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The YSA. How it beganBy Guy Williams
1. The origins
2. The struggle in the YSL
3. Split in the YSL
5. Early years of the YSA
6. The lessons
IntroductionBy Bob Gould and Ed Lewis
This pamphlet was published in July 1973 by the Workers League, the United States organisation in sympathy with Gerry Healy's British-based International Committee of the Fourth International. It was based on a series of articles that had appeared earlier in 1973 in the Bulletin, newpaper of the Workers League.
Guy Williams is a pseudonym, and the author may have been Fred Mazelis, who is mentioned in the pamphlet.
The pamphlet is marked by the extravagantly sectarian rhetoric used by the Healy organisations of that time, which reads pretty strangely in the year 2005. Some of the points made in the rhetoric may have some validity, but Gerry Healy's approach, enforced rather brutally in his organisation, of treating all other Trotskyists as revisionists rather than dealing directly with their ideas, had a damaging effect in the Trotskyist movement.
Discounting the author's anti-Pabloist rhetoric, this account of the foundation of the Young Socialist Alliance is of considerable interest. It offers an alternative view to that of Barry Sheppard in his recently published book, The Party: The Sixties, a Political Memoir.
As is frequently the case, the truth probably lies somewhere between the accounts of Williams and Sheppard, and taking the two together provides a pretty good picture of the early history of the YSA.
Both Sheppard's and Williams's accounts are worth reading, making allowances for the tendency of both writers to put themselves at the centre of the narrative and/or to favour the the political views that they held at the time.
The opportunities for building a movement among youth have never been greater. World capitalism, with Washington in the lead, has launched the most ferocious attacks against the working class and youth. The rampant inflation, unemployment, cutbacks in social services and political repression are the opening shots of a period of tremendous revolutionary struggle. Nixon has no choice but to unleash these battles.
Everywhere youth are in the forefront of the fight against these attacks. From the United States to Ceylon, from Britain to Bolivia, as well as in the Soviet bloc, the youth are among the first to move into action, and into political as well as economic struggle against capitalism and its agents. But everywhere a Marxist leadership among the youth must be built in order to penetrate all layers of the working class.
The objective situation demands more urgently than ever that a revolutionary youth movement be built. This can only be done through a fight on the theoretical as well as the political and economic fronts. The youth movement must be a battleground for Murxist theory. A cadre can only be trained as Marxists in struggle against the opposite of Marxism, against revisionism and Stalinism. It is for this reason that we turn to the history of the youth movement, and of the Young Socialist Alliance in particular. The YSA had its origins 15 years ago in the rebirth of the Trotskyist youth movement. Today it has become the opposite of that movement, and only through a struggle against it can the revolutionary movement be built.
At a time of tremendous upheaval, the Young Socialist Alliance has turned its back completely on Marxism and on the working class. It tails after the Stalinists and liberals in the most disgusting fashion. It is openly hostile to the working class, the youth, and the trade unions.
After providing the vital cement to hold together the middle-class antiwar movement for seven years, it drops what it has created without a word of explanation, confessing bankruptcy and announcing that Nixon has won re-election as a "peace candidate". After an election in which nearly 50 per cent of the population abstained, in a period of tremendous hostility to both the Republican and Democratic parties, the YSA is completely prostrate before a second-term Nixon administration that is greatly stepping up its war on the working class.
It is not enough to reject the middle-class policies of the YSA today. The history of the YSA and of the fight to build a Trotskyist youth movement must be studied and fully understood. Only in that way can a fight be taken up today both against the revisionists themselves as well as against their method and perspectives in our own movement.
Today the YSA has suddenly discovered. its own past. It talks of the past, however, not to shed light on the tasks today, but to run away from those tasks, to attempt to avoid having to answer for its disastrous policies. It cannot examine and explain its own history, since that would require facing up to the revolutionary tasks it seeks to run away from.
For the revolutionary movement history must be brought, in the form of fundamental lessons and principles, into collision with the appearance today, with the objective situation. Out of this collision will come a development of both theory and practice. There must be a collision between the principles and method of Trotskyism and its negation today, which the YSA has become. The purpose of this conscious struggle is not to leave theory or its material expression at the same point as it was in the past. That is impossible in any case. The only way in which there can be a development is out of this conflict.
Lessons of the Shachtman fightThe Trotskyist movement developed as the International Left Opposition in struggle against the rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy and its betrayals in the Soviet Union and all over the world. In the United States, as well as in other countries, the new forces that came to Trotskyism came primarily from the youth. In every period it is the young generation of workers as well as students who first take up the struggle for revolutionary Marxism. The task falls them to revive the older generation.
In the US the first youth organization of the Trotskyists was the Spartacus Youth League, which published a monthly paper, Young Spartacist. Its orientation was primarily towards youth around the Communist Party, which reflected the general strategy of the International Left Opposition until 1933. The paper also concerned itself to some extent with struggles of young workers.
The real development of a Trotskyist youth movement comes from a later period. The crisis of capitalism in the 1930s had its impact on the youth of the Socialist Party. Some were drawn towards the Stalinists but others, the vast majority of the Young Peoples Socialist League, turned in a revolutionary direction. This was part of an international phenomenon affecting not only students but trade unionists as well.
The turn of the Trotskyist movement into the Socialist parties, known as the French Turn after the country where it was first tried, was aimed at reaching this stratum before the Stalinists could. In the US it meant the entry of the Trotskyists into the Socialist Party. Almost immediately the majority of the YPSL went over to the Trotskyist movement.
When the Trotskyists were expelled from the SP in 1938, the YPSL majority split, becoming known as the YPSL (Fourth), the youth affiliate of the Socialist Workers Party.
Trotsky had for some time struggled with the leaders of this youth movement to turn them towards the working class. He recognised the great dangers posed by the essentially middle-class composition of the youth and their Social Democratic training. It was Trotsky who urged the youth organization to turn towards working class youth, to develop a uniform, drill and prepare to answer the attacks of the fascists.
The paper of the YPSL (Fourth), Challenge of Youth, made certain gestures to carry material on working class youth. However, it never broke from its middle-class propagandistic character. The youth organization of the SWP in 1940 was therefore a middle-class student-based group whose leadership had been trained in the Social Democracy and whose members had not really broken from the petty bourgeois circles they had come out of.
Within weeks of the beginning of World War II, with the signing of the Stalin-Hitler pact and the Nazi invasion of Poland, a sharp conflict broke out in the leadership of the SWP. The minority bloc was formed in opposition to the defence of the Soviet Union and in opposition to the "bureaucratic regime" in the SWP, led by James P. Cannon.
The minority was an unprincipled combination maintained solely on the basis of hostility to Marxist philosophy and the Leninist conception of the party. One of its leaders, James Burnham, maintained that the USSR was a new class society. Max Shachtman said at first that he wasn't sure. Martin Abern continued to maintain agreement with the majority that it was a degenerated workers state. On the philosophical front, Burnham maintained that dialectics was useless metaphysics. Shachtman again took an agnostic position, claiming to be a supporter of dialectical materialism but insisting that it was completely subordinate to questions of politics and program.
It was Burnham, soon to leave the workers' movement entirely for the camp of right-wing imperialism, who set the tone for the opposition both politically and philosophically. At the root of the rejection by the minority of the defence of the Soviet Union was impressionism and pragmatism, beginning from the narrowest national considerations and bending completely to the dominant "democratic" public opinion.
James P. Cannon discusses the situation with the youth at the time of the 1940 fight:
Here we had to begin from nothing. The youth had all been lined up before the fight started on the basis of gossip or small grievances of one kind and another. A great many of them were so poisoned and disoriented that a serious political discussion has had difficulty in making its way among them ... It should be mentioned that the national apparatus of the YPSL is to all intents and purposes a faction apparatus of the opposition. It routes organisers for faction work, etc, without any consultation whatever with the national office of the party.
Cannon describes a general membership meeting in New York held just after Trotsky wrote his polemic against Shachtman, From A Scratch – to the Danger of Gangrene as a last warning to the opposition:
Shachtman himself spent his whole time twisting and squirming around those points in the document which dealt with him personally, ignoring the fundamental principled sections, and joking above all in a manner which even for Shachtman was exceptionally clownish. The opposition followers, especially the high school and college students, enjoyed the jokes immensely. As for the speech of Goldman they did not even listen. They laughed and joked among themselves and engaged in buzzing conversations most of the time.
Trotsky assessed the situation with the youth in his document From a Scratch – to the Danger of Gangrene, which was received with such derision by the opposition youth:
The reasonings of the opposition in regard to the youth are false in the extreme. Assuredly, without the conquest of the proletarian youth the revolutionary party cannot develop. But the trouble is that we have almost an entire petty-bourgeois youth, to a considerable degree with a Social Democratic, ie opportunist, past. The leaders of this youth have indubitable virtues and ability but, alas, they have been educated in the spirit of petty-bourgeois combinationism and if they are not wrenched out of their habitual milieu, if they are not sent without high-sounding titles into working-class districts for day-to-day dirty work among the proletariat, they can forever perish for the revolutionary movement.
The support of the mass of the youth for the anti-Marxist opposition can only be explained by the failure in the period prior to 1940 to train these youth through a struggle against American pragmatism and to turn these youth into the mass of working class youth. As early as 1936, Trotsky had stated:
Pragmatism, empiricism is the greatest curse of American thought. You must inoculate younger comrades against its infection.
This was not done. Of course, for this situation Shachtman and those around him must take a major responsibility. They were the ones in closest touch with the youth. But James P. Cannon had his responsibility as well. He was, after all, the leader of the party. He had not himself tackled theoretical and philosophical questions. He left such matters to Shachtman and Burnham and he left the youth as well to them. Thus he found himself in 1940 beginning "from nothing".
What was required after the split in 1940 was a searching assessment of the cause of the loss of a promising youth movement. On the basis of such an assessment, a new youth movement could be built. After all Trotsky had insisted, and in this he only repeated Lenin's view and the position of the Transitional Program: "Without the conquest of the proletarian youth the revolutionary party cannot develop."
What actually happened was that the struggle to construct a revolutionary youth movement was completely dropped and never taken up again for 17 long and eventful years. This alone had a tremendously deleterious effect. upon the development of the SWP as a revolutionary party for that long, critical period and in turn distorted the political situation within which the YSA was to be born.
The reason for this neglect can best be understood if we turn to the discussions Trotsky held with the SWP just before and after the split on the Negroes and on trade union work.
