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.
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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