Why We Left the Socialist Workers Party

From an undated pamphlet issued by the Freedom Socialist Party. Richard Fraser co-signed this June 1966 document with Clara Kaye, Frank Krasnowsky, David Dreiser and Waymon Ware.

Continued from left column

Our Program

The following is the gist of the program we have developed and fought for within the SWP for many years. We are presenting it now publicly for the first time for the consideration of all rev­olu­tion­ary social­ists and all mass move­ment militants and radicals.

  1. I. For a Rev­olu­tion­ary Marxist Approach to the Negro Struggle

The connection between the pro­le­tar­ian strug­gle for socialism and the Negro strug­gle for equality is INTEGRAL and proclaims the unfolding of the per­manent revolution in the U.S.

The fascist-like police states of the south are structurally basic to the capitalist polit­ical economy of the U.S. The strug­gle against segregation, there­fore, threatens the entire nationwide social system. This fact demonstrates the impossibility of achieving equality under U.S. capitalism, and it further trans­forms the demand for integration into a transitional rev­olu­tion­ary demand. This in turn guarantees the emergence of a rev­olu­tion­ary left wing that will contend for leadership against the reform­ist/tokenists in the civil rights move­ment.

The development of all-black organ­iza­tions expresses and cultivates the pride and self-reliance of the most oppressed, and opens new avenues in the strug­gle for freedom. But these so-called “nation­al­ist” formations do not result from any inherent drive toward national separatism, but from organ­iza­tional needs and from an internation­al­ism that identifies the Negro strug­gle with the colonial revolution. The demands of the essentially pro­le­tar­ian masses express the historic needs of the working class as a whole in the strug­gle against capitalist exploitation.

No amount of all-black inde­pen­dence can over­come the terrible isolation of the Negro masses from the white working class and the social­ist move­ment. What is revealed here is the back­wardness of the labor move­ment and the theoretical bankruptcy of the established left. This isolation is a mortal danger both to the freedom strug­gle and to the strug­gle for socialism, since each is impossible without the other.

The Negro strug­gle is the central question of the American Revolution and the Negro move­ment is the vanguard sector of the entire working class. That is why the Negro move­ment is the first target of reaction: racism and the southern system are the launching pads of American fascism.

The Negro move­ment must be encouraged to develop a Marxist program and cadre that can unite the ghetto masses with the southern strug­gle into a powerful rev­olu­tion­ary force, and there can then be forged a working alliance among the Negro van­guard, social­ist rev­olu­tion­aries and the militants in the white working class.

This is the key to the American Revolution.

  1. II.  For Solidarity with the Chinese Revolution

The Chinese Revolution upset the inter­na­tional class peace agreed to at Potsdam and Teheran. This great revolution confirmed once again the validity of Trotsky’s thesis of permanent revolution by dem­on­strat­ing that the national revolution in back­ward countries cannot achieve its goals of national inde­pen­dence, national unification and economic growth without going over to the stage of social­ist revolution.

China’s expe­ri­ence (not lost on the Cuban rev­olu­tion­aries) established China as the key to the colonial revolution and the principal target of world impe­ri­al­ism.

At first in practice, and then in an ideological polemic against the Soviet bureaucracy, the Chinese CP opposed the policy of class collaboration with world impe­ri­al­ism as expounded and practiced by both Stalin and the current Soviet leadership. The inter­na­tional debate which ensued, forcing world Communism to examine the issues, began the creation of rev­olu­tion­ary tendencies who opposed the reformist leaderships throughout the Com­mu­nist move­ment. The necessary prerequisites were thereby established for an inter­na­tional rev­olu­tion­ary regroupment.

Still, the progressive character of the inter­na­tional role of the Com­mu­nist Party of China is severely limited by the residue of Stalinism. The Khrushchev revelations about Stalin at the 20th Congress of the CPSU revealed the cracks in the Soviet bureaucracy which might have been exploited by the Soviet workers to the point of polit­ical revolution against the entire regime and the reinstitution of pro­le­tar­ian democracy in the Soviet Union. But the Chinese Com­mu­nist Party by its public adulation of Stalin and Stalinism struck a severe blow at the democratic aspirations of the Soviet pro­le­tar­iat and thus helped to re-cement the power of the bureaucratic caste in the Soviet Union.

The CPC stubbornly maintains Mao’s theory—not fun­da­men­tally different from Stalin’s—that the national revolution in colonial countries can be carried to fruition by a joint dictatorship of the pro­le­tar­iat and the native bourgeoisie—in spite of the CPC’s own expe­ri­ence which refutes this theory!

The disastrous results of the policy flowing from this theory are to be seen in Indonesia. The Chinese leadership must share responsibility for the policy followed by the Indonesian Com­mu­nist move­ment, a policy in no way distinguishable from that of the CP in China in the twenties in respect to the Kuomintang and Chiang Kai-shek, and a policy that produced the identical end: massacre and utter rout.