In the course of a discussion on Negro work in 1939 Trotsky stated:
I believe that the first question is 'he attitude of the Socialist Workers Party toward the Negroes. It is very disquieting to find that until now the party has done almost nothing in this field. ... It is not a good sign. It is a bad sign. The characteristic thing about American workers' parties, trade union organisations, and so on, was their aristocratic character. It is the basis of opportunism. The skilled workers who feel set in the capitalist society help the bourgeois class to hold the Negroes and unskilled workers down to a very low scale. Our party is not safe from degeneration if it remains a place for intellectuals, semi-intellectuals, skilled workers and Jewish workers who build a very close milieu, which is almost isolated from the genuine masses. Under this condition our party cannot develop – it will degenerate.
Immediately after the split with the Shachtman group, Trotsky returned to the same subject in a discussion with party leaders and trade unionists on trade union work and on a tactical approach to the Stalinists. Hansen asked Trotsky point blank:
I am wondering if Comrade Trotsky considers that our party is displaying a conservative tendency in the sense that we are adapting ourselves politically to the trade union bureaucracy?
Trotsky answers frankly:
To a certain degree I believe it is so.
The refusal to turn sharply towards the youth, particularly the working-class youth, both black and white, was an expression of the same conservative aristocratic tendency that refused to develop work among the black working class and that adapted to anti-socialist layers in the trade union movement. This tendency was covered with demagogy about a "proletarian orientation". The development of a revisionist opposition was attributed simply to the middle-class character of student youth and thus it was felt, if only the party did not develop a youth movement and instead recruited older trade unionists, it would be free from degeneration.
But Trotsky had insisted that the trade unions themselves, outside of a party fight for Marxism, could also be a basis for revisionist tendencies and that no revolutionary party could develop that did not reach the proletarian youth and the minority workers.
Because the party virtually ignored the construction of a youth movement, the centrists were better able to construct something in this period. The Shachtmanites were able to attract some youth, but not, of course, able to turn them towards Marxism. In proportion to their success in reaching youth, the crisis within the Shachtmanites also developed.
More importantly, the Communist Party was able to build a very sizable youth movement, the Labor Youth League, which was affiliated with the CP, and the Young Progressives of America, which they dominated. They dominated the American campuses in the immediate postwar period right up to 1951, the year the Shachtmanites founded the Socialist Youth League (SYL). Also in existence in this period was the small social democratic Young Peoples Socialist League, affiliated with the Socialist Party and a number of pacifist groups of a centrist or Social Democratic orientation.
The SYL was founded during the height of the postwar boom when capitalism had been temporarily restabilised and the McCarthyite anticommunist hysteria swept the country. Socialist youth activity on the campuses quickly withered away and even the large Stalinist youth movement was reduced to a handful of people.
Most importantly, the Shachtmanites reacted to the new outburst of anti-Soviet hysteria just as they had in 1940 except that the development was more extreme. They developed the theory that Stalinism was a new imperialist force threatening to take over the world. Their "third camp" became more openly a cover for support to American imperialism in its war against the workers' states.
After a brief effort at reunification with the Fourth International, the Workers Party began an evolution farther and farther away from even formal adherence to Trotskyism. In 1949 it changed its name to the Independent Socialist League, stated it was in no sense a vanguard party, and turned its attention to the liberal and social democratic milieu seeking to pose as the most consistent "democrats".
In 1953, the SYL fused with the YPSL which had broken away from the SP to form the Young Socialist League. The move came at a time when both groups were virtually moribund, the SYL with perhaps 60 people and the YPSL no more than 20. The unification was, however, of considerable importance for it gave to the YSL a certain life right at a moment when the international situation was beginning to change. 1953 was the year of the East Berlin uprising and of the strikes throughout the Soviet labor camps in Siberia, a foretaste of the Hungarian and Polish revolutions to come.
The YSL's formation was an extremely contradictory development. For the YPSL members it was a move to the left, a search for an alternative to the bankruptcy of the Social Democracy. But it was a fusion with a centrist group dominated by an anti-Soviet hysteria, which represented a major concession to US imperialism. It represented no clear break with the essence of Social Democratic politics. But the conditions for such a break were not there because of the refusal of the SWP to turn its attention to the youth. For the Shachtmanites, it was largely an opening to the right, the foretaste of plans to come to completely liquidate their small organization in the Social Democracy. This was facilitated by the fact that the YPSLs were anti-Leninists who blamed Lenin for the degeneration of the Soviet Union and this issue was submerged and compromised within the fused YSL organization.
The most important recruit from the YPSL unification was Mike Harrington, who had become radical as a member of the very reactionary Catholic Worker group, which fused Catholicism with welfare efforts on the Bowery. He then passed through the YPSL to join the YSL and by 1955 became its national secretary.
Harrington never broke fully from the Catholic Church. In this period, he was an open advocate of pragmatism, claiming that there was no dialectic of nature and actually defended a belief in god in an internal debate with a leader of the Shachtmanites. This is the man who was until recently national chairman of the SP, resigning only to defend McGovern against Humphrey.
The first oppositionThe YSL, like the Shachtmanites, was based on the conception of the third camp road to socialism. This meant it was impermissible to support either the imperialism of the capitalists or what was termed the imperialism of the Stalinists. Objectively, this meant that they were siding with the capitalist class against the working class of the Soviet Union but they were able to maintain the third camp formulation of no support through the war years. After the war, with the development of the Cold War and the anti-communist witch-hunt, the pressures began to mount for the Shachtmanites to give more direct support to capitalist imperialism.
Along with the evolution of the YSL toward supporting US imperialism, it began to develop an orientation to the liberals, actually in preparation for liquidation. In the 1953 draft resolution on Indochina by Max Martin, backhanded support for imperialism became even more open when the resolution declared: "The responsibility would rest squarely on the shoulders of the French and American imperialism who, by their politics led to the victory of Stalinism." The YSL and ISL position was to advise the imperialists in their struggles against Stalinism. Later in the development of the YSL, it was stated that in the future war it might be necessary for the working class to save capitalism and democracy in the struggle against Stalinist totalitarianism and take hold of the government to prosecute the war.
For the Shachtmanites, the characterisation of a Vietminh victory in Indochina as a defeat for the working class went hand in hand with the need to educate on a democratic foreign policy, in other words, to make a war against the Vietminh by the capitalists truly a progressive one.
In opposition to this line, a resolution was put forward by Henry Gale, in which support to the Vietminh was argued on the basis that the decisive problem was to achieve national independence, while at the same time carrying out a fight against the sell-out policies of the Stalinist leadership.
An opposition resolution entitled Socialist Policy for the War in Indochina, by Jake Barnes and Henry Gale, stated that the attitude of socialists toward any struggle must be based upon an analysis of the historical character and aims of the conflicting sides. They characterised the war as a war of national liberation, in spite of the Stalinist leadership.
At this time Scott Arden, Jake Barnes, Henry Gale and Charles Radetsky announced the formation of a tendency to fight against the direction in which the YSL was moving, stating that the organization was in a theoretical and organisational crisis. The Henry Gale mentioned in this struggle was the pen name of Shane Mage, who was to play an important role in the 1956 struggle leading up to the founding of the YSA.
The opposition assessed the situation as follows:
We consider that the present drift in the independent socialist movement in the US is toward abstentionism with regard to the labor movement and the trade union struggles, coupled with adaptation to the 'liberal intelligentsia' in orientation, and centrist in general, particularly in questions of the world anti-imperialist wave of revolution.The tendency described what it felt had to be done in order to correct the situation: a thorough re-evaluation and an intensive period of thought and study. They projected that a whole series of documents and resolutions be written on all these questions.
In spite of all their weaknesses and confusion, this tendency began the fight against the rapidly rightward moving centrism of Shachtman and his supporters. Of course, in the beginning it did not probe to the roots of this centrism. But for the first time the questions of the colonial revolution and of Stalinism were posed against what Shachtmanism had stood for since 1940. For the first time Stalinism was looked upon as something the working class could break out of and destroy. The basis was being laid for the unraveling of Shachtmanism, for an understanding of how the break from Marxism in 1940 led inexorably to direct, capitulation to imperialism.
While these developments were taking place within the Shachtmanite movement, the Socialist Workers Party was thrown into its most fundamental crisis since 1940. A tendency had developed around Michel Pablo, international secretary of the Fourth International, which was symmetrical to Shachtmanism. While Shachtman gave up the construction of a revolutionary party rooted in the working class and moved toward liquidation into the Social Democracy and liberalism, Pablo abandoned the party and the working class and moved toward liquidation into the Stalinist movement. Methodologically the two tendencies, opposed so sharply on the surface, were identical. Both caved in to middle-class pressures and went over to impressionism under conditions of a lessening of the class struggle during this temporary boom period.
A tendency emerged within the SWP in 1952-53 around Bert Cochran which supported Pablo. While some in this tendency around George Clarke were moving towards the Stalinists, the majority were trade unionists around Cochran who were seeking a way out of the party and into middle class existences and the labor bureaucracy.
James P. Cannon conducted a bitter struggle against this tendency and in the end expelled the group. At the same time, he broke publicly with Pablo. This led to the birth of the International Committee of the Fourth International. This was in no sense a clear struggle and after it was concluded it was essentially dropped. However, it was only because of this struggle that the SWP survived into the next period. This was to be decisive for the development of the revolutionary youth movement as well as for the Fourth International as a whole. Entrapped within the sick middle-class environs of Shachtmanism, these leftist stirrings could have gone nowhere outside of the development of the SWP.
The question of the SWP began to be posed sharply within the YSL particularly in 1954 and 1955 in the period directly preparatory to the factional struggle that led to the formation of the YSA. Scott Arden and Shane Mage found themselves drawn towards the SWP, despite their deep theoretical differences with Trotskyism, because of their response to the revolutionary developments in Vietnam, China and Korea.
Because of this, Scott Arden approached James P. Cannon in the summer of 1954 at the annual SWP Summer Camp in New Jersey. Arden proposed that the SWP send into the YSL the small number of youth who had joined the party in various cities. He felt there was sufficient basis for agreement with the SWP to form a joint caucus within the YSL to fight the right-wing Shachtmanites.
Cannon rejected the proposal out of hand, stating that unless the YSL minority came over to the Trotskyist position on the Russian question there was no basis for common collaboration. But the matter did not rest there. Quite independently of the wishes of Cannon, or for that matter Arden, the changes in the world situation were bringing about a new turn towards Trotskyism among youth. This turn, in the absence of an SWP youth movement, inevitably would flow through the YSL, forcing the YSL youth to consider the question of the SWP and the SWP to consider the question of the YSL.
