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Labor Action, 17 December 1945


An Exchange Between WP and
SWP Minority on Unity Issue

(November 1945)


From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 51, 17 December 1945, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Readers of Labor Action will recall the material this paper carried on the unity negotiations between the Workers Party and the Socialist Workers Party. The question of unity arose when a minority group led by Albert Goldman and Felix Morrow, two leaders of the SWP, declared itself in favor of the unification of the WP and SWP. When the National Committee of the Workers Party learned of the position on unity taken by the minority group, it addressed itself formally to the National Committee of the SWP, proposing the opening of negotiations between the two parties with the aim of unification.

The agreement of the SWP to hold such negotiations, as it turned out, was simply a maneuver. It had no serious intention to work toward the unification of the WP and SWP, throwing up one obstacle after another. One of the issues involved was the position taken by the representatives of the Workers Party in two negotiating meetings that, the Workers Party, sincerely believing in unity but opposed to the firmly entrenched bureaucratic regime in the SWP, which was in violation of revolutionary socialist organizational principles, would retain the right to issue, whenever it deemed necessary, a tendency bulletin inside the SWP under its own supervision and direction.

When asked by the SWP why the WP demanded this right in order to guarantee its democratic existence, the representatives of the WP made it clear that their party had no faith in the kind of regime which prevailed in the Socialist Workers Party. During the negotiations, the representatives of the SWP did not question this right but subsequently made it one of the primary reasons why unity could not be consummated. They stated that the Workers Party intended to issue such a bulletin immediately after unification and to wage such factional warfare as to destroy the unified party. This is, of course, untrue.

The real reason why unity is not consummated is the fear by the Cannon leadership of the SWP of a strong tendency within their party which might challenge their leadership.

Since the issue of the tendency bulletin was made one of the primary reasons why unity was impossible, the minority group addressed the letter published below to the Workers Party asking it to restate its intentions in this matter. The clarifying reply made by the Workers Party only helps to make the case against the bureaucratic regime of the SWP stronger.

Instead of meeting the issue of unity forthrightly as it is posed by the Workers Party and the minority, the leadership of the SWP issued a warning to the minority that disciplinary action would be invoked against it if it proceeded to force the unity issue in its present independent manner. The minority, in turn, denounced the action of the SWP Political Committee as “a typical piece of bureaucratic thinking and acting.”

“Anxious above all to achieve unity, the minority presented a formal request to the WP to pledge, in the interests of consummating unity, not to express the right of a minority to publish its own tendency bulletin after unity has been achieved.

“The Workers Party consented to the request of the minority. Were the Political Committee majority honest in its attitude toward unity, it would have applauded this intervention, .of the minority. For thereby the ostensible obstacle to unity had been removed.

“Instead, the majority takes the attitude that nothing has been changed by this important concession of the WP. Thereby the majority shows that it used the tendency bulletin issue merely as a pretext to justify Cannon’s unwillingness to unite. The hypocrisy of the Political Committee majority on this question is thus clearly revealed.”

(The text of the correspondence appears below. – Ed.)


November 15, 1945

Max Shachtman, National Secretary
Workers Party
114 W. 14th St.
New York City, N.Y.

Dear Comrade:

The SWP plenum resolution on unity, in referring to the proposal of the WP negotiating committee on a tendency bulletin in the united party, merely states the following: the WP “would insist on the right to publish their own discussion bulletin under their own control.” Ostensibly, therefore, the SWP majority does not take a position on this question. However, in the actual life of the party, it has become clear that the majority advances the tendency bulletin proposal as a great stumbling block to unity.

For our part, we do not believe that this is the real stumbling block to unity. Nevertheless we believe that it should be removed. The plenum refused to take note in its resolution of our distinction between the right to a tendency bulletin and the exercise of that right. We believe that the WP should make that distinction and pledge itself not to exercise the right in the united party under the following conditions:

  1. That the SWP cooperate closely with the WP for the purpose of preparing the membership of both parties for unity, and that after unity, there will be real cooperation of the SWP and the WP;
  2. That the SWP recognize the right of a minority to issue its own bulletin for the purpose of convincing the membership of the correctness of its views.

