to the party the fundamentally dynamic quality of the CIO. This prejudice was sustained until 1940-41 when the Minneapolis Teamsters, under fire from the high bureauc­racy, went over to the CIO. It must have been partially this prejudice, plus a growing Stalinophobia, which was responsible for our first crisis.

When we got our first foot-hold in the UAW, we offered our services to Homer Martin, President, in his struggle against the Stalinists. But Martin was headed straight for the AFL, where he soon went, attempting to set up a dual union. Cannon tells (in The Struggle for a Proletarian Party) how V.R. Dunne and other men in the field extricated our Auto group from this disgraceful policy in 1938, by challenging the central leadership in New York.

But we were in for yet another “bloc” crisis. For most of World War II, Walter Reuther, as head of the General Motors division of the UAW, had played a better role than most others, par­ticu­larly the CP; and after the war we sometimes joined forces with him.

However, after the strike wave of 1945-46 Reuther took a right turn, and we found ourselves in his caucus as he was carrying a reac­tion­ary war against the controlling Thomas-Addes caucus which was energized by the CP. This struggle pointed toward the campaign by the CIO hierarchy to wipe out all CIO unions which were under the influence of radical elements: Farm Equipment Workers, Mine Mill and Smelter, United Electrical Workers, etc.

It is to the credit of Clarke and Cochran that we were able to reverse this policy and pull out of the Reuther caucus. A continuation of this policy would have hopelessly compromised us. I recall that during the National Com­mit­tee debate in the summer of 1947 which broke the bloc with Reuther, Clarke remarked (in comment upon eulogies about our successful struggles against the Stalinists in past years), “Yes, we fought the Stalinists well in the MFOW and elsewhere, but I have a feeling that perhaps we fought them too well.” (Among all the pro­gres­sive and mili­tant bureaucrats for whom we did our sanitizing jobs against the CP, I don’t recall one who didn’t turn against us once the Stalinists were whipped. They were to wind up more often than not in the camp of reaction.)

Clarke and Cochran came into that NC meeting a minority, but finally Jim [Cannon] supported them and the day was saved.

Generally speaking, our criterion for polit­ical advance­ment among the mili­tant and pro­gres­sive workers was anti-Stalinism. The idea was that pro­gres­sive unionism combined with anti-Stalinism was by itself an almost automatic transition to social­ist con­scious­ness.

The conception found its theo­ret­ical expression in the erroneous perspectives of our labor party propa­ganda during the entire period from 1938 to 1948. It was postulated by Dobbs that the labor party, based on the trade unions, beginning as a reformist party, would become so jolted by crises and the rad­ical­iza­tion of the workers that it would take power, nationalize the means of production and, in effect, establish the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Theory and Strategy

The strategy of the Trotskyists before 1938 may justifiably be characterized as flexible. The fusion with the Musteites (1934) and the entry into the SP (1936), whatever the ultimate con­se­quences of the latter, rep­re­sented a serious eval­ua­tion of polit­ical trends and efforts to face them realistically.

We Are the Party!

However, at the time of the for­ma­tion of the SWP (1938) Cannon proclaimed new doctrines. As we left the SP Cannon said: This is our last maneuver, barring the possibility of a labor party devel­op­ment. We shall have no further orientations toward other polit­ical tendencies. We are the one and only party. The Stalinists are finished. We don’t have to worry about them—just fight ’em.

At this time the CP still exercised a clear polit­ical hegemony over the radical work­ing class in both the mass production industries and Marine Trans­por­ta­tion!

We had registered important trade unionistic successes in the SUP, the MFOW, and the Midwest Teamsters, and in these areas we had polit­ically discredited the CP. However, the contradiction between union mili­tancy and polit­ical conservatism, and the great successes on a narrow social base, seemed to warp Jim’s judgement, and induced him to nega­tive stra­te­gic con­clu­sions. He thereby ele­vated tactics to a pre-eminence over strategy, and congealed the party in a rigid mold of “we are the one and only,” which denied us the flexibility necessary to take advantage of opportunities in the CP milieu: the temporary left turn of the CP in 1940, the devel­op­ment of the New York Labor Party and the Progressive Party, and the crisis created by the Twentieth Congress and Khrushchev’s reve­lations.

Organizing the Rev­olu­tion

The second of Cannon’s proclamations stated that ours was only the task of organizing the rev­olu­tion, Theory and Program had been all worked out and laid down by the Masters. It was finished. It was not our responsibility to make new analyses of the changing reality, but to follow the blueprint and organize the rev­olu­tion. We all understood that this meant that the prob­lems of meeting new realities theo­ret­ically was not so much a matter of concrete analysis, but of applying formulae. Thus we began to replace Theory with Doctrine, and took a further step in destroying Strategy by elevating the Organ­iza­tion question along with Tactics to this exalted level. Although we worshipped at the shrine of Theory, it was the theory created by others— principally Trotsky—and which provided us with a Doctrine.

A Cult of the Organizer arose (of which I must admit I was a charter member), which had the sad consequence of creating the super formula-organizers among the young Shachtmanites who had come with us from the SP.

I might say parenthetically that the ultimate product of this school of formula-theorizing and formula-organizing was Jim Robertson. Having a strong personal liking for him and a high regard for his ability, I must nevertheless say that Robertson and his organ­iza­tion (Spartacist League) have only appro­pri­ated these worst aspects of Cannonism and Shachtmanism and drawn them to their final, ultimate and logical but utterly ludicrous con­clu­sion.