In the meantime, a very messy situation developed in Chicago. Several young members of the SWP, supporters of a small state capitalist minority within the SWP, began to join the YSL together with some peripheral people. The YSL right wing reacted in great fear and quickly proposed a resolution barring SWPers from membership in the YSL. The SWP leadership in Chicago also reacted fearfully and sought to remove the SWP youth in question from the YSL.
At the 1955 YSL Convention this matter exploded into the open and was resoved for the moment in favor of the right-wing Shachtmanites. The SWP was barred from membership in the YSL and several of' the SWPers involved resigned from the SWP in favor of membership in the YSL. This was to be a dress rehearsal. The real battle would go the other way. For the moment, it became clear that the SWP was becoming entangled in the YSL whether it wished that or not and the YSL was forced to deal with the SWP at a time when its right-wing leadership was looking for a good excuse to dissolve into the Social Democracy.
The 1955 Convention was to prove to be significant in another respect although it did not appear that way at the time. It was the first Convention attended by Tim Wohlforth, who was to become the first national secretary of the YSA. Wohlforth had first come into contact with the YSL immediately after its merger convention when it sent two members on a national speaking tour of college campuses. Wohlforth formed the Eugene V. Debs Club at Oberlin College in Ohio, which was actually dominated by the YSL and was one of the three or four socialist clubs on any campus in 1953.
He soon joined the YSL but never joined the adult ISL. He attended the 1955 Convention representing the Cleveland-Oberlin branch and voted with the majority on the questions in dispute with the Mage-Arden minority. But he voted with the opposition over the admission off SWPers to the YSL. It was at this convention that he was elected to the National Action Committee, the leading body of the YSL.
Soon after this convention, Wohlforth went into opposition to the majority over its adaptation to liberalism. This was, however, a dispute that avoided the central theoretical issues at stake and did not lead directly to the 1957 factional division. The importance of the evolution of Wohlforth lies in the fact that he was one of the few new forces to come into the YSL in that difficult period and thus his movement reflected the stirrings that were beginning to take place in the international working class. It is only by turning to these that we can fully understand the explosive political developments that were to lead to the formation of the YSA.
It's important to understand about the new opposition that was to arise that it was not simply a repeat of the first opposition formation. Rather, it reflected the change in the objective circumstances brought on by the Khrushchev revelations, the Polish events and the Hungarian Revolution. It was these evens, and the movement of the working class, particularly in Hungary, that created the conditions for a fundamental break from centrism and for Trotskyism on the part of a significant number of youth in the YSL.
This break from Shachtmanism could not have happened if it was not for the intervention of the SWP. Because of the boom period and its isolation from the working class during the 1950s, the SWP had fallen into an almost moribund state. But. the events in Hungary broke all that up and propelled this organization forward. This movement of the working class also precipitated the greatest crisis for the Stalinist movement, especially in the US.
For these reasons, it is necessary to examine the Khrushchev revelations and the Hungarian Revolution. Both events occurred in 1956. That year marked the beginning of the breakup of the boom and the stability of world imperialism. This stability had been established following World War II with the aid of the Stalinists. The movement of the working class to overthrow the Stalinist bureaucracy marked the heightening of the contradictions within the capitalist system.
In 1953, Joseph Stalin, the man who personified the bureaucracy, died. After a series of power struggles, Nikita Khrushchev became premier in the Soviet Union. This period was marked by deep dissatisfaction by the working class in the workers' states with the bureaucratic distortions, which constantly acted as a fetter on the economy. With the development of the economy and the marked increase in the standard of living of the working class, the revolt by workers against the bureaucracy began to grow. In 1953, in both Czechoslovakia and East Germany, workers' uprisings occurred. Thus, the secret speech by Khrushchev to the Twentieth Party Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union must be placed in the context of the growing movement of the working class. Khrushchev's speech on crimes of the Stalin era was not delivered out of strength on the part of the bureaucracy but rather was the result of the profound social crisis they were facing and this speech was an attempt to contain it.
Khrushchev admitted to some of the most damning actions on the part of the bureaucracy as it fought to maintain itself as a privileged caste. He admitted that Stalin tortured his opponents and carried out mass executions, and perpetuated the greatest trampling upon the party and socialist democracy in history. He admitted "that of the 139 members and candidates of the party's Central Committee who were elected at the 17th Congress, 98 persons, ie 70 per cent, were arrested and shot (mostly in 1937-38) by Stalin. Many party, Soviet and economic activists, who were branded in 1937-38 as 'enemies', were actually never enemies, spies, wreckers, etc, but were always honest Communists, ... no longer able to bear barbaric tortures, they charged themselves (at the order of the investigate judges-falsifiers) with all kinds of grave and unlikely crimes. Stalin ... (used) mass terror against the party cadres."
Khrushchev admitted that it was because of Stalin that the borders of Russia were overrun by the Nazi forces at the beginning of World War II as he ignored warning after warning of the threatened invasion. The country was especially vulnerable because Stalin had liquidated the largest part of the leadership of the Red Army during the purges. On the Kirov assassination, which was used as the excuse for the great purge trials directed at the Trotskyists, Khrushchev admitted that "the circumstances surrounding Kirov's murder hide many things which are inexplicable and mysterious and demand a most careful examination. There are reasons for the suspicion that the killer of Kirov, Nikolayev, was assisted by someone from among the people whose duty it was to protect the person of Kirov." In other words, he was killed with the help of the GPU, Stalin's agents.
While Khrushchev was forced to admit to a partial list of the crimes of the Stalinist bureaucracy, he attempted to dismiss them as only the result of the cult of personality around Stalin the man, and he completely reaffirmed support for the struggle against Trotskyism.
These revelations by Khrushchev threw the world Stalinist parties into the deepest crisis because they had always defended the actions of the bureaucracy completely. A reflection of this was the statement made by the National Committee of the CPUSA on June 24, 1956, which appeared in the July 1956 issue of Political Affairs. It stated: "A basic analysis of how such perversions of socialist democracy, justice and internationalism were permitted to develop and continue unchecked for 20 years must still be made by the leadership of the CPSU. It needs also to be made by Marxists everywhere.
We cannot accept an analysis of such profound mistakes which attributes them solely to the capricious aberrations of a single individual, no matter how much arbitrary power he was wrongly permitted to usurp. It is just as wrong to ascribe all the mistakes and violations of socialist principle to a single individual as it was to ascribe to him all the achievements and grandeur of socialist progress in the USSR.
Also required is a further and deeper examination of such questions as the structure and operation of socialist democracy in the Soviet Union and other socialist countries.
We are deeply disturbed by the facts revealed in information coming from Poland that organs and media of Jewish culture were summarily dissolved and a number of the leaders executed. This is contrary to the Soviet Union's historic contributions on the Jewish question. Khrushchev's failure to deal with these outrages, and the continued silence of Soviet leaders, require an explanation.
The Communist Party of the US has some serious conclusions to draw from all this. For we are responsible to the working class and people of our own country. And to them we admit frankly that we uncritically justified many foreign and domestic policies of the Soviet Union which are now shown to be wrong.
The crisis in the Stalinist Communist Party had assumed such proportions that the leadership actually called upon the bureaucracy to explain itself. The Hungarian Revolution followed Khrushchev's speech. It started on October 23 when 10,000 students demonstrated at Kossuth memorial in Budapest in support of the Polish workers and their program of 17 points for democratising the state. They were met with police fire.
On Wednesday October 24, Russian tanks opened fire on demonstrators in Budapest, killing and wounding hundreds of men, women, and children. This sparked a general strike by the workers of Hungary and armed insurrection against the Stalinist bureaucracy. The bureaucracy was paralysed and almost lost its power completely as the political revolution swept Hungary. It was only due to the absence of a Trotskyist party and the ruthless intervention of Soviet troops and tanks that the revolution was defeated.
The CPUSA defended the Soviet invasion and repressions as being necessary to put down a CIA-inspired counter-revolution. But the movement of the working class against the bureaucracy and the repression directed against it had a devastating effect on the American Communist Party. All through the years of the boom period, through the Cold War and McCarthy repressions, tens of thousands of workers had stood by their party; now they began to leave by the thousands. In less than a year, the CP had lost three-quarters of its membership and its paper, The Daily Worker, was later forced to become a weekly.
This was the situation in which the faction fight took place inside the YSL. This was the situation that propelled the SWP forward into its intervention in the faction fight.
At the same time, there was a proposal that the YSL seek unity with the SP. This was originally proposed as a tactical manoeuvre of the ISL-YSL to enter the SP, based on the supposed strength of the SP left wing and the breakup of the right wing. Supporters of this proposal claimed that the ISL-YSL would almost immediately emerge as the leadership of the left wing and thus, would take over the SP completely.
In essence, this proposal marked the beginning of the liquidation of the Shachtmanites through their political adaptation to the Social Democracy. This adaptation would lead to support for the Democratic Party and the US government. This became clear with the development of the factional struggle between the leadership of the YSL, represented by Mike Harrington and Max Martin, with Shachtman's support, and the left wing, led by Tim Wohlforth, Shane Mage and Scott Arden.
By January 1957, at the plenum of the YSL, the motivation for unity had changed very dramatically. One of the majority members stated: "We could take over the SP in three days but if we did, it would be a horrendous mistake." Clearly the unity manoeuver was more than a simple tactic. In fact, they were not entering the SP to recruit its best elements but rather, to preserve it as a Social Democratic party.
The Socialist Party is actually called the Socialist Party-Social Democratic Federation because of a merger between the SP and the SDF, which occurred shortly after the original proposal for unity with the YSL had taken place. The SDF split from the SP during the 1930s when a huge influx of revolutionary-minded workers joined the SP in response to the tremendous economic crisis and the misleadership of the Communist Party. The Trotskyists, led by James P. Cannon, entered in the SP at that time in order to win over these healthy elements. The SDF was a right-wing split from the SP. Thus, the merger in 1957 was clearly a move to the right.
The right-wing character of the merger was expressed in the unity statement issued by the SP-SDF. It stated: "We (the SP-SDF) realise that until universal enforceable disarmament can be achieved, the free world and its democratically established military agencies must be constantly on guard against the military drive of Communist dictators." It characterised the Point Four proposal of the Truman administration, and the Marshall Plan, as "expressions of the American spirit at its best".