Needless to say, nobody could demand nor could the WP comrades agree, to refrain forever from exercising the right of a minority to issue its own bulletin. No responsible minority would exercise that right without great justification, but no responsible majority would ever prohibit it from exercising it. If the right is used unjustifiably, a majority should easily be able to discredit a minority for doing so. But a united Trotskyist party is so all-important today that for the sake of it we appeal to the comrades of the WP to pledge themselves not to exercise this right, subject to the conditions indicated above.


Fraternally yours,
Felix Morrow
for the SWP Minority


November 27, 1945

Felix Morrow
SWP Minority Group
214 West 16th St.
New York, N.Y.

Dear Comrade Morrow:

Our Political Committee has agreed to the proposals on the question of the tendency bulletin made by the Minority Group of the Socialist Workers Party in your letter of November 15. Your proposals afford us still another occasion for reiterating and amplifying our position. It has been stated with sufficient clarity in our written communications to the Socialist Workers Party and at the two oral discussions that took place between the delegations of the two Parties prior to the recent Plenum of the SWP.

What was involved from the very beginning of the discussion on the unity of the two organizations was not a determination of the Workers Party comrades to issue a tendency bulletin of their own on the very first day of the existence of the projected unity Party, regardless of circumstances. For example, so far as our Political Committee was concerned, this was made clear in the first report made by its representative to a general membership of the New York Local of our Party, a report substantially repeated to most of the other Locals of our organization several months ago.

As you know, the question involved in reality was the right of the minority in the united Party to issue such a tendency bulletin. The SWP Plenum Resolution is literally correct in stating our position as an insistence “on the right to publish their own discussion bulletin under their own control.” In the oral discussions between the delegations of the two Parties, it was not we but the principal representative of the SWP who called attention to the fact that, for example, the leadership of the American Trotskyist movement, himself included, had freely permitted the Oehler group to publish an internal bulletin of its own inside the organization in 1934–1935. Therefore, he added, it was not a question of the “right” to such a bulletin “in the abstract,” a right which could presumably be granted; but rather a question of our “attitude.” We could not then and cannot today construe this otherwise than as a reference to our opinions about the present majority faction of the SWP. These opinions we expressed candidly to the SWP delegation. We pointed to what is generally known, namely, the fact that our comrades do not have sufficient confidence in the present leadership of the SWP, particularly with reference to its record toward inner-party opponents and critics, and are therefore concerned with assuring their democratic rights in the united Party by having the minority’s right to its own bulletin jointly acknowledged by both sides. We are perfectly ready to admit that abstractly considered this lack of confidence may prove to be exaggerated, or even groundless. In like manner, we admit that common work and common experiences in the united Party may cause the comrades of the Workers Party to abandon their opinions on this score. They are not ready, however, to abandon them merely on demand. What they are prepared to abandon in the interests of unity, has already been made amply clear and precise. We consider it enough.

We can go further and say that even the question of the right to issue a tendency bulletin is, in a sense, only the formal side of the matter. Ordinarily, it would not occupy the place of importance it has been given in the discussion on unity. As you so rightly put it, “we do not believe that this is the real stumbling block to unity.” The “stumbling block” is the conception of the SWP Majority Group of the kind of Party revolutionary Marxists should have and build. Our Party shares with the Minority Group of the SWP the conception of the Bolsheviks which was fought for with such emphasis and clarity, especially since 1923–1924, by Trotsky and his supporters. The SWP Majority, in practise and often in words as well, holds the conception of a “monolithic” Party, which flies in the face of our whole tradition. We are compelled to say now that unity of the two organizations is possible only if this conception is abandoned. It is primarily in this sense that the question of the tendency bulletin is so important. It serves as the concrete test, at the present junction, of the conceptions held on the kind of Party we must build – a sterile “monolithic” faction, or a united democratically-centralized party of action in which there is freedom of opinion and grouping, and the assurance of democratic rights for all views compatible with the fundamental program of revolutionary Marxism.

This is how the real issue stands. To it, the other considerations can well be subordinated, including the matter of whether a minority would issue a tendency bulletin the morning after the unification, a year afterward, or at all. It is in this sense that we are prepared to accept the proposals of the SWP Minority.


Fraternally yours,
Max Shachtman
National Secretary
Workers Party


Copy to:
J.P. Cannon, National Secretary
Socialist Workers Party
116 University Pl.
New York, N.Y.

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