Origins of Racism and Male Chauvinism
in SWP Support to the Sailors Union

In the struggle against Stalinist influence among seamen, the SUP and finally the MFOW pitted them­selves most viciously against the MC&S, a predominately black union. There is no denying that most of the Syndicalists, with whom we were allied and whom we supported uncritically, were racists, including Lundberg, the unquestioned leader.

Lundberg was—at least in these early days—a mili­tant and a consistent one in the framework of craft unionism. He would probably have laid down his life for the SUP. He fiercely hated the ship­owners, the government and the “Commies.” He never hesitated to tie up a ship on a half-way reasonable beef. He was fearless on the picket line and a tough negotiator—and he had a sense of humor.*

*In a negotiation session, after the ship­owners had laid down proposals for tightening up work­ing rules, penalties for violations, etc., Lundberg arose and quickly took down his pants, revealing his penis. The opposing negotiators were taken aback and he explained: “If ve going to work like horses, ve gonna look like horses,” fracturing the session.

Lundberg had built the SUP in a split and a war with the AFL Inter­na­tional Seamen’s Union (ISU). When he was refused a national charter by the CIO, who gave it to the CP-controlled NMU, he negotiated an agreement with the Executive Com­mit­tee of the AFL to take over the remains of the moribund ISU and re-charter it as the Seafarers’ Inter­na­tional Union (SIU). As he was signing the Charter, William Green said something to the effect that “we are taking a chance with you, Harry, you know, you’ve been no angel”; to which Lundberg replied, “I did not know that the Executive Com­mit­tee of the American Federation of Labor vass composed of angels.”

But his racism was most pronounced. At one time Revels Cayton, Secretary of the MC&S, came to the Sailors Hall, apparently on a conciliatory mis­sion. He was met at the door by Lundberg, who threw him bodily down the stairs with the following (approximate) salutation: “Get out and stay out—nigger black son of a bitch!”

The hostility between the two unions, which lived together in isolation aboard ship, brought on racial tensions in which the racism of the Sailors and Firemen was usually present.

In the whole history of our West Coast Maritime group, I never heard of anyone in the group having a friend or “contact” among the black MC&S. Var­ious speculations were expressed as to why the CP had all the influence there. The most peculiar of these views, apparently generally accepted, was that this cir­cum­stance was of no consequence because inevi­ta­bly the Cooks and Stewards, mostly black, were his­tori­cally bound (as a kind of peasantry) even­tu­ally to follow the “proletariat” rep­re­sented by the deck-hands and black gang (firemen).

Trans­por­ta­tion workers in general and par­ticu­larly seamen have always been among the most outspoken and habitual male chauvinists in the work­ing class. This is probably made inevitable because of the segregated male character of the industry, combined with polit­ical backwardness. Among seamen this was aggravated by the long periods of seg­re­ga­tion and the semi-itinerant nature of their employment. Their char­ac­ter­is­tic term for woman was “bag”; their principal female contacts, prostitutes.

Given the uncritical support which we gave to the SUP and its Syndicalist leading core, plus the overwhelming pressure not to appear “different” from the work­ing class in spite of being polit­ical, it is understandable how, in the absence of brutally clear theo­ret­ical training and understanding, some of even the worst char­ac­ter­is­tics of seamen would mold them­selves into our members. And by virtue of the importance of this milieu as one of our main points of social support, many of these char­ac­ter­is­tics began to rub off on the party membership generally.

One of the con­se­quences of this nega­tive ev­olu­tion was the eager acceptance of the 1939 Res­olu­tion on the Negro Question proposed to the National Convention by Johnson. It was an intensely nation­alistic document, advocating the most extreme forms of self-determination and racial separation. Although it was not adopted by the Convention but referred to the National Com­mit­tee, where it was some­what modified, the party was substantially indoc­trinated by this res­olu­tion.

There was, from the beginning, a tendency to ignore the prob­lem of the emancipation of women. One of the products of our maritime policy was to exacerbate and crystallize this tendency, whereby the party completely turned its back on this question and virtually adopted the theory and practice of male supremacy.

At a later time, their dedication to women’s lib­era­tion was probably the principal reason that the Weiss group was driven out of the party.

Of course, when the move­ment for women’s lib­era­tion burst forth, the party was willing to jump on the bandwagon; but it brought with it an opposite tradition and inadequate theory.

By the time the women’s move­ment got under­way, every theo­ret­ically capable woman leader in the party who had not already submerged herself to purely organ­iza­tional and/or family duties had been driven out of the party or quit.

The party had effectively avoided any discussions of the woman question, and those women who had been concerned with the subject were—one way or the other—kept silent. Evelyn Reed, an amateur anthropologist who dabbled in politics, and who had consistently supported the male chauvinism of the SWP leadership against women concerned with the devel­op­ment of rev­olu­tion­ary theory on the “woman question,” was suddenly projected into a position of polit­ical leadership.

The SWP therefore could approach the women’s lib­era­tion move­ment only from a purely oppor­tun­istic standpoint. It consistently placed itself at the service of the liberal wing of the women’s move­ment in opposition to every attempt to give it a rev­olu­tion­ary, proletarian or social­ist orientation. Its cadres thus served as the social­ist cover for the reformists. This corresponded to the SWP’s con­vic­tion that the woman question was only a liberal reformist issue and that the main task was to recruit a few women from the move­ment to social­ism, rather than to advance the move­ment toward social­ist and class con­scious­ness.

It must not be imagined that J.P. Cannon did not become aware of the sad state of affairs in the party created by the anti-theo­ret­ical doctrine which he had advanced. In a conversation with him dealing with prob­lems of our maritime work, I mentioned the resistance we were encountering in moving West Coast seamen to the East Coast where they were desperately needed. His only remark was “We didn’t make com­mu­nists out of them.”