Concerning domestic affairs, the unity statement held that: "In the absence of independent socialist election action and in the absence of independent liberal-labor candidates, it shall be the privilege of individual state and local organisations to allow their individual members to support candidates for public office who have been endorsed by liberal and labor groups."
Thus, the SP-SDF supported American imperialism and the Democratic Party completely in this unity agreement. This was precisely the road that Shachtman was taking in order to complete the political, as well as the organisational, liquidation of the ISL-YSL.
It was this open capitulation to the capitalist class of the SP-SDF that crystallised the YSL opposition into the Left Wing Caucus. This left wing was an amorphous, heterogeneous grouping, composed of left Shachtmanites opposed to such blatant liquidation and fresh forces who were moving toward Trotskyism.
Murry Weiss's letterFrom the beginning, the development of this new opposition within the YSL was closely connected with the SWP. Shane Mage had entered into discussions with Murry Weiss of the SWP some time before the election controversy began in the YSL. These literary discussions soon involved many who would later form the Left Wing Caucus of the YSL.
Murry Weiss described the process of development of the left wing in a letter to James P. Cannon written shortly after the January 1957 Plenum of the YSL:
We came into contact with the left wing formally through the initiative of Shane Mage, member of the YSL national executive committee. I was assigned by the secretariat to meet with Mage. At our first meeting we agreed there was the basis for fruitful political collaboration. Mage had functioned consistently as a left-wing opposition to the Shachtmanites over a period of two years on a number of questions: support of the colonial revolution, despite its Stalinist leadership; against the Shachtmanite flirtation with Democratic Party politics; and against its conciliatory attitude towards the labor bureaucracy.
At the time we met, Mage was a supporter of the state capitalist viewpoint, which he developed in the form of a critique of Shachtman's bureaucratic collectivism. We agreed to undertake a discussion on the Russian question in the course of our relations.
At our meeting last summer Mage and I discussed the immediate problem he was facing in a discussion on electoral policy at the YSL plenum, which he was attending. The YSL was scheduling a referendum vote of the membership on the disputed views. The right wing leadership proposed the policy of supporting the SP exclusively, motivating this proposal primarily on the grounds of their merger plans. Mage counterposed to this view the proposal that the YSL should favour a vote for any of the three socialist candidates as against the capitalist parties.
I differed with Mage on this, proposing that he advocate an SWP vote. He countered that his proposal did not prevent him from expressing his own preference for the SWP but that it had the additional advantage of providing a line of demarcation between the broad left wing elements and the right wing over the question of the orientation to the Social Democracy. He expressed the feeling that by taking an exclusively vote-SWP position he would tend to cut himself off from the possibility of influencing the other left wingers whose antagonism to the vote for only the SP position was an expression of hostility towards the liquidationist, Social Democratic orientation. Mage went nhead with his formulation and I think the experience proved him to be right. The entire subsequent discussion, which filled two thick internal bulletins, centred around attacks and defense of the SWP, with Shane and others conducting an excellent polemic against the right wing.
Ironically, the right wing regime rigged things so that the vote was postponed until two months after the elections. When the vote came in, the left wing position gathered 44 votes and the-right wing 34.
Of the 44 who voted for the left wing position on the electoral issue, there are, of course, divergent elements. This was expressed in the statement by Owen F, called, "Answer to the Electoral Muddle: A General Socialist Protest Vote Flowing from the Politics of the YSL, Not from Pro-SWP Politics of Shane". Of the 44 some 15 endorsed this statement. In any case the membership repudiated the position of the right-wing leadership on an issue which was fundamentally related to the liquidationist proposal to merge with the SP-SDF. The fight on the electoral issue was the first round of the fight on the unity issue, and it certainly gave an important victory to the left wing.
Shortly after my visit to Anitoch early last November I met Wohlforth, the leader of the left wing in New York, and member of the National Action Committee (YSL PC). It was evident that Wohlforth was moving rapidly toward agreement with us and we began to meet frequently and work together in full political collaboration. Martha Wohlforth was drawn into the collaboration, and, from the first, held a militant left wing position on the unity question. Like many in the YSL left wing the Russian question has been reopened for her, but not yet resolved. The same is true of Judy Mage.
Wohlforth's views on the Russian question are noted in his letter to Mage. He is now planning an article on the nature of the Soviet state from the point of view of Marxist dialectic method, which I am sure will prove valuable to the education of the left wing.
Mage on Eastern Europe
At the same time Shane Mage has passed through an important evolution towards our position as a result of his thinking on the revolution in Eastern Europe. An interesting and productive correspondence has developed among the left wingers in Ohio, Chicago and New York (in which I actively participated) on the East European developments and their theoretical implications. We plan now to enlarge the circle of discussion to the entire left wing. No one is trying to force the pace of this discussion; its tempo and development is entirely in tune with the needs of the situation.
The YSL plenum
As the January 26-27 plenum approached the struggle within the YSL accelerated rapidly. At first it appeared that the left wing was badly isolated. Just one month ago Tim stood all alone in the New York unit, receiving only his own vote and one abstention in a test issue. Mage and Wohlforth seemed to be isolated in the national organization. They nevertheless decided that the struggle was unpostponable; it was either fight or default. They were determined to fight regardless of consequences.
The right wing, as you will glean from Arlon's letter, conducted itself scandalously. Even when the SP right wing and centrists revealed their true attitude towards party democracy in their drive to expel the left wing in 1937 they never dared to launch the type of brazen, hysterical, bureaucratic assault as the right-wing Shachmanite youth leaders have during the last months. A witch-hunt against Shane and Tim as Cannonite agents was coupled with a whole series of bureaucratic acts: suppression of two documents by Tim, a ban on Tim going to the membership to protest the suppression of his internal discussion articles, threats of expulsion, ridicule and slander.
By the time of the plenum it became clear that this campaign was not preventing the growth of the left wing. We noticed that the tone of the right wing was modified. Although they obviously hated to do it, they began to face the fact that the left wing had not been smashed by their onslaught but was beginning to thrive and take on a distinctly pro-SWP character. At the plenum itself, as you will see from Shane's letter to Ed in Chicago and his article in the Left Wing Bulletin, the right wing was in complete control since neither Chicago nor the West Coast were represented.
Despite this the plenum proved to be a big help to the left wing. The New York membership was present and, as subsequent events proved, a considerable impression was made by` the left wing speakers: Shane and Tim. After the plenum the left wing broke through in New York. It won over two supporters and a number of close contacts; it cracked open the previously airtight right wing domination and became a recognised force.
In the elections to the New York executive committee, the left wing, to everyone's surprise, decided to put up a fight for minority representation, and won! The victory was all the more dramatic since the right wing had decided to remove Tim from the executive committee as an opening move in the pre-convention discussion. Their claim was that Tim was insufficiently involved in local work.
At the plenum we learned that the Chicago line-up was about six to four in favour of the left wing, but that the left wing was heterogeneous and somewhat disorganised. We also had learned from Asher that, independently of the above described development, a left wing had evolved in Berkeley and had friendly relations to the SWP.
Left wing strategy
While Shane was in New York for the plenum, we had a full discussion of the left wing's perspective and tactics. Shane, Tim, Martha and I agreed to the idea of launching a national left wing caucus on the basis of a simple declaration on the SP unity question. Our feeling was that the left wing would make the strongest impact by coming out as a national caucus on the basic line of demarcation between left and right.
Our concept of the caucus was very much as you outlined it in your proposal. The orientation of the left wing was to take the leadership of the YSL and defeat Shachtmanism. The first test of the validity of this approach came when the Chicago left wing leader, Ed, wrote a long letter to Tim expressing doubts as to the advisability and possibility of founding a faction with Tim and Shane as the leaders in view of their SWP taint. Tim replied to this letter in an extremely effective way, displaying complete willingness to discuss the strategy of the left wing patiently and at the same time reporting the significant development of the national left wing that was actually taking place. He also explained something that Ed was not aware of – the role of the centrists at the plenum as complete supporters of the liquidators. Ed's proposal for the left wing faction organization was based on the notion that a real centre group existed that was waging its own fight against conciliation with the Social Democracy. Nothing of the sort exists. It's just a question of certain elements trying to give a more discreet verbal covering to the right wing line.
Significantly the combination of information and argument convinced the leading left wingers in Chicago and brought them over to the caucus without any reservations. You will also see from the letters of Dave and Jim in Berkeley that the caucus has met with their enthusiastic approval.
The leaders of the leftIt is now necessary to take a closer look at the main figures in this left wing, the internal differences within it, and the political situation within the YSL-ISL as a whole. It was out of the Left Wing Caucus that the main leaders who formed and led the YSA from 1957 to 1962 came.
Shane Mage was a key figure in this development. In fact, his past theoretical activity prepared him to lead the new left wing within the YSL. It was Mage who defied all the Stalinophobic shibboleths of the Shachtmanites to confront the Russian question in the 1953-56 period. He was driven to do this in his attempt to develop a revolutionary perspective in relation to the Chinese Revolution and related developments in Vietnam and Korea. He thus confronted theoretical questions in the course of a search to comprehend the new revolutionary developments of that period.
But Mage did not actually lead the new left wing. In fact, if leadership had been left to him alone it is extremely doubtful that a serious faction would have been built even with the aid of the SWP. There is no question but that the YSA itself could never have been constructed with Mage as its leader.
The reason for this lay in Mage's position as an intellectual. He refused to begin at all times from the construction of the party, maintaining his distance and his illusions in various career possibilities. At the time of the left-wing formation, he was living in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where his wife Judy attended school at Antioch while Mage pursued private studies in 12-tonal classical music composition. His aim was to become a composer.
The contradictory class position of Mage was expressed clearly in a letter from a friend of his, a supporter of the state capitalist minority within the SWP, to Murry Weiss:
Shane, I think he is in fine shape – has no doubts or suspicions on the new organization, and is wholeheartedly behind it. This does not mean that he is without criticism – he has some of the same feelings about Tim, I understand, as do the Chicago people. But I think his inadequate participation at convention time reflects his lack of strength in organitation. type activities in general and not any political hesitancy.