The CPC’s favorable references to Stalin result from this chronic contradiction in both their theory and practice.

China’s internal life, however, differs sharply from the Soviet model. Clearly absent is the immense privileged bureaucracy, wielding arbitrary authority through an all-powerful secret police. The con­cen­tra­tion camps and blood purges that are the hall­marks of Stalinism are also absent. The expanding role of the workers and peasants in economic planning and control has resulted in a consistent economic growth and a realistic potential for greater pro­le­tar­ian democracy.

The Chinese Com­mu­nists are sensitive to the growth of bureaucracy in China. But they cannot ultimately prevent its growth so long as they remain blind to its origin and history in the USSR. While the very symbol of bureaucratic privilege and tyr­anny—Stalin—continues to be idolized in China, they will hover on the verge of retrogression and degen­era­tion.

Likewise, their Stalinist heritage prevents the CPC from playing a decisive role in the reorgan­iza­tion of a worldwide rev­olu­tion­ary inter­na­tional.

  1. III.  For Serious Politics in the Anti-War Movement

The capitalist class has a fun­da­men­tal stake in the war in Vietnam and will not withdraw short of a military/polit­ical defeat or virtual civil war at home. The only way that the American people can stop this war is through a mass polit­ical move­ment of the working class.

Vanguard elements of the anti-war move­ment feel their isolation from the working class to be a basic weakness of the move­ment; they seek alliances with the pro­le­tar­iat and specifically with the Negroes, that section of the working class already in motion. As a consequence of a serious effort to stop the war, anti-war militants are groping for fun­da­men­tal solu­tions to social problems. They seek to unite Negroes, the poverty-stricken, draft resisters, radical unionists, social­ists, etc., into a broad polit­ical move­ment.

Rev­olu­tion­ary Marxists should help them find the correct road to polit­ical unity by dem­on­strat­ing the necessity of independent anti-capitalist politics that connect the war to the other evils of the system. Political ventures short of such a program are doomed to eventual capitulation to the Democratic Party and other forms of class collaboration politics.

The liberal plea for “Negotiations” with the Vietnamese Revolution must be exposed; the only principled slogan is “Withdraw U.S. Troops Now.” But a demand for withdrawal that is devoid of a meaningful economic analysis of the cause of war, even this slogan fosters the illusion that the anti-war move­ment by itself will pressure the U.S. out of Vietnam. The notion that simply more activism and more protesters can end the war is an essentially pacifist proposition. This unrealistic and anti-political approach is a dangerous conservative barrier to the polit­ical development of the anti-war move­ment.

  1. IV. For a Rev­olu­tion­ary Approach to the Woman Question

We place the strug­gle for women’s emancipation on the level of a first-class theoretical and pro­gram­matic question.

As the first tendency in the history of American radicalism to formally incorporate this question into our basic program, we proclaim our resistance to the creeping paralysis of male supremacy which by now has become an ingrained practice in the entire labor and social­ist move­ment, and a growing danger in the civil rights move­ment.

The leading role of women in the fight for civil rights, in the anti-war move­ment, in civil liberties campaigns, etc., is not accidental, but results from the special dynamic developed by women as an oppressed sex, seeking liberation for themselves and for all other victims of discrimination.

The feminine mystique, along with racism, remains the Achilles heel of the labor move­ment and a significant factor in the history of union degen­er­a­tion. Women’s equality must be raised as a transitional slogan whose dynamism flows from the pivotal location of the Woman Question in U.S. life, where the oppression and special exploitation of women is a burning injustice that intersects with every other polit­ical question and social move­ment.

  1. V. For Rev­olu­tion­ary Unification and the
    Regeneration of Socialist Thought

Conditions for a meaningful discussion of Marxist ideology and for the creation of a united rev­olu­tion­ary social­ist party have rarely been as favorable as they are today.

The essentially anti-capitalist character of the Freedom Now and anti-war move­ments draws the militants from both move­ments together in a search for polit­ical unity. The end of the Stalin era and the current Sino-Soviet dispute have weakened old prejudices and created an atmosphere favoring polit­ical discussion in the social­ist move­ment. The crisis of capitalism, demonstrated by the permanent war policy of the Democratic administration and its hypocrisy in civil rights and anti-poverty, has forced one-time liberals and pacifists into a serious consideration of Marxism. An entire generation of radical youth, disgusted by its inheritance, and enthused by the courage and determination of the colonial revolutionists abroad and the Freedom fighters at home, is seeking more effective methods and ideas for the strug­gle against capitalism.

