How to split
An extract from Down the Long Table
A novel by Earl Birney
By Bob Gould
Back in 1970, along with several documents putting the point
of the group opposed to Jim and John Percy during the split in
Resistance and the International Marxist League in Sydney, I printed
and distributed two small pamphlets. One was an article Lenin in
1905 by Marcel Liebman from Monthly Review, about the
Committee Men, and the other one a chapter from Earl Birney's book, Down
the Long Table, to which I gave the title, How to Split.
Even some of my supporters were uneasy about throwing Earl
chapter into an already tense atmosphere, but I took the view that
satire was a good way of looking at some situations, and a sense of
humour was a useful thing, even in serious matters like Marxist
I had in the back of my mind a precedent during the
Bolshevik-Menshevik split in 1903, during which a talented Bolshevik
supporter produced a kind of comic strip about the split, which stands
the test of time and which immensely amused Lenin, despite the fact
that he took such political conflicts deadly seriously.
The virtue of Earl Birney's chapter is that he telescopes as
caricature a number of the contradictory tactical considerations at
work on the Trotskyists in the 1930s. He provides thumbnail sketches of
political types in the movement that will be familiar to anyone who has
been active in small revolutionary organisations, and Birney telescopes
the point that splits and explosions often leave more wreckage than
forces intact, and sometimes destroy organisations and groups
Earl Birney's little chapter is of some interest in Australia
moment, given the impending further split in the International
Socialist Organisation and the enforced departure of the main leaders
of the loyal opposition from the Democratic Socialist Party after the
rather tense political discussion in that organisation late last year
and the national conference at Christmas-New Year.
TIME 7pm Friday 18 August 1933
PLACE The "Educational Institute", rear of Halloran's
Right and Left, the pictured walls of propaganda; Rear, sacks and
shelves of bulk groceries, interrupted by a dusty window and an open
doorway framing tall backyard weeds against the soft sundown. Centre,
two pew-benches lead Up, facing each other, to a high packing case and
PERSONS The seven members of the Executive Committee of
Vancouver Branch of North America of the International Left Opposition
(Bolshevik-Leninists) of the Third International. On the left bench:
Hughes, Hansen and Green. On the facing bench: Lennard, Merivale.
Behind box-table: Halloran.
Halloran: (redfaced and grim): Everybody here.
Green: He couldn't make it. Flat on his back with
Halloran: Okay boys. Let's start. The reason for this
emergency session, ye might call it, will be clear enough in a shake.
Green here has got a long crazy bitchin' communication from the East,
which I'm asking him to read to ye.
Green: I'll try to read it, but it's in a kind of
Marxist shorthand. (He stands up, takes a big breath and translates
12 Aug 33
Cde Paul Green,
Re orgzl report, Vanc area
1. Yrs of 29 July addressed Leo Sather has bn forwarded to
u/s & brot attention this Exec.
2. All yr cdes warned that Leo Sather now expelled renegade
together with his burocratic-centrist Menshevik clique. New natl exec
elected. Adr further comments to u/s.
3. You are directed call immed meet yr org to inform mbrs:
a. Yr so-called "Vancouver cadre" was never formally
accepted into CLNA.
b. Acceptance this cadre plus SVEA as "British Colombia
withheld pending signed statements of all mbres, including y/self,
solidarity with attch Manifesto for a 4th International issued by new
Cdn Exec here this week. This Mfsto supersedes previous Draft-Program
of so-called Intrntl Left-Opposition, whose historcl utility now
terminated; continued adherence to latter will be regarded as
treacherous centrist compromising with Thermidorean Stalinism and
prevent admissn yr cdes in Cdn sec 4 Intrntl.
c. Yr statement "immediate tasks" not acceptable; revise
as follows in order priority:
i. immed intensive educ yr own mbership in prncples,
strategy 4th Intrntl as set forth in attd Mfsto & previously
outlined in recent articles of Cdes Bauer (Paris), Field (NY), Baumling
(Tor). Cdn Sec denounces rightist delaying tactics of Trotsky in our
intrntl org, declares world situatn now requires immed formatn 4th
Intrntl & denunciation all parties 2nd and 3rd Intrntl as bankrupt.
ii. Establment immed sales outlet our Toronto New Spark
(1st issue pending). Yr sales quota 200.
iii. Coordtn & dirctn remaining energies to advance
fund-raising campaign for visit Cde Baumling, Natl Orgzr, during his
hitch-hiking tour Sep next.