Then there is something to what you thought about Shane's music. He had a very fine opportunity to study with a composer, and Judy is willing to work to support him provided he takes this opportunity seriously. She doesn't see how he can be a full-time revolutionist and study or compose music. I think the only answer here – and it's the one both Shane and I gave her – is that while there is no doubt any organization needs full-time people to do the work, one is nevertheless no less a full-time revolutionist if he has to work for a living – including music – or wants and has a family and the normal pursuits of other people. I said that it was praiseworthy of those who are willing (and enjoy) working around the clock for the party and doing nothing else – but this should not be raised to a principle with everyone who doesn't get their kicks in life this way being judged as something less than full-time.
The question was not a matter of "normal pursuits of other people" and certainly not of what one gets one's "kicks" out of. The question posed in 1957 was a bitter struggle for the construction of a revolutionary youth movement, which would become absolutely central to the continuity of Trotskyism in the US. This situation required that Mage break with his middle-class ambitions and come directly to New York City to lead the left wing from there. This he did not do. For this reason he found himself playing a centrist and politically hesitant role within the left wing and for many years thereafter.
The Chicago people referred to in the above letter were led by Scott Arden, a close collaborator of Mage in the old faction battles, and John Worth, referred to as Ed in the previously quoted letter from Murry Weiss. Worth was a former member of the SWP and a supporter of the state capitalist minority within it, who had broken with the SWP in 1955 over the question of remaining in the YSL. Like Mage, he had his academic pretensions. Arden was an incorrigible factionalist of the old Shachtman school who feared that what was at stake in the left-wing fight was something different that would require the construction of a serious revolutionary movement.
The Chicago group played an extremely perfidious role in the left wing. Their main concern was to resist the dominant tendency of the left wing towards the SWP. They wished to oppose the right-wing movement of Shachtman without confronting joining the SWP even though they found themselves in close political agreement with the latter. This led them to fight always on a petty secondary level, picking over technicalities in the work of the left wing in New York and trying to manoeuvre so that the centre of the left wing could be transferred to Chicago where they could dominate it.
Their central strategy was to urge an orientation towards the so-called centre elements in the ISL-YSL around such individuals as Hal Draper and Sy Landy, who were later to play a role in the leadership of the International Socialist group. However, this group was extremely rotten and even more bitter enemies of the SWP than Shachtman himself. They took it upon themselves to be at the head of the slander campaign against the left wing and they went fully along with Shachtman on his plansto enter the SP-SDF.
Mage's relationship with this group was one of compromise. He sought constantly to find some common ground between Chicago and New York, to confuse the issues at stake. He was drawn to this perfidious role by his refusal to break with the middle class and see theoretical development as only taking place when one puts oneself at the very centre of the party fight.
Another important constituent of the left wing was the Bay Area group around James Robertson. Of all those in the left wing, Robertson had the most years in the Shachtmanite movement, going back to 1945. He had over the years developed into opposition to Shachtman, particularly on the war question. However, this opposition was very much a matter of orthodoxy, that is, of the defence of correct doctrine quite abstracted from the requirements of the construction of the revolutionary movement of the time.
This is shown clearly by his role in relation to the Mage-Arden opposition. As we noted these comrades, though with deficiencies, were seeking to grapple theoretically with the actual movement of the colonial masses and the relationship of this movement to Stalinism and the construction of the revolutionary party. Robertson intervened in this discussion together with Arlon Tussing, referred to in Murry Weiss's letter. Tussing, during 1956-1957, made one of the sharpest attacks on the left-wing in the interests of the right-wing Shachtmanites. In 1954 he wrote an article together with Robertson entitled Symmetrical Errors on Stalinism and the National Question. This article declared a plague on both houses, stating:
The fundamental error into which both comrades Martin and Gale slip is Stalinophobia and Stalinophilia respectively.Shortly after writing this article, Robertson dropped out of activity in the YSL and ISL. He left a few of his followers in the YSL, while others followed him out of the organization. It was in this period that Robertson made contact with the SWP. He played no role in the election struggle of late 1956 and re-entered the YSL for factional purposes after being contacted by other left wingers through the SWP itself. He shortly had majority control of the Bay Area YSL branches.
Robertson developed an orientation towards the SWP without re-evaluating his theoretical position on bureaucratic collectivism. Robertson was a man who could take strong positions only on certain aspects of questions but could never confront head-on the central theoretical questions. He was a bit-and-piece man, a pragmatist.
To Robertson's credit once he decided on a course towards the SWP, he went headlong on this course, bringing to the left wing an important solidity. Thus he wrote in February 1957:
Note to Scott and Ed (Chi): I see from your correspondence exchange with Shane and Tim that you are or have been dubious about how to engage in the struggle which has been brought to us.We have outlined earlier Tim Wohlforth's evolution. Coming into the YSL during the days when McCarthyism was just beginning to break up with the Army-McCarthy hearings, he was quickly thrust into the leadership of the YSL as a member of its NAC. Having begun a fight against the right wing's adaptation to liberalism, he soon joined Shane Mage in opposition over the election question. But this was the period of the Hungarian Revolution and this combined with the rightward flight of the Shachtmanites threw Wohlforth into theoretical crisis. In December of 1956, before establishing contact in a regular way with the SWP, he wrote to Shane Mage:
We are now witnessing the gross organisational capitulation and disintegration of the ISL/YSL based on the ebb of revolutionary theory by Max Shachtman et al over the past years. We of several tendencies are opposed to this. We must, and Tim and Shane have, advanced a basic platform around which to fight. We must seek the victory of this position within the YSL. (I write off the ISL, as such). This means too we must be prepared to advance a slate for leadership. All this is factional struggle.
Tim and Shane are leading the fight, Tim is in the centre. They are our faction's national leadership. So the Right-Centre can screw themselves on the "Cannonite agent" stuff. I get some of it out here, too, despite my long-time, continuing Shachtmanite orthodoxy on the Russian question.
Tim and Shane have charted the correct course.
I have become increasingly sure of my agreement with you on China, Formosa, Indochina, the SWP, but not Korea and would like to hear and think more on this. Also I am convinced that the whole slogan of the third camp is misleading and centrist to the core. It should be: "Against Both Moscow and Washington! For the International Working Class!" For to conceive of bourgeois or state capitalist countries carrying out a real third camp position is a denial of the theory of permanent revolution and to hold that these powers can live without imperialist aid or one of the powers ... I believe that at some point in the polemic we must turn our guns against Shachtmanite theory, against bureaucratic collectivism, and the third camp slogan.
It was only shortly after this letter was written that Wohlforth broke completely with any sort of halfway formulations on the Russian question. He wroteto James Robertson on February 3, 1957:
Once we get the faction under way we can begin a meaningful discussion of some of the basic theoretical problems many of us in the left are thinking about. I hope to write a document on the Russian question to be used as a basis of discussion soon. As you may know I am in agreement with Trotsky's formulation on this but of course it is a tentative business at the moment and the process of writing it down should clarify my thinking.
It was one of the great weaknesses of the left wing that that document was never written and that discussion never held. The SWP, which in an earlier period found this question so pressing that it would not collaborate with Scott Arden until he changed his position on it, now allowed the matter to drop under pressure of the new opportunities opened up by the fast growth of the left wing. The others, including Wohlforth, let the matter drop as well under pressure of the fast-moving events. The left wing developed under the difficult conditions of the SWP itself having turned away from matters of theory in 1953.
Politics of the left wingIn March 1957 the opposition formed itself into an official faction, the Left Wing Caucus, and issued volume one, number one of its monthly Left Wing Bulletin, which was issued all through the struggle. Thirteen members of the YSL were in the caucus. They were Tim Wohlforth, Shane Mage, Frank McGowan, Danny Freeman, Sherry Gelkman, Martha Wohlforth, Scott Arden, John Worth, Jim Robertson, Roger Plumb, Dave Carlton, Stan Larssen and Judy Mage.
They united around the following declaration:
The National Executive Committee has adopted a resolution calling for unity with the Socialist Party-Social Democratic Federation. This action calls into question the continued existence of the YSL as an independent organization of revolutionary socialist youth.
The NEC resolution states that it is for unity on the basis of the present political program of the SP-SDF. This program is reactionary and anti-socialist. In world politics the SP-SDF supports the labor bureaucracy and its alliances with the Democratic Party.
Genuine democratic socialism has nothing in common with these politics. On the contrary, the socialist movement can be built only by political struggle against the class collaborationist and pro-imperialist politics of the social democracy.
If the YSL unites with the SP-SDF it will be abandoning this struggle – as is already shown by the refusal of the YSL national leadership to criticize the SP-SDF in public, and by the refusal of this national leadership to attempt to recruit members from the SP-SDF into our organization.
We are members of the YSL because we want to assist in the formation of a revolutionary democratic socialist youth movement in the .S. We are not sectarians. We are willing to unite with all socialist minded youth on the basis of the minimum program of genuine socialism: independent political action of the working class and the oppressed peoples here and everywhere throughout the world, against both Stalinist and capitalist oppressors.
We consider that the basic question posed by the proposal for unity with the SP-SDF is: either to build the YSL on a socialist political basis or liquidate the YSL in its present form on the basis of the anti-socialist politics of the SP-SDF.
We believe that this is a question of such vital importance that it is our duty to form a caucus in order to present our views to the members of the League and to save the socialist youth movement from the political disaster of the YSL liquidating itself into the SP-SDF.
We call on all members of the YSL who remain committed to building a real socialist youth movement here, in America, and now, in 1957, to join with us in this undertaking.
The formation of the Left Wing Caucus provoked the most desperate type of reaction in the leadership of the YSL. Instead of confronting the political challenge, they slandered the left wing as being sectarian Cannonite agents. In the Young Socialist Review of March 4, 1957, Michael Harrington wrote:
With the formation of the "Left Wing Caucus", the YSL is confronted with an organised, sectarian tendency. But more than that, the politics of this grouping are not those of an ordinary, loyal faction: rather, they lead in the direction of a split toward the Cannonites.
But more. This sectarianism is not simply that. For the leaders of the "left wing", for Tim and Shane, it is one further expression of their SWP politics. For comrade Tim has moved, and moved fast in a few months, and he is now in general political agreement with Shane. And take Shane's positions: the Cannonite position on Korea, Indochina, China, Russia, socialist regroupment, etc. In other words, these comrades are not simply turning toward an abstract sectarianism; they are turning toward the sectarianism of the SWP.
Counterposed to the politics of the left wing, which he characterised as being "toward the creation of a new sectarian youth movement", Harrington wrote that: "We (the YSL leadership) were for breaking out of a sectarian existence. We now propose to do this on a wider scale. And that is our orientation toward unity with the Socialist Party-Social Democratic Federation."
