Felix Morrow

The Political Position of the Minority in the SWP

(May 1945)

Source: Fourth International, Vol. 6 No. 5, May 1945, pp. 146–150;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford, 2003.
Proofreader: Einde O’Callaghan (August 2015).
Public Domain: Marxists’ Internet Archive (marxists.org) 2006. You can freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Marxists’ Internet Archive as your source, include the url to this work, and note the transcribers & proofreaders above.

The following article by Comrade Morrow deals with the controversial issues which arose during the pre-convention discussion and which then came before the Eleventh Convention of the Socialist Workers Party. In this article, which is published for the information of our readers, Comrade Morrow presents his own views and position. For the position of the SWP majority we refer our readers to the December 1944 issue of Fourth International which carried the European resolution adopted by the Convention and the editorial article The Eleventh Convention of the American Trotskyist Movement; and also to E.R. Frank’s The Imperialist War and Revolutionary Perspectives, which appeared in the February 1945 issue of our magazine.Ed.

In the December Fourth International there appeared an article by the editors, The Eleventh Convention of the American Trotskyist Movement. One of its sections was entitled Convention Minority. It proceeds from the correct statement that the minority had its origin at the party plenum of October 1943 where a dispute arose over the plenum resolution. But what actually were the issues in dispute at the plenum; what happened to those issues in the course of the dispute; to what extent the majority and minority had arrived at a common position by the time of the November 1944 convention – on these, the really important questions, the editors of Fourth International have not a word to say.

Nor do they help the reader by their choice of documents which they publish in the same issue. The reader is told that the minority “took issue with the resolution” on The European Revolution and the Tasks of the Revolutionary Party. In actual fact, however, this resolution in its final form was voted for by the minority. Instead, the reader is left with the impression that the final convention resolution of November 1944 represents only the position of the majority, while side by side with it is published, as representing the position of the minority, my December 1943 criticism of the October 1943 plenum resolution. True, my article of December 1943 is relevant to a complete understanding of the dispute. But my article is relevant when one reads it in conjunction with the October 1943 plenum resolution which it criticised; it belongs to that stage of the dispute. Without a word of explanation, however, the December 1944 issue of Fourth International counterposes my 1943 article to the final convention resolution of November 1944! The reader is not told that this resolution of a year later does not repeat the errors which I objected to in the 1943 plenum resolution. Thus the puzzled reader finds me complaining about things which he does not find in the final convention resolution. What is going on here? the reader must wonder. He is provided with an answer by the article of the editors and by the speech in the same issue of Comrade Frank, reporter for the National Committee. These two items tell the reader that behind the minority’s ostensible position lie far more deep-going differences: the minority has “an exaggerated appraisal of the role of bourgeois democracy and its potentialities,” a false economic theory on which it bases this appraisal, it thinks US imperialism has “inexhaustible powers,” it has been fooled by the democratic veneer of the imperialists, etc. etc.

What the Real Disputes Were

The three principal issues in dispute at the October 1943 plenum, and their final fate, should have been outlined in the article of the editors which purported to describe the dispute. It is now necessary to do this.

1. The theory of “Franco-type governments” as the sole method to be employed by US imperialism and the European bourgeoisie in ruling Europe. On this the minority stated: “That the draft plenum resolution erred in excluding the possibility of the use of bourgeois-democratic methods by the European bourgeoisie and its American imperialist masters; they would in all probability attempt to stem the European revolution not only by the use of military and fascist dictatorships but also where necessary by the use of bourgeois democracy.” A few sentences from the minority amendments along this line were included in the final text of the plenum resolution, but side by side with them remained the contrary view of the majority’s main formulations. In September 1944 the Political Committee issued its draft resolution on the same subject for the coming Eleventh Convention: this again enunciated the theory of “naked military dictatorship” as the Allies’ sole “pattern” for ruling Europe. The minority offered amendments to delete this theory. Until the very eve of the convention the Political Committee stood its ground. But then it presented a series of “clarifying and literary amendments” which deleted the formulations on this question which the minority had proposed to delete. Thus came substantial agreement between majority and minority on this question.

2. The failure of the Political Committee to say one word, in its draft plenum resolution, about the method of democratic and transitional demands, i.e., the method of winning the majority of the workers and peasants to the revolutionary party. Amendments to rectify this omission were introduced by the minority. Instead of accepting them, the Political Committee introduced into the final plenum resolution the statement that the 1938 Program of the Fourth International “makes clear the value and necessity, as well as the limitations and subordinate character, of democratic slogans as a means of mobilizing the masses for revolutionary action.”