4. Redirect Cde Merivale break immed with YCL, denouncing it
hopelessly corrupt organ of counter-revoltry Stalinism & urging all
honest workr youth follow him into 4th Intrntl.
5. Redirect Cde Lennard break immed with CCF, denouncing it
hopelessly corrupt organ of Cdn social-patriotic bourgeois-reformism
& urging all honest wkrs follow him into 4th Intrntl.
6. Direct Cde Halloran study att. Mfsto intensively &
accordingly his "Origin & History of SVWEA" to reflect proper
Marxist self-criticism esp of his own Bonapartist-adventurist ldrship
and reformist-pacifist tendencies in past activities this org.
7. Natl dues now 25c wkly all employed mbrs with income to
rising 5c each extra dollar-wk income, with special levies (see attchd
sheet) for incomes over $30 wk. Unemployed cdes will now also pay dues
5c wkly. Direct yr Treas to forward 50% all dues wkly to Natl. Treas,
now Cde Rose Romanuk, c/o this office. Also $10 cash advance order for
200 New Spark.
8. Contingent to successful applicant a/m program, &
after 3 mos
probatn, applicant yr gp for full mbrship will be reconsidered.
Gordon drops letter sadly on packing box under wrathful
face of Halloran and sits down.
Halloran (flamboyant as ever, though dismayed):
Well ain't that a goddam peacheroo of a letter!
Lennard (a small middle-aged man with perpetually
puckered lips and a dreamy uplifted face): Absolutely shocking!
Gordon (pale and miserable): Comrade Chairman,
may I …
Halloran: Before I hear any comments from you, Paul
I'm making a statement meself, chairman or not, be the holy Jazus, I
want ye to know Comrade, and you can write and tell these snotty
bastards you've got for friends in Toronto that the good old South
Vancouver Workers Educational Army hasn't pooped out yet and …
Merivale (a lank and intense filbert-eyed
pointed-faced youth): Hear, hear!
Halloran: … begod it's not taking a thing like this
down, not putting itself on probation to some hoity-toity Bumboy down
east writin' letters like he was Morgan sendin' telegrams from Wall
Street if ye please, even if you Trotskyists …
Gordon: Please, Mike …
Halloran (bangs a fist on his box): … are you
to lick the boots of some upstart we never heard tale of before that
says we're to be drummin' up a visit for him if ye please and …
Hansen (poker-faced and seemingly unperturbed so far):
Yoost a minute … (everybody is now trying to talk at once, except
Hughes, who sits silent, scarred head clutched in his hands as if he
had once more been slugged. Whatever Hansen is saying is lost in the
rise of Halloran's voice).
Halloran: … sendin him half our rightful dues for God
and Marx's sake …
Lennard (drums his fingers on his knees):
Gordon: Comrades, I want to explain my side of …
Merivale: Order, let the chair …
Halloran: All right, all right, explain away! But
came wheedlin' to us with yer Terontah talk, Paul Green, I'll remind
ye, we had our dealin's direct with the top boyos in New York and it's
them we'll go back to …
Merivale: Back! We're not going back to any more
Trotskyites after this kind of letter! We're …
Hansen: Iss good idea her because …
Halloran (trying to hold the throne): As I was
to say, Comrade Merivale, New York's what we'd go back to if indeed we
went back at all but I'm thinking with you our boys will be wantin' no
more truck with Trotskyites at all, for …
Lennard: Certainly not! I'm … really quite stunned by …
Halloran: For aren't we wonderin' now what kind of an
you Trotskyists have at all, Paul Green, what could have sonsabastards
like this … whatshisname? Bumleg? in it?
Merivale: Hear, hear! Green telling us all about their
internal party democracy! Why, they're worse than the YCL. Reversing
the whole international policy overnight without consulting anybody.
Gordon: Oh, he's just a stupid kid. Let me ex…
Halloran: All right then, explain (he switches
to a mournful tone). Tell us now what kind of a trick ye've played on
the good old South Vanners, mixing us up with a crazy outfit ye didn't
even belong to.
Gordon: I did! I belonged when I came here. It's just
Toronto didn't get around to admitting the rest of us before this
Baumling got local control.
Hansen: Yaw, Paul iss right dere.
Halloran: Well, they don't want ye no more then, nor
tell us, I hope ye will, just what I'm going to say to my own boyos,
the honest rank and file of the old SVWEA, Comrade Green, now just
explain what me and Lennard and Merivale here are going to say to them?