In spite of these attacks, the size of the Left Wing Caucus grew by April to 23, an increase of 10 members in one month. At the April plenum of the YSL NAC, the draft resolutions for the next convention were formulated. It was in the draft resolution, On the Crisis of World Stalinism, that the fundamental class lines were drawn between the right and the left wing of the YSL.
It was over the question of Hungary that the YSL right wing laid bare its political and class position. This was no accident, for it is the actual revolutionary movement of the working class that puts all tendencies to the test. The resolution read:
The central political demands of the anti-Stalinist revolution consists of the demands for democracy. Its program can be summed up in this one word, for the social revolution against Stalinism is the democratic revolution. As against Stalinism, socialists will support every democratic movement, every democratic element, every move toward genuine democracy: Even if, as concretely history has precluded, the democratic anti-Stalinist revolution were under bourgeois leadership, or under the leadership of forces aiming to restore capitalism, socialists would be duty bound to give support to and participate in the revolution, so long as it was a genuinely democratic one.
For the YSL to pose the question of anti-Stalinism as being one of pro-democracy was to completely confuse the question and in effect take the side of imperialism. This is shown very clearly in their insistence that the duty of socialists would be to support even elements aimed at restoring capitalism as long as they were also for democracy. The conception of democracy cannot be abstracted out of a class criterion and analysis, for what is considered democracy in the capitalist countries is really the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie over the working class and whatever democratic rights the working class possesses are the result of struggle against the bourgeoisie. When socialists speak of the political revolution against the Stalinist bureaucracy, it is not in order to establish the dictatorship of the working class. Socialist democracy, not democracy in general, was what.the Hungarian Revolution was about, and it is what future political revolutions against the bureaucracy will be about.
This formulation of democracy was reflected in several other important areas of the draft document, most importantly on the question of UN intervention, the role of the soviets and the need for a revolutionary party.
One of the most significant features of both the Hungarian and Polish experiences was the overnight creation of workers councils, of organisations which united the workers for the revolutionary struggle against the regime, and which at the same time could be the organs of future working class leadership in the democratic rule of the country. The working class made it abundantly evident that it desired to retain these, its class organs, after the revolution, both as instruments of workers control in the factories and as organisations of political leadership in the country as a whole. As against those who derogate the workers councils, or who would call for their abolition, or restrict or limit them, we stand as their supporters.
It was no accident that the YSL right wing, instead of calling for all power to the Soviets, merely said that they were their supporters. This was made clear when Tim Wohlforth proposed an amendment to this which called for all power to the soviets and it was voted down. Not to call for this was to remain passive while the struggle for power was being waged. But it was more than this. The YSL right-wing leadership refused to take a clear, unequivocal position against the intervention by the UN that was being threatened by some imperialists and asked for by reactionary elements in Hungary.
Not that socialists should have favored American or even UN military intervention into the Hungarian situation. UN military intervention would have immensely increased the danger of the outbreak of World War III and might have in all likelihood led to other reactionary consequences as well.
Collapse of right-wing perspectivesUN intervention not only might have led to reactionary consequences, it would have been the complete destruction of any attempt to overthrow the bureaucracy. It would also have meant the restoration of capitalism. This is because of the very nature of the UN as an agency of US imperialism. So while refusing to call for power to the Soviets, the right wing also capitulated on defending the revolution against US imperialist intervention.
All these tendencies of the right wing of the YSL were reflected in the complete collapse of any perspective for building a revolutionary Marxist party in Hungary to lead the workers to power. Rather than this they looked toward the social democratic party of Hungary to do the best job.
It was only the Left Wing Caucus that put up a fight around these questions. Tim Wohlforth's amendments to the draft resolution showed the Trotskyist position being fought for against the revisionism of the right wing of the YSL. He demanded that the YSL declare itself completely against UN intervention, called for all power to the Soviets, and fought against the classless conception of democracy that was being put forward. Most importantly he called for:
Constructing revolutionary parties in the satellites and Russia as well as increasing the solidarity of the international revolutionary working class.
Very important in the process of regroupment of that period and of the struggle to turn toward the crisis in the ranks of the Stalinists was the formation of the American Forum for Socialist Education. The AFSE was instituted by A.J. Muste. He, of course, thought of it as an alternative for building the revolutionary party, but when viewed objectively in the situation it could be used as a vehicle to reach out into the ranks of the Communist Party. The AFSE was an organization open to all socialists and would sponsor forums on different topics related to socialism.
This organization was started in March 1957, at a meeting where all left-wing tendencies were represented. Norman Thomas, the head of the Socialist Party, withdrew his support. Following suit, Max Shachtman, who was listed on the call for the original meeting, wrote a letter to Muste asking that his name be withdrawn.
The ISL was persuaded to send a representative to the founding meeting but he came only to argue for the position that the Forum must come out for democracy everywhere before it could be considered respectable "in the eyes of the working class".
This position was also made the position of the YSL when the NAC voted to adopt this line. Tim Wohlforth was the only member of the NAC who voted against this position and voted for support to the Muste Forum.
On May 13 of that year, the New York Times reported the formation of the American Forum for Socialist Education and on May 14, in the New York Post, the SP-SDF was reported as characterising the Forum as a "cover for totalitarianism". Also it was announced that a Sleeping Car Porters' union official had resigned from the national committee of the Forum. It was later understood that this was only done as the result of pressure that had been brought to bear by high officials in the bureaucracy of the union.
On May 15, the New York Times wrote an editorial on the Forum. At about the same time, the New York Daily News wrote an editorial entitled Look Into This Mob. It stated: "We suggest that the Senate Internal Security Committee look into this mob without delay; also that the Attorney General make inquiries as to whether he oughtn't to add it swiftly to his list of subversive organisations."
Immediately following this, the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee under acting chairman Senator Butler subpoenaed four members of the American Forum national committee and Senator Eastland wrote a letter to A.J. Muste requesting information. Butler, according to the Chicago Tribune, also asked for the Attorney General to inquire into the possible listing of the Forum. In the Tribune, Butler is quoted as saying that "if a Justice Department inquiry establishes that the new organization is a camouflaged adjunct of the Communist Party, it should be added to the list of subversive organisations in the United States as a warning to supporters unaware of its hidden control.
The June 13 issue of the New York Times reported that the Justice Department "is very much interested in the possible Communist control" of the American Forum for Socialist Education. It also reported that the matter had been referred to the Justice Department's Internal Security Division.
The SP-SDF reacted to this witch-hunt of the Forum as expected by declaring on May 16 that membership in the Forum was incompatible with membership in the SP-SDF and ordered all of its members listed on the national committee to withdraw within 10 days. Their reaction to the State Department witch-hunt was to extend it into their own ranks. David McReynolds, who was the leader of the left wing of the SP-SDF, and had been a member of the national committee of the Forum, promptly resigned.
The Socialist Workers Party, which had been a member of the Forum from the beginning, defended the Forum in action by staying with and participating in the Forum and championing its defence on the front page of The Militant.
Of Shachtman's and the ISL's role in response to the witch-hunt, in the July issue of the Left Wing Bulletin, Tim Wohlforth wrote:
The centrist wishes both to fight the witch-hunt in an intransigent manner and at the same time adapt himself to the pressures of the petty bourgeois circles he functions in.
The ISL's role in the event is the best example of centrism today. It starts out, as does the SP-SDF, wit h a certain accommodation to the ideology of the ruling class. This takes the form of the desire for respectability. It claims to want to remain palatable in the eyes of the working class. But in reality it is bowing to the bourgeois influences and ideology which inevitably dominate the working class in a reactionary period. Instead of fighting this alien influence within the ranks of the working class, it hopes in some way to accommodate itself to it. It hopes to appeal to the right; it wants "an opening to the right", as Shachtman has put it. Instead of meeting bourgeois politics and ideology head-on, however, it hopes somehow to sidetrack this confrontation and to move the liberals leftward step by step. The net effect is that, instead of budging the liberals, the centrist himself moves to the right step by step.
On May 22, 1957 Tim Wohlforth wrote a letter to A.J. Muste informing him of his support to the American Forum and offering to serve on the National Committee. The Left Wing Caucus supported Wohlforth's actions and in a statement of the Left Wing Caucus issued on May 31, 1957, reaffirmed support to the Forum and to Wohlforth's actions. The rightwing leadership of the YSL reacted to Wohlforth's support statement, which he had the right to make according to the YSL constitution, with threats of expulsion.
The American Forum for Socialist Education, and the role the SWP played within it, was very important in the struggle against the Stalinists. This process not only went on in the US but also in England, where the British Trotskyists were able to win over many who were breaking from Stalinism. The SWP played a leading role in this situation and showed the way forward for the youth in the Left Wing Caucus.
On March 23-24, 13 members of the Left Wing Caucus from the Berkeley, Chicago, Dayton areas and the New York units, gathered in Ohio to discuss the situation in the YSL.
At the NAC meeting held just previously, Tim Wohlforth stated his intention to go on a national tour to put forward the ideas of the left wing within the YSL. He also offered to use his tour for the benefit of the YSL. as a whole by speaking in public for the YSL and under the discipline of the YSL leadership to speak only on "non-controversial" topics. The YSL leadership refused to allow him to speak in the name of the YSL because it felt that he did not represent the position of the YSL on any question.
In the April issue of the Left Wing Bulletin, it was announced that 11 more people had joined the left wing, bringing the membership up to 34. This included an ex-member of the Stalinist youth organisation, the Labor Youth League. In addition, a member of the Socialist Party came out in support of the Left Wing Caucus. The head of the Three Arrows Club of Temple University asked to join the YSL but on the basis of the left-wing program. The Three Arrows Club was a socialist discussion club.
Before the National Convention of the YSL, the right wing began to step up its campaign against the left wing and made threats of expulsion. In response to Tim Wohlforth joining the American Forum, the NAC issued a statement on May 25 stating: "In our opinion, the NAC has the clear and unambiguous authority under the YSL constitution to instruct Comrade Wohlforth to withdraw his offer for the forum of public support and willingness to serve on its board. In the event of a refusal by Wohlforth to carry out such an NAC decision, it would have the clear and unambiguous authority to call him to order, and institute proceeding for a hearing on such a refusal, a hearing aimed at disciplining him."
While the convention itself was being held in New York, the right wing of the YSL, with the ISL in Berkeley, California, broke into the offices of the YSL and stole all the office equipment. The Berkeley area was a stronghold of the left wing.