Rev­olu­tion­ary Marxists must accelerate and help give form to this growing need for a new social­ist move­ment. We must add to the energy, invent­iveness, and boldness of the New Left the most important qualities of the Trotskyist Old Left: Marxist ideology, a pro­le­tar­ian orientation, expe­ri­ence in the class strug­gle, and the recognition of the need for a centralized, disciplined and thoroughly democratic rev­olu­tion­ary party.

On behalf of the former Seattle Branch of the Socialist Workers Party, and other SWPers who supported the Marxist evaluation of the Negro Question developed by Richard Kirk, we present this statement explaining why we left the SWP—that party to which most of us have devoted our entire lives since our youth.

Origin of the Kirk-Kaye Tendency

Our polit­ical group, known within the SWP as the Kirk-Kaye tendency, was formalized at the 1957 convention of the party, when we opposed the unprincipled adaptation of the SWP to the pacifist-reformist leadership of the Negro strug­gle. Adulation of Dr. King replaced a rev­olu­tion­ary approach to the question within the party, and heralded a process of degen­eration which reached a decisive stage at the 1963 national convention of the party.

In that year, the SWP proclaimed a boycott of the southern strug­gle; condemned leftward-moving SNCC as “reformist/integrationist,” and turned toward Elijah Muhammad and the Black Muslims as the “most dynamic” section of the Negro move­ment.

In regard to other areas of the class strug­gle, the 1963 convention rejected the perspective of social­ist regroupment and deepened its hostility towards all the new leftward-moving organ­iza­tions on the polit­ical scene; the perspective of polit­ical revolution in China was reaffirmed; party organ­iza­tional pro­cedures were formally “tightened up” while an ongoing purge of critics of the leadership was accelerated.

Our tendency opposed this course. We par­ticu­larly resisted the slanderous identification of the southern militants with “tokenism,” and the all-out support of Negro separatism.

Our counter-resolution to the convention, “Rev­olu­tion­ary Integration,” called on the SWP to permit its Negro cadre to intervene in the living strug­gle for equality with a Marxist program. We developed our thesis that the Negro move­ment for equality is a unique and central phenomenon of the class strug­gle in the United States, integrally connected with the pro­le­tar­ian strug­gle for socialism.

The SWP Espouses “Black Separatism”

The SWP leadership rejected the interconnection of the Freedom Now and social­ist move­ments. The ease with which the SWP slid over from adaptation to Rev. King to glorification of Mr. Muhammad expressed the basically false theory—inherited from the Com­mu­nist Party—that the Negro Question in the U.S. is only a variation of the National Question in Eastern Europe.

This theory maintains that the Negro problem can be solved by “self-determination” and racial sepa­ra­tion. Thus, all policy problems of the Negro move­ment can be solved without strenuous analysis and thought, for the SWP leadership says in effect that whatever the Negro leadership does is good enough for the Negroes and good enough for the SWP because whatever policy is most prominent at any stage has been “self-determined.”

The SWP’s confusion of the mood of black nation­al­ism with the politics of separatism bore bitter fruit when Malcolm X engineered a split in the Black Muslims. Malcolm was clearly oriented toward combining the ghetto strug­gle with the southern move­ment and with socialism. He denounced the Muslims for their basically reac­tion­ary character, and con­se­quently felt the wrath of Mr. Muhammad’s goons. The SWP, supporting Muslim unity, was caught in its own trap. It became both the supporter of Malcolm and the defender of his enemy and probable murderer.

The SWP, now discredited in the Negro com­munity, presents the ludicrous spectacle of an all-white party with a black nation­al­ist program.

Our Perspective on the
Unfolding American Revolution

The logic of the SWP’s position on the Negro strug­gle led to a de facto isolation of the party from the strug­gle, for black nation­al­ism itself stands aside from the main thrust of the Negro strug­gle—the fight against segregation. We now felt impelled to publish within the party an analysis of the basic reasons for the party’s sectarianism on this and other vital questions.

Since 1957, we had responded to severe changes occurring in the party program by formulating our own position on a number of domestic and inter­na­tional issues. We believed that the party was departing from the dynamic course dictated by the spirit and letter of Leninism and Trotskyism, and that it was stagnating into conservatism.

In what proved to be a vain effort to arrest this general drift, we submitted to the 1965 national convention an extensive Political Resolution dealing with the current stage of the crisis of U.S. impe­ri­al­ism and the consequent strategy and tactics needed for the realization of our revolution. We sought to orient the party toward the Negro strug­gle as the crux of the American Revolution, and toward China as the key to the colonial revolution and the major policy-problem of the inter­na­tional rev­olu­tion­ary move­ment. The Resolution also called atten­tion to the essentially anti-capitalist nature of the strug­gle of women and youth today, and concluded that the road to the American Revolution did not lie directly through the trade union move­ment, but followed the course of the strug­gles of the most oppressed wherever they broke out. We said it was the destiny of these strug­gles outside the labor move­ment to become the vitalizing currents that would eventually move the labor move­ment and become the van­guard of the rev­olu­tion­ary move­ment as a whole.