Gordon: I haven't played tricks on anybody, please,
me. I'm as much the goat as you. More. This Baumling is nothing - if
you could see him you'd understand - he's just a goggly-eyed clumsy
pedant, a kind of thwarted little rabbi who thinks he's a new Trotsky.
He managed to start a tiny little ultraleftist faction in our Toronto
organisation last winter. And now somehow, because of Mac's death and -
other things - he's got a majority there - just at the moment when
we're organising out here - and he's apparently staged a purge of those
who are loyal to Trotsky. But our international organisation's certain
to turf him out on his ear as soon as they hear of this. He's just
pulling a bluff with us.
Merivale (sceptically): Yeah? What about Field
York and that guy in Paris. Paris is your centre, ain't it? I'll bet
they've shot Trotsky already, and you talk about Russia and purges.
Halloran: And why don't we hear from the great Leo
Sather, tell us?
Gordon (embarrassed): I hope we will - hear from
group and from McCraddock's too. But Sather himself is - well, he's
temporarily out of the movement too, I understand.
Halloran: Holy mother! Sather too?
Lennard: Ah, so you've heard from him?
Gordon: No, from - from his mother in law.
Merivale: Sather out? The Canadian Lenin you kept on
to us, he is a renegade! Then there's truth in this fellow Baumling's
letter after all. And why haven't we heard from those TU fellows you
told us McCraddock had? Has Baumling gobbled them too? What does
Sather's mother in law say about them? And who the hell is she?
Gordon: She's - it doesn't matter.
Halloran: Saints and Engels. Will ye hear him now? I'm
thinkin' there's nothin' left this day of all this Trotskyism ye talked
us into but a cloud of hot air.
Hansen (almost to himself): Yaw, maybe all of you talk
too much dat kinda air.
Gordon: It's not true, Mike, you know it isn't; there's
International Left Opposition still, with the Old Man at the top of it.
That hasn't been broken up because of the ructions of a dozen fools in
Merivale (sharply): A dozen! Is that all? And they're
the majority. For god's sake you made out there were thousands.
Gordon: I made out no such thing and you damn well know
Merivale: Well, you talked so big …
Hansen (judicially) He never talk no bigger dan you
Merivale: I wasn't speaking to you - you …
Halloran (bangs on his box): Order, order, ye pack of
fools. Finish what ye've got to say, Paul Green.
Gordon: Oh Mike, don't you see, we're falling into a
when we quarrel like this. This is what little Willy Baumling wants.
He's gone and jumped the gun, committed himself to a Fourth
International before the rest of the labour movement's ready for it -
and the only way he can keep his local prestige is to get rid of the
steadier comrades and stampede the rest into following him. If we do
that, Trotsky and his whole cause will be lost. I'll make a motion that
we wait, that we table this letter. I mean, don't show it to the
membership, send it on to New York, along with a copy of the original
report we sent to Toronto. And let New York use this as evidence
against Field there and against Bauer in Paris. This way we can start a
chain of lightning going that will blast every ultraleftist out of the
Trotskyist movement and give us a chance to get on with the real fight,
the fight against capitalism and against Stalinism.
Merivale: Wa, hire a hall. You and your two-bit ILO
damn bit better than the Stalinists. You're a bunch of burned-out
squabblers spending your time thinking up ways to cut each others'
Lennard: Quite right, Comrade Merivale. I'm stunned,
stunned by this letter. Comrade Chairman, how could you ever have led
us into the hands of these arrogant, foolish people?
Halloran (full of defensive indignation): I? What do
I led ye? Didn't ye all vote fair and square and unanimous to join? Ye
want to blame anybody, blame Gordon here, he's led us all up the garden
with his fancy plottin's, foxin' even his own comrades so far as I can
see. You now, Hughes, the way yer sittin' I'm thinkin' ye never knew
till this hour that ye'd never been baptised with Toronto's holy water,
Hughes: (black head in hands, he does not even
indicate he has heard).
Gordon: If I've let any of you down, it's because I've
let down myself. I never knew this would happen, and I'm sorry, but the
important thing is that we still have an unbroken organisation. Let's
keep it together, whatever happens. And I made a motion …
Merivale: Whatever happens! That's an unprincipled
approach to politics if ever I heard one.
Gordon: Oh, for god's sake, we're all choking to death
surfeit of principles. I'll give up a few of mine for a change if it's
the only way left to keep our group together.
Halloran: Will ye give up yer Trotskyism then and help
us build up the old South Vanners again?
Gordon: But that's asking me to give up all my
Hansen: What you fallahs going to build South Vanners
up to? You ain't got principles, you ain't got no International.