In a confidential report by Bert Deck and Murry Weiss for the SWP on the 1957 YSL Convention, they wrote:
The Left Wing emerged from the convention considerably strengthened in political cohesiveness and morale. It had waged a year-long struggle for a principled revolutionary position in opposition to the Shachtmanite liquidators, and capitulators to Social Democracy. It had met the attacks of the right wing with noteworthy militancy and political firmness: the slander of "disloyal Cannonite agents", the charge of plotting to wreck and disrupt the YSL, the charge of pro-Stalinism, the charge of Oehlerite sectarianism, the special anti-left wing tour of Bogdan Denitch, the attempts to split the Left Wing Caucus, the malicious baiting of Tim Wohiforth, the suppression of left wing documents, the threats of disciplinary action and expulsion for participation in the American Forum, and the pressure of the right-wing majority at the convention. Instead of declining and disintegrating in the face of these attacks, the Left Wing Caucus grew stronger, deepened its political counteroffensive, grew in theoretical and political stature, refused to be silenced and intimidated and developed its collaboration with other left-wing youth, including the youth of the SWP.
The struggle of 1956-1957 inside the YSL laid the basis for the YSA, for the rebirth of the Trotskyist youth movement. It was thus of critical importance.
This was a struggle between reformism and revolutionary socialism, between a centrist tendency rapidly developing the logic of its position toward open reformism, and a tendency fighting for Marxism. The Left Wing Caucus was forced into a fundamental battle with the centrists in order to make a turn towards those youth breaking from Stalinism as well as all youth being shaken up by the crisis.
In the back of the hall, in the visitors section, sat Murry Weiss, representative of the political committee of the Socialist Workers Party. Murry Weiss took copious notes of every development. Sitting near him was Max Shachtman who had led the split from the SWP in 1940. It was to be the last meeting of representatives of these two parties. It was the end of the road for Shachtman politically.
During one of the recesses, Shachtman came up to speak with Weiss. Weiss told him that this time he had really crossed the Rubicon into the camp of the class enemy. Shachtman answered in his typical cynicism: "I have crossed the Rubicon so many times in the pages of The Militant that I am getting seasick." Underneath the attempt at humour was bitterness, for this time it was not Shachtman who was leading a split from the SWP but the SWP that was winning a section of the youth away from Shachtman.
The split that was to emerge in the aftermath of this convention not only laid the basis for the birth of the Trotskyist youth movement but for the political death of the Shachtmanite movement. Shachtman was to proceed to the right at lightning pace after this convention, completely liquidating any independent tendency. Shachtman, together with a mere handful of his followers, was to end up in the leadership of the right wing of the Socialist Party.
The YSL left wing put up a terrific fight against the proposal to liquidate into the SP-SDF. The left wing fought to turn the YSL towards a regroupment with healthy elements in the process of breaking from Stalinism and to build a revolutionary youth movement.
An entire evening was spent debating the crisis of world Stalinism. The central question was Hungary and the relationship of revolutionaries to that revolution. Shane Mage, as the reporter for the left wing, sharply exposed the right wing's political and theoretical position in holding the view that revolutionaries should fight for "democracy in general". He showed that the Leninist conception of democracy was that it was simply the disguised dictatorship of the bourgeoisie over the working class. In opposition to this perspective, he posed the correct revolutionary demand of "all power to the workers' councils".
Tim Wohlforth reported on a series of amendments to the line resolution that were actually in direct opposition to the spirit of that resolution. He pointed out the imperialist character of the United Nations. He stressed that the UN's only design if it intervened in Hungary would be to restore capitalism, not to help the workers.
He called for the formation of a Leninist vanguard party in Hungary as an indispensable condition for the victory of the Hungarian Revolution. This was in sharp opposition to the right wing, which looked towards the Hungarian Social Democratic Party as the revolutionary party.
The strategy of the right wing at the convention was completely defensive and totally lacking in principle. It consisted in trying to split the left wing and isolate it within the YSL by threatening it. with organisational reprisals and baiting it over the question of the SWP. Thus the force that had covered its split in 1940 with all sorts of rhetoric about "internal democracy" did its best to crush the internal democracy within the YSL.
Murry Weiss described the situation as follows:
In addition to the constitutional amendments, the right wing passed a resolution on "Democracy and Discipline", which contained a series of indictments of Tim Wohlforth's actions and the activities of the left wing as a whole. When pressed by the left wing to specify what they intended to do with this "hill of particulars" since the left wing explicitly announced its refusal to leave the American Forum or stop its efforts to effect a regroupment of revolutionary youth in one independent, militant. socialist organization, the right wing replied:Murry Weiss met the attacks on the SWP head-on, thus contributing to the political basis upon which the future youth movement would be built. Much was being made by the right wing of a quote from a letter by Weiss to Cannon in 1955 calling for the smashing of Shachtmanism among youth. Right in the middle of the debate, a left-wing delegate requested that her time be allotted to Weiss to explain the statement.
"This resolution is not a censure; according to our constitution a censure is a disciplinary action that can be taken only after a trial. We are fully aware that you are trying to get us to expel you for participation in the American Forum. But we will not do that. What we are doing is wiping the slate clean. There will he no disciplinary action for past misconduct. This resolution merely spells out where we think the left wing is out of order and we warn that should it continue to break discipline, we will take action".
Regarding this threat there are the following conflicting elements in the evidence: at some points the right-wing leaders would say, "We have a perfect record; we have never expelled anyone from the YSL." And they would imply that they do not intend to be "provoked" into doing so in the future. Other remarks carried the note of a threat that if the "breaking of discipline" occurred in relation to the SWP, like speaking at SWP or AYS meetings, immediate disciplinary action would be taken, particularly against Tim Wohlforth.
These organisational measures of the right wing at the convention were supplemented by a calculated campaign to split the left wing. The right wing attempted to differentiate those left wingers which in their opinion were closer to the SWP from the rest of the caucus.
The premise for this tactic was the double organisational formula described above, which sought to convince left wingers that if they broke with a perspective of collaboration with the SWP they would be given ample room to live and work as a tendency within the YSL.
Weiss devoted his five minutes exclusively to the question of the 17-year record of Shachtman, which had now culminated in a proposal to support capitalist politicians in the name of socialism. The intent of the right wing in quoting the letter was, of course, to charge that when Weiss spoke of "smashing Shachtmanite influence among the youth with ideological weapons", he meant smashing the YSL as an organization. Weiss didn't deal with the YSL or the turn of the SWP toward it because he felt that under the circumstances a fundamental evaluation of the struggle of tendencies within the workers' movement and the place of Shachtmanism in this struggle was the most essential need. He deliberately chose to make such an evaluation rather than spend his few minutes dealing with secondary tactical questions.
At first a number of left wingers were alarmed and disturbed by Weiss's talk. They felt that he could have relieved the pressure on them and drawn some of the centrists closer by dealing with the specific question of the SWP's attitude toward the YSL at the time. In further discussions, while this feeling was not dispelled, the left wingers gained a better appreciation of what the objective of the talk was. Weiss explained that at a moment when the right wing was driving to expel the left, and when they had unfolded a full Social Democratic position on American politics, any attempt on his part to make a "soft" tactical speech would be construed as a retreat from the fundamental opposition the SWP had towards the treacherous course of Shachtmanism.
The YSL Convention marked the real and unsealable split between the two irreconcilable tendencies: the Left Wing Caucus, which was to play a central role in the construction of the Trotskyist youth movement, and the right wing, which was to play such a reactionary role in Social Democratic and centrist politics for many years to come. The split, however, was not formally consummated until September. However, the sharpness of the situation left no room for doubt that there were only two roads ahead. For this reason, the convention and the period immediately after it saw a deepening of the crisis within the Left Wing Caucus itself.
The new crisis in the left wingBefore the convention had started, at a caucus meeting of the left wing, Scott Arden from Chicago proposed that the caucus should not make participation in the American Forum a principled question. He proposed that, if the convention voted against allowing participation, the caucus should yield to the decision under protest and so inform A.J. Muste. Also, he proposed that the caucus should work to avoid a split at all costs, even at the cost of sacrificing any collaboration with radical youth tendencies outside the YSL.
Scott Arden represented a left Shachtmanite tendency in the LWC. If this centrist force had not been defeated over the course of the summer there would never have been a rebirth of Trotskyism among the youth and the formation of a Trotskyist youth movement. Instead, all that had gone into the building of the youth movement up to this point would have been destroyed and the new healthy cadres gathered would have been completely disorientated as the organization degenerated into some sort of centrist left Shachtmanite swamp.
Scott Arden opposed what Shachtmanism had become, but refused to make a complete analysis of exactly what Shachtmanism was historically. This method led him to complete hostility to Trotskyism. After the convention ended, this tendency hardened. This hardening was clearly revealed in the three resolutions debated at a caucus meeting after the convention. The motions presented were:
This dispute revealed not only the capitulatory tendency of Arden within the Left Wing but the impatience of another section of the Left Wing. It is true that the struggle within the YSL took a considerable period of time and during that period neither the SWP nor the forces within the Left Wing could take full advantage of the crisis within the Stalinist camp. Actually, once these forces were completely free to make this intervention in the fall of 1957, a full year had passed since the Hungarian Revolution and most of the forces shaken by the Stalinist crisis had either been dispersed or were solidifying their positions back into the Stalinist camp.
But the struggle within the YSL was a necessary theoretical preparation for the construction of the youth movement. Only through a complete break with centrism, which had dominated those youth independent of the Stalinists, could the Stalinist youth themselves be reached. As it was, the incompleteness of the theoretical struggle that did take place was to do major harm to the youth movement in its work among Stalinist youth in the next period. But this in turn was brought about by the general situation in the Fourth International itself.
Arden originally described his opposition to the SWP as simply a matter of distrust of the organization and a fear of being captured by its "sectarian" politics. His opposition ran much deeper and as was revealed in a letter by him to the other Steering Committee members, which dealt with the political positions the new youth movement should have.
As to your (Shane's) suggestions: You say "support to the colonial revolution, explicitly including the Chinese revolution". Here we disagree, I think. That is, I'm for supporting China's right to independence, but I'm not for labeling the Chinese revolution "progressive" or "part of the world revolution". That is, I view China in terms of the national question. If you mean support on that basis, fine. On the other aspects ("progressive", "nationalised property forms – defense thereof", "world revolution", etc) I'm in favor of the group having no official position or line.