This formulation was confusing because (1) it did not affirm the method of democratic and transitional slogans – the method includes both and does not counterpose one to the other – as the method of winning a majority of the masses and (2) it appeared to minimize the role of democratic demands in the coming period in Europe. Hence the dispute on this question continued after the plenum. The Political Committee a year later corrected its position substantially, when its draft convention resolution dropped the plenum resolution’s characterization of “the limitations and subordinate character” of democratic demands and instead spoke of a “bold program of transitional and democratic demands” as the method “to rally the masses for the revolutionary struggle.” The one concrete democratic slogan proposed by the minority – for Italy: immediate proclamation of the democratic republic – was rejected by the majority; but the resolution took no position on the question. All that is in the final resolution is the formally correct generalization on the role of democratic and transitional demands. So far as the resolution is concerned, therefore, nothing remained in it of the original dispute on this question.

3. The third important dispute which originated at the October 1943 plenum was formulated as follows by the minority: “That the draft resolution erred in minimizing the Stalinist danger; we must recognize that the victories of the Red Army have temporarily strengthened the prestige of Stalinism; and we must, therefore, include in the resolution a warning of the very real danger of Stalinism to the European revolution.” Rejecting this view, the majority persisted in repeating in the final plenum resolution its original formulations: a whole section on “The Significance of the Soviet Victories” which saw in them only progressive consequences; and a condemnation of “defeatists” who “foresee only a repetition of the Spanish events in Stalin’s political maneuvers in Europe” whereas the majority proclaimed “the vast differences in conditions between the Spanish revolution and the coming European revolution.” But a year later the Political Committee had to retreat; its September 1944 draft convention resolution abandoned the formulations of the plenum and – as the minority had originally proposed – warns of the “unmistakable danger signals that Stalin is prepared to repeat his hangman’s work in Spain on a continental scale.” Thus this dispute, too, was resolved.

The Alleged Disputes

1. Are the Imperialisms “Equally Predatory”?

Not a word about all this appears in the December article of the editors of Fourth International. Instead it lists “three main flaws” in my 1943 article and thereby conveys the impression that these “flaws” were the issues in the dispute. Actually these “flaws” were secondary details. But since the editors make so much of them, it is necessary to examine them.

“1) The contention that American imperialism is less predatory in character than German imperialism; that ‘this difference between the two great imperialisms aspiring to subjugate Europe is based on the difference in the economic resources of the two’; and that therefore ‘it is quite false’ to refer to them as ‘equally predatory’.”

The editors thus quote my phrase that the two imperialisms are not “equally predatory,” but take good care not to try to refute me on the real question I had posed: is it not a fact that US imperialism is employing very different methods than Nazi imperialism in Europe? I had written:

“Hence it is quite false when the plenum resolution, without distinguishing between the long-term and short-term perspectives, says: ‘Europe, today enslaved by the Nazis, will tomorrow be overrun by equally predatory Anglo-American imperialism.’ Equally imperialist, yes, but not ‘equally predatory.’ One could permit oneself such language loosely in an agitational speech; but it has no place in a plenum resolution, which should provide a coldly precise estimate of the different methods which are being employed by different imperialisms.”

Instead of politically grappling with the different methods of the two imperialisms, the editors of Fourth International pick out the one phrase about not “equally predatory.” Very well, let us examine it.

The robbery and looting practised by Nazi imperialism we all know about: outright confiscation of Jewish property; dismantling and shipping factories and machinery to Germany; looting of gold stores and art treasures, etc. Nazi oppression, too, we know about the cremation plants, the mass executions of hostages, totalitarian rule, mass deportations and forced labor, etc.

Are the Allies doing the same in Italy and France? Obviously not. Call the Allies’ rule, if you will, predatory, robbing and looting. But you cannot call it “equally predatory” as that of the Nazis. If you call it that, as the majority has insisted on doing, it makes us look ridiculous to the world which knows better.

2. (a) Why Bourgeois s Democracy?

“2) From this appreciation of the ‘less predatory’ character of American imperialism, Morrow proceeds to construct his theory that the European masses will in the period ahead fall prey to illusions centering around the character and role of US imperialism. He contends that these illusions will persist because:

“‘Unlike Nazi occupation, American occupation will be followed by improvement in food supplies and in the economic situation generally. Where the Nazis removed factory machinery and transportation equipment, the Americans will bring them in. These economic contrasts ... cannot fail for a time to have political consequences.’

“On this double foundation of a ‘short-time’ improvement in European living standards and the consequent reinforcement of bourgeois democratic illusions, Morrow greatly exaggerates the role of bourgeois democracy in Europe.”

This description of my position makes it seem that I stated that bourgeois democracy would have a role in Europe solely as the result of “illusions centering around the character and role of US imperialism.” One has only to turn to the minority’s plenum and convention amendments to see that this is not so.