Hughes (suddenly jumping up, red-faced on the pew's
Shut your stupid gobs, now, the lot of you! Talk-talk-talk and never do
nothing'. Crocks and has-beens and goddam longhairs you are and that's
all, and I'm through with you, with all of you! (He raises a fist
savagely.) Revolution in the head it is only, and treachery in the
he falters, his eyes uncertain; he moves his scarred head in an odd,
dazed way, and begins to shake as if with palsy. Gordon, seeing this
gets up and gently pulls him down on to the bench again. Hughes sinks
his head once more in his hands, moaning faintly.)
Halloran (after a startled silence): What the hell bit
Gordon: He'll be all right in a minute. He's been
these spells lately. Would you like me to take you back to the
Hughes (muffled): Leave me alone.
Hansen (still on his own track, as if there had been
On odder hand yoost because dis fallah Bauer throws out Trotsky, ve
don't have to go tew. Trotsky hafta make Fift' International. Maybe
better ve stay in Fourt'.
Merivale (laughs, suddenly, almost hysterically):
Yeah, a Fifth! And then a Sixth and a Sixty-Sixth! You crazy bastards!
Me, I'm sticking with the Third.
Gordon: You can't, you know it. It's too corrupt.
Merivale: Well then, for Christ sake, why are you
against the Fourth?
Gordon: I'm not against it, but a handful of people
can't declare themselves an International.
Merivale: No, you're right there, and that's all you'll
be, a handful, a handful of crackpots. At least the Stalinists have
workers following them, thousands here, millions in Russia. But I'll
bet there aren't more than a hundred honest-to-God Trotskyists in the
Gordon: I don't know how many there are and what does
Lennard: Matter. Of course it matters, unless all you
want is a sewing circle. You just said it mattered?
Gordon: I mean what matters right this minute is that
we go on together fighting for socialism.
Hansen: Yaw, but mebbe dis Toronto fallah make sense
Time ve pulled everybody outta dat CCF outfit, like he said, dey never
make a ravvalution.
Halloran: That Bumling makes sense! What kind of sense
I'm asking ye when a man writes all the way from Ontario to say that
me, Mike Halloran, been acting like Napoleon out here in Vancouver
where he never was and couldn't see me? It's that lad thinks he's
Napoleon, and the infant Jesus too, I'd lay a bet, they ought to send
the dogcatcher out and put him where he'll do no harm to himself.
Writin' and tellin' the old South Vancouver Workers Educational boys we
got to start educatin' ourselves if ye please, and intensively too it
seems, Christalmighty, it's …
Lennard (squeaky with the violence of his disapproval):
What was that ye said, Hansen? Pull everybody out of the CCF? Out of
the coming mass party of Canadian socialism? Pull them into what? It's
time you and the rest of you, and you too Mike Halloran, got into the
CCF with me, where I'm fighting a lone battle, as I've told you before.
All of you, the whole organisation, should be in pushing the CCF
towards a truly Marxist line.
Hansen: Yoost a bunch a skewlmarms.
Halloran: He's right. You wouldn't make Reds outa them
even if you boiled 'em.
Lennard (rising with over-great dignity): You,
Hansen, you're just and anarchist! I've always suspected it. You'd
strangle the Canadian revolution in its cradle just to have your own
way. You hate organisation and you can't take discipline. And you,
Green, you and your Trotskyists ordering me to leave the CCF just -
just when the whole West End branch is swinging over towards a Marxist
position. You've got no understanding of tactics. And you, Mike
Halloran, I've had enough of your one-man rule. Either you quit this
Trotskyist adventurism and bring the whole SVWEA into the CCF or I'm
through with all of you.
Halloran: To hell with you. I'm not puttin' my boys
more political straitjackets. To hell with all your parties. To hell
especially with the CCF.
Lennard (buttons his coat offendedly): I hope we
shall all meet on the same side of the barricades (he heads for the
Gordon: Don't go, Lennard! There's no reason … (but he
is out the door).
Halloran (shouting): Pinko! Reformist! Good riddance!
Hansen (as if nothing had happened and everyone had
agreeing with him): Time ve pulled comrade Merivale here outa Young
Commies too, like Baumling says alla Commies iss a bunch of tieves.
Gordon: Ole, you don't agree with Baumling on this, do
Hansen: Soore, wy not? Wy keep on pretendin' ve iss
reform skewl for dose Black Monks? Dey's all criminals for life.