We called for a commitment to the strug­gles of women under capitalism, and for the formation of a truly independent rev­olu­tion­ary youth move­ment.

The SWP Becomes Monolithic

The convention rejected our perspective and tactics. Indeed, rank and file consideration of our Resolution was virtually impossible as the long-honored internal democracy of the party had by then been destroyed by a protracted “tightening up” campaign. The majority was hostile to all criticism and any new proposals emanating from outside the leadership. The pro­le­tar­ian principle of minority representation on all leading bodies was abandoned and the very right of factions to exist was denied in a new Organizational Resolution submitted by the leadership and adopted by the convention.

The majority simply refused to debate the issues in dispute and discussion was effectively proscribed. Instead, we were threatened and denounced over local administrative practices. This type of un­principled politics was fast becoming char­ac­ter­is­tic of the party leadership.

We concluded from this expe­ri­ence that the SWP had become a doctrinaire party, mired in a “holding operation,” i.e., a prolonged state of suspension based on the assumption that nothing significant can happen until the revival of the trade unions and the emergence of a Labor Party. The SWP was ossifying around conjunctural evaluations of 25 years ago, and neither changes in national or world conditions, the isolation and disasters resulting from its own mistakes, nor the loss of its basic cadre of rev­olu­tion­ary Negroes, women, unionists and intellectuals could shake its complacency.

The Last Struggle—Over Anti-War Policy

The policy of the SWP leadership in the anti-war move­ment brought our differences to the breaking point.

After standing aside from the anti-war move­ment during its critical formative stages, the SWP decided in mid-1965 to plunge in—for an organ­iza­tional raid.

We made one last attempt to prevent a disaster for Trotskyism in the U.S.

We protested against the single-issue, anti-political policy of SWP and YSA, which led them into the presumptuous demand that the Thanksgiving NCC [National Coordinating Com­mit­tee] conference in Washington, D.C. center its deliberations around the party’s peculiar and con­fusing organ­iza­tional proposals, rather than around questions of program and principle. This course was unprecedented in our move­ment. We denied the SWP characterization of the left wing of the anti-war move­ment as “Stalinist.” We condemned their fearful refusal to proclaim clear support to the National Liberation Front and their super-cautious and outdated policy on the draft, which prevents effective opposition to it.

We advocated a pro­le­tar­ian anti-war policy that would solidarize the party with the revolution in Vietnam, with working-class Negro youth who are the key victims of the draft, and with the radical wing of the anti-war move­ment.

The SWP Substitutes Organizational Attacks for Political Debate

The party’s policy in the anti-war move­ment had never been subject to rank and file discussion. Comrade Kirk, a member of the National Com­mit­tee for 25 years, requested a debate on the issue within the N.C. He flew to New York to participate in it, and discovered that the chief results of his protest were punitive organ­iza­tional measures directed against him personally, against the Seattle Branch as a whole, and against other supporters of the tendency. Such measures are understood within the party to be a prelude to expulsion.

Under such circumstances, the resignation we had contemplated for some time became inevitable.

The SWP’s estrangement from the Negro strug­gle and its refusal to intervene polit­ically in the anti-war move­ment or in the present rebirth of interest in social­ist thought have removed it for this period from the epicenter of rev­olu­tion­ary activity and ideology in the U.S. We would welcome a turn which would reverse this tragic degenerative process, but we cannot wait for this possibility. There are more vital things to do in the class strug­gle than conduct a futile and debilitating internecine organ­iza­tional strug­gle over tertiary administrative issues. Since every polit­ical difference and discussion is now muddied and prejudiced by an organ­iza­tional smokescreen thrown over it by the party leadership to obscure the principled issues in dispute, the party can no longer contain critics. And rev­olu­tion­aries who are not critical cannot maintain for long their rev­olu­tion­ary quality.

Our Objectives

In resigning, we reaffirm our commitment to Marxism, to Leninism and to Trotskyism, and we have set forth these immediate objectives:

(1)  To join with other independent social­ists in the Pacific Northwest in the creation of a new rev­olu­tion­ary social­ist party here.

(2)  To continue collaboration with our col­leagues throughout the country, with the object of making our views known to the various components within U.S. radicalism.

(3)  To advocate, support and participate in a revival and regeneration of Marxism in the U.S., and in a fun­da­men­tal reorgan­iza­tion of social­ists in a new rev­olu­tion­ary social­ist party, able to unite the Negro vanguard with the social­ist radicals. We believe this to be the indispensable formula for the foundation of a genuine rev­olu­tion­ary socialism in this country.

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