The majority originally based its denial of the possibility of bourgeois democracy primarily on the subjective aims (methods) of the Allies: “The Allies will not sanction the slightest democracy,” etc. Thus the majority failed to understand that the subjective aims (methods) of the ruling classes change under the impact of the class struggle. The minority, on the other hand, followed a different method. It saw an evolution toward bourgeois democracy in Europe as the objective resultant of the class struggle and of the struggle between the contending capitalist classes. The Allies may not desire this objective resultant, the working class may and in fact strives for something more, nevertheless this is the objective resultant of the conflict among the various forces at this stage.

Factor No. 1 for us was the struggle of the European proletariat and its objective effect on the state power. That was the factor we began with, and not the aims of US imperialism. With the collapse of fascism and the rise of the masses again to their feet, the question of what is to come can only be answered in terms of the situation of the revolutionary Marxist parties in the various European countries. Trotsky said more than once that the collapse of fascism could be followed by the socialist revolution only under the condition that great mass revolutionary parties had managed to form themselves under the extraordinarily difficult conditions of fascism; otherwise one would first have a period of bourgeois democracy. No such mass revolutionary parties exist yet. The struggle of the masses is limited by the fact that it still accepts the leadership of the reformist parties. The objective resultant is bourgeois democracy.

Another factor making for bourgeois democracy is the resistance of a section of the French capitalist class, led by de Gaulle, to US domination. There was much indignation at the plenum, notably from Comrade Cannon, when I defined the Gaullists as a bourgeois-democratic tendency. The majority could not understand this quite simple phenomenon, that a section of the French capitalist class, first to resist German imperialism and then to resist US domination, was for a period basing itself on the masses through the mediation of the reformist parties. Even as late as the December Fourth International we have the speech of Comrade Frank which defines the present French government as a military dictatorship; fortunately, the final convention resolution has nothing in it about de Gaulle at all, so that Frank’s statement cannot claim convention ratification.

In sum, the minority saw an evolution toward bourgeois democracy as the objective resultant of

  1. the rising struggle of the proletariat;
  2. the limitations of that struggle due to the present hegemony of the Stalinists and Social Democrats and the smallness of the Fourth International parties;
  3. the resistance of French imperialism, supporting itself on the masses, to US domination;
  4. the ability of US imperialism to shift from methods of military dictatorship to bourgeois democratic methods under the given conditions;
  5. the pressure of the US and British masses in opposition to imposition of dictatorships.

These were the factors we saw making for bourgeois democracy and not “illusions centering around the character and role of US imperialism.” Nevertheless such illusions do exist among the European masses, due precisely to the methods employed by US imperialism different from those of Nazi imperialism.

2. (b) Why the US will Aid Europe

I am told that the majority leaders made speeches in the branches against Morrow’s outrageous theory that US imperialism was going to feed and reconstruct Europe. That, of course, was not my thesis; I said that US imperialism would bring goods and machinery whereas the Nazis took these things away. Can this seriously be denied?

On the question of American food to Europe, the minority introduced the following amendment:

“The Allies have not stopped talking about the sending of food to Italy. They try by that to save the remnants of hope in their benevolence. No doubt, when the Italian masses return to their offensive, this talk may materialize in a precipitated sending of food. Food will become, as it has often been in the past, a counter-revolutionary weapon, a means of blackmail against revolution and a tool to revive confidence in the bourgeois system.”

Isn’t this ABC Marxism? Then why was the amendment rejected? Can the majority comrades seriously deny that the concentration of shipping for military purposes has been a cause of small food shipments and that when this eases much more food will be sent?

Even leaving aside the fact that US imperialism will be forced to send food and machinery to Europe in order to back the European bourgeoisie against the danger of proletarian revolution, is there any reason why US imperialism would not make large loans for food and machinery (not to mention selling the goods and being paid in gold, art treasures, materials, etc.)? Comrade E.R. Frank thinks there is such a reason: “Wall Street wants not the rebuilding of European economy, but to render impossible its revival as a competitor.” False in this is the inference, from Wall Street’s hostility to competitors, that it will not help them rebuild. Since when has any capitalist nation refused to sell and lend to another because that would eventually result in the latter becoming a competitor? That is simply one of the contradictions of capitalism.

Trotsky never said that America would not sell or lend heavy machinery to the European countries. It was not in this way that he thought of America as ruining Europe. He knew very well that it was with the aid of America’s 1924–1928 loans that German industry was reconstructed and that this could happen again after the next war, if not in Germany itself, then certainly in other countries of Europe. Simultaneously, however, with its loans to Germany, US imperialism was spreading everywhere so that when German industry was reconstructed it found its possible markets preempted by American and other imperialisms. America was aiming to put Europe “on rations,” said Trotsky, in the sphere of world markets.