Merivale: Who the hell you callin' thief and criminal,
big squarehead? I'm still in the YCL and I ain't no thief. I want an
apology outa him, Comrade Chairman.
Halloran: Orderr, Orderr. Hansen, you sayin' Comrade
Merivale here's a thief.
Gordon: Oh, what childishness, of course he wasn't.
Halloran:: I'm asking the Swede.
Hansen (unemotionally): He ain't one he
shouldn't be wit dem.
Merivale: That's no apology.
Hansen: Soore, soore. Ay poligize. (He nods serenely
at Merivale.) You iss only Commie ain't a tief.
Merivale: Okay, but - hey, I still don't like …
Gordon: Comrade Chairman, for god's sake, let's stop
this and pass my motion.
Halloran: What motion?
Gordon: That we forward the letter to New York, for
Fred, you'll second that, won't you? (He looks appealingly at Hughes,
who has begun to sit up since Lennard walked out.)
Hughes (after a silence, begins speaking calmly):
Paul Green, I won't. It doesn't matter a damn what you do now for, look
you, the damage is done. There's nobody here is going to trust the
Trotskyist leadership again after this. If we don't do what that little
Toronto punk says, some other deluded workers he'll find to peddle his
paper out her, see, and we'll all be in it, branded as renegades from
whatever number of international he decides to name it. And supposin'
we do string along with him, man, we'll be renegades to all the other
Trotskyists for sure. And if we keep to ourselves, we'll have to be, as
Hansen tells us, a Fifth International, for every man to laugh at. (He
stops, clasps his black paw and then, with a sudden change of voice and
countenance glances murderously up and down the two benches.) Shit!
The truth is there's not the sense nor the guts of a single old IWW in
the whole goddam lot of you and I - I've wasted all my time. (He
begins to fall into a Welsh sing-song.)
The truth - the truth is it's too late for revolutions now. Things are
run by kids now, but little boyscout troops of rattin' kids they are,
bringin' in the age of counter-revolution, of fascism, fascism black
and fascism red, and then war, ye fools, and more fascism, look ye, and
more war, till we've wiped ourselves off this stinkin' planet, and good
riddance. (He stops.) I - I'm not feelin' - (He stops, puts
his hands over the long scar on the top of his head, and holding this
pose stumbles towards the backyard door.)
Gordon: Fred, wait. I'll go back to the floathouse with
jumps up. But no-one else speaks and Hughes continues silently and in
silence to the door. Then he turns and glares, red-eyed, at Gordon.)
Hughes: You. With you I wouldn't walk to the pisshouse
again. (He wheels and stumbles out.)
Merivale: Crowstamighty, the guy's rum-dum.
Gordon: He's not well. It's that blow …
Halloran: Hell, what's a slap-happy Wobbly here or
we've got rid of those two, I'll accept a motion, since no-one would
second Comrade Green's, that the old SVWEA reorganise, withdraw its
offer to the Trotskyites, and resume independent life.
Merivale: Subject to our continuing fraction work
inside the YCL, I'll so move.
Halloran: Subject to nothin'! We'll keep our skirts
haven't I been tellin' ye? Hansen's right, tis time you broke with the
stinkin' Communists, Merivale.
Merivale: Then I resign. (He stands up and walks
quickly to the same door.) And I'll see ya on the other side of the
Halloran: Get out. (Merivale does.)
Hansen: (serene as ever): Point a order, comrade chair …
Halloran: (stands): Look, the meetin's over, it's
adjourned, the executive's dissolved. You can both beat it. I'm not
Hansen: Okay. (Stands.) You comin' wit' me Paul?
Gordon: Mike! I'm sorry. Let's save what we can, Mike.
the three of us stick together anyway. We'll build your group up,
retain the SVWEA name if you like, and …
Hansen: Naw, naw, we call it Fourt' International, or I
Halloran: To hell with both of ye. Ye've wrecked the
decent, law-abidin' revolutionary organisation was ever created in this
benighted country of anarchists. Ye've left old Mike Halloran sittin'
wonderin' what he can say to his own boyos that they won't all give him
the back of their hands for life. I don't want ye. Get out. Get out,
Gordon: Mike, please …
Halloran (inclines ironically): Unless you
have something you want to buy in my store. A packed of firecrackers
maybe, was left over from the King's birthday?
Gordon (looks at Hansen, then at Halloran): Okay
Ole. (Exeunt Hansen and Gordon. Halloran stands alone and proud
behind his packing box in the empty, crowded room.)