One must understand the elementary distinction between America lending Europe money and materials to help rebuild its industrial plant and then America barring the reconstructed industries from returning to a large part of their former markets. Comrade E.R. Frank thinks it can’t happen again. He says:

“If it was possible for American imperialism to stabilize European capitalism after the last war by loans on the basis of a bourgeois-democratic regime in Germany, then today American imperialism sees as its only program the dismemberment and destruction of Germany as an economic power and the preservation of capitalism with its own bayonets propping up dictatorial regimes.”

Why is it no longer possible for US imperialism to make big loans, if not to Germany, then to the other European countries? Comrade Frank says it isn’t possible, but gives no reasons. He finds it well-nigh incredible that I should write: “The short-term perspective is that American imperialism will provide food and economic aid to Europe and will thus for a time appear before the European masses in a very different guise than German imperialism.” What is wrong with my statement? He says: “Morrow apparently took for good coin some of the stories floating around about building TVA’s on the Danube.” This joke shows that Comrade Frank fails completely to understand the distinction between helping Europe rebuild and barring it from markets.

Both to save Europe from revolution and to keep American factories going, US imperialism will help Europe rebuild its industrial plant. But it will keep Europe “on rations” so far as permitting Europe to retrieve its former markets. And without these markets, Europe is condemned to ruin under capitalism.

Had the editors thought of these elementary considerations, they could never have objected to my statement that “Where the Nazis removed factory machinery and transportation equipment, the Americans will bring them in.”

3. The Question of Ultra-Leftism

Finally, we come to the third “major flaw” in my article:

“3) The contention that ‘the main danger within the Fourth International lies in the direction of ultra-leftism’.”

How did the question of ultra-leftism arise in the first place? I tell this in my article of December 1943:

“In the plenum discussion, a number of supporters of the draft resolution justified its passing over the problem of democratic demands, and its preoccupation with reiterating programmatic fundamentals, by referring to the danger within the Fourth International of opportunism and revisionism.”

In answer, I stated in part: The young parties of the Comintern suffered primarily not from opportunism but from ultra-leftism. It was against this tendency that Lenin in 1920 wrote ‘Left Wing’ Communism – an Infantile Disorder. If, despite the tremendous prestige of the victorious Bolsheviks, the Comintern was so pervaded by ultra-leftist deviations, the same phenomenon is far more likely to confront the Fourth International at the end of the war.

I confess that it would never have occurred to me that anyone in our movement would take issue with this statement. Our parties in Europe are young parties. Even where, as in France, there is some continuity with the past, the leading cadres are decimated and new and inexperienced elements must provide leadership. All I was saying, then, is that ultra-leftism is an infantile disorder. The only practical conclusion I drew is that we must warn our European comrades of the necessity of a program of democratic and transitional demands. This practical conclusion is at last accepted by the majority – which then proceeds to attack me for the entirely incidental references to the danger of ultra-leftism!

The majority arguments on this score are truly astonishing. “It is far more correct,” Comrade Frank lectures me, “to say that in the period of revolutionary rise the main danger comes from the opportunist direction. Consider Lenin’s own party. In 1917 ...” etc. But I was talking about young, infant parties just beginning to make their way; and Comrade Frank refutes me by telling us about the opportunism of Zinoviev and Kamenev on the eve of the Bolshevik seizure of power! He then proceeds to enumerate some examples of opportunism in the Comintern parties in 1919 and 1920. True. But the same period was also full of ultra-leftist errors: the one kind does not exclude the other, except in the head of Comrade Frank.

Finally, this crushing argument from Comrade Frank: “It was only at the Third Congress of the Comintern, after the first wave of the revolutionary tide had already passed, that the struggle was first launched against the ultra-leftist danger.” The Third Congress took place June 22–July 12, 1921. But Lenin’s ‘Left Wing’ Communism – an Infantile Disorder is dated April 27, 1920 and was explicitly issued to prepare the discussion at the Second Congress which took place July–August 1920, i.e., in the period of revolutionary rise.

Arguing for democratic demands, I referred to the danger of ultra-leftism. There should not have been a moment’s disagreement with my truism. But this discussion ends, according to the editors of Fourth International, with nothing less than a convention rejection of my “theory” of ultra-leftism!

The same is true of the other two “main flaws” found in my article by the editors: they are not rejected by the convention resolution for the good and sufficient reason that they were not the real issues in dispute. And the real issues in dispute were no longer in dispute by the time of the final resolution, because the majority had abandoned its original positions. That is why the minority could vote for the resolution. Such are the indisputable facts which the editors failed to report in what purported to be a summary of the nature and results of the dispute.


Last updated on: 22 August 2015