Another real problem is "reformism". Several comrades have stated that our program is "against reformism and capitalism", if we have to single out any two "things", ''revolution" versus "reform" is a far lesser matter, or should be publicly treated as such.
The discussion within the Left Wing was soon to shift to the next necessary steps of creating an independent youth movement. Clearly it was only a matter of time before the formal split came and it was necessary to prepare for this inevitability.
Actually a full month before the convention Tim Wohlforth had initiated a discussion on this question in a letter circulated not only to members of the Left Wing but also to key SWPers involved in the youth work. However, the discussion that was to break out over these proposals in the period after the convention was to be led by the various leading figures of the Left Wing Caucus. The purpose of this letter, Wohlforth explained, was to:
Establish correspondence between the Steering Committee members of the Left Wing Caucus of the YSL and others engaged in youth activity in the various localities where we can expect to set up branches of a united socialist youth movement.
In this letter, Tim Wohlforth proposed that a unified youth organisation be set up, that the national headquarters be located in New York City, and that a publication be issued called the Young Socialist. Concerning the paper, he stated:
A successful publication will have a tremendous impact on the Stalinist youth and will bring them to us even though our forces are small. This means that it must be classed as a necessity and simply has to be done regardless of the sacrifices involved.
It is my feeling that the best type of publication for our purposes is a newspaper, a four- page tabloid-size monthly, to begin with. It can easily combine agitational material with propagandistic or feature-type material of a somewhat longer length. Also it is more suited to a militant youth movement which wishes to appeal not simply to intellectuals but to militant youth among the working class, the Negro people, and on campus.
Along with his proposal for a newspaper went a conception of what kind of youth movement he saw as necessary to build.
The proposal that has been worked out during the course of the struggle in the YSL by the left wing, and with which the SWP is now in full accord, calls for the setting up of a broad militant youth movement whose program would be one of opposition to capitalism and Stalinism, for independent class politics, etc. Its main orientation in the coming period would be to win over many ex-LYLers (Labor Youth League members) and their periphery. The organization would be one of the main proponents of regroupment discussions on the campus on an all-inclusive basis, it would initiate united front activities with all youth, including the Stalinist youth, and would carry out a militant struggle in defense of civil rights and civil liberties and for its program.
Membership requirements would be loose so that all those who are moving in a revolutionary direction can join the group as individuals even if they haven't yet broken completely from Stalinism or Social Democracy. However, within this group the central force will of course be those who are launching and leading this group – the revolutionary socialists from the YSL left wing and the SWP youth. Within this group they would of course struggle for the best possible program and carry out the fullest internal discussion.
The main orientation of the youth movement, if it is to be successful in this period, must be the college campus. Here is where the possibilities lie and here is where we must be. However, this does not mean giving up a working class orientation or the exclusion of working class youth forces from our perspectives. The future youth movement must be the type of organization that is attractive to working class youth, one in which working class youth play an important role and one in which they can become the predominant force once the relative quiescence of the working class is changing by the beginning of a mass upsurge. Also the youth movement must be able to assimilate high school youth, which can then be sent to various colleges where we need forces. Furthermore it should also be oriented towards Negro youth whether they be on campus, in the factories, or in the technical and night schools.
Immediately following the convention, the struggle broke out in the Left Wing Caucus. In a confidential communication circulated on July 10, 1957, to all Left Wing Caucus and SWP youth, Shane Mage stated his support for a magazine rather than for a newspaper. The purpose of the communication was to institute a discussion on the issue among all the youth. Shane Mage wrote:
In my opinion, we need a monthly magazine for at least three decisively important reasons: tone, content, finances.
It would be a deadly mistake, in my opinion, for us to conceive our main function as agitation. We simply have no audience of militant youth capable of taking vigorous action on immediate issues. Such an audience existed, to a certain extent, in the thirties – it simply does not exist today. The basic lesson we draw from our analysis of the objective situation in the US is that socialist organisations today are basically propaganda groups. Nothing else is possible today. A propaganda group needs a propaganda organ, not an agitational one. A four-page tabloid size newspaper would inescapably set an agitational tone – exactly the tone we would not want. We are right to speak of a "militant" youth movement, but only if we understand that this means that we present our socialist ideas in a militant and aggressive fashion, seeking to reach as many youths as possible.
The basic reason why a newspaper is necessarily agitational while a magazine is propagandistic is the obvious consideration of space. A serious, reasoned argument, especially on a complex political problem (like, for instance, the fundamental defects in capitalism, the why and wherefore of Stalinism, the need for and character of socialism, the nature and importance of the colonial revolution, etc) simply requires more space than can be given to it in a four-page tabloid size newspaper.
The discussion over the newspaper was extremely significant. Those who favored having a newspaper saw that it would be a tool to actually give a lead to the struggles that youth were involved in as well as to educate the youth politically in the history of the revolutionary movement. The other conception put forward, that of having a magazine, held that all that was required in that period was simply to comment on events in a purely propagandistic manner. The latter position reflected the centrism of the organization at that time.
The discussion over the format of the organ was carried on in every locality of the youth movement. In another internal communication containing a report on the Bay Area Caucus meeting, Jim Robertson reported that it was "moved and carried that the Area LWC become the Berkeley and San Francisco Young Socialist Clubs" and that on the question of a "magazine versus a newspaper: a polling here after discussion resulted in a vote of six for a paper, none for a magazine." (Issued between July 13 and 18.)
The discussion was conducted with a sense of urgency as the publication date for whatever publication was to be issued was September 15. By the end of July the discussion was extended to include the question of where the national headquarters should be located, with Scott Arden proposing that it be located in Chicago. Arden advanced several organisational arguments for locating the NO and editorial board in Chicago but in a letter to Murry Weiss he outlined his main considerations
Jim made it clear after the convention that he had "declared himself" for the SWP some time ago – that is, that he (and presumedly the other leadership elements in Berkeley) had decided many months ago that whatever their political differences, their organisational future lay with the SWP. This, taken with the convention caucus meetings as a whole, has altered considerably the whole situation.
Now, rather than just a few (the NYers and Shane and one on the West Coast) in the LWC who must be considered "SWPers in effect" it is obvious that such comrades constitute a clear majority of the LWC. In other words there are now very few of us who are in any real sense "non-SWP" available to join in the formation of the new group. At least initially the overwhelming majority of those involved in the new youth group will be SWP members or close sympathisers
This considerably reduces the chances of the group maintaining any real political or organisational independence of the SWP – and also reduces the possibilities of the group's existence exerting a strong "de-sectarianising" influence on the SWP – since it is "captured" to begin with.
Earlier in the same letter he wrote:
I propose, on behalf of Ed and myself, that the national centre and editorial board of the new organization be located in Chicago (instead of NY), with Tim-Martha to come to Chicago, as well as others if necessary.
While Ed, Jackie and I have differing reasons ... for supporting this we all fail to see any possible objection. For my part the only conceivable objection I can see (from the point of view of the SWP) is that the possibilities of the new group being directly controlled (or let's say "more strongly guided") by the SWP would be reduced if the NO were here.
At the end of July, Tim Wohlforth wrote a blistering counterattack to Arden's proposals.
I do not intend to open up again a discussion of the SWP with Scott. It is my feeling that Scott's position on this question is beyond the point of rational argumentation. For six months we have been proceeding on a politically necessary course involving informal co-operation with the SWP. We are all aware that it is impossible to build a militant youth movement in this country without involving the SWP youth. We also are aware that the SWP has been extremely co-operative at every stage of the development and has not attempted to force us to act in a certain way. Furthermore our own political sensibilities telll us that were the SWP to turn into some monster and change its position and try to crush us the end result would be the breaking away from the SWP of a serious number of forces.
Thus those of us who are rational about our politics and are convinced of the necessity of a regroupment of revolutionary forces both on the youth level within a broad militant movement, and on the adult level, have proceeded and are proceeding with a plan to build a strong militant independent youth movement in co-operation with the SWP. We are further attempting to reach other forces and have now a good relationship with the Cochranites. If Scott is not able to comprehend all this and on the eve of the convention attempts to question the whole basic approach of the caucus and following the convention urges the Chicago caucus to resign from the LWC there is then nothing I can say to convince him.
However, when he comes up with an idea based on this irrational "plot theory" of politics, I myself begin to have my doubts. Scott is quite frank about his feelings. He has not yet made up his mind about the new youth movement. He may very well not go into the youth movement with us. We certainly have no basis whatsoever to feel that we can rely on his functioning in Chicago when he frankly feels as he does. Now Scott wants by this move to Chicago to increase his factional weight within the LWC. Now of course it's anyone's privilege to wish to increase one's influence by suggesting organisational changes, gerrymandering and the like. However, in this case to give in to Scott's position would be political suicide. In the first place Chicago is the weakest politically of any of the units. This is best illustrated by Scott himself, who has engaged in nothing but foot dragging in the last crucial month at a time when instead he should have rallied to the caucus as this has been our most crucial period. That we succeeded in preserving the caucus is through no fault of Scott's. He tried quite frankly to split the caucus and made such an offer to Jim among others. I therefore do not consider it healthy to the future youth movement to increase artificially the weight in the organisation of a capitulatory tendency within our ranks, to be brutally frank.
Shane Mage reacted with complete hysteria to Wohlforth's sharp political assessment. In a personal to letter to Wohlforth, he wrote:
What do you want to do, drive Scott out of the caucus? You are attacking a member of our caucus in a tone that approaches the worst episodes of the fight against the right wing! Your phrase "a capitulatory tendency within our ranks" is the most ridiculous one conceivable. What size movement do you think we are, anyway? There's no tendency, there is Scott. Our job is not to isolate and discredit Scott, it is to win him over and bring him along with us.
Scott had a weak attitude at the convention. I saw no evidence that he "tried quite frankly to split the caucus", and that never came up in any of our discussions. You don't understand anything about Scott unless you see that his basic motive is his own possibility of playing a leading role. He is too unsure of himself politically to be important on the basis of his ideas – he must depend on organisational issues and details to increase his own importance. Scott's foot-dragging in relation to the SWP stems almost entirely from his fear that he will be isolated and unable to be a leader as he is now. If we want to keep him, we have to constantly reassure him that he is wanted, needed, valued, that he is important to us – as, in fact, he is.
Mage proposed that Wohlforth apologise to Arden for his criticism. His entire analysis of the fight could not have been more incorrect than it was. He refused to see things in class terms and this method was connected to his defence of a magazine format earlier
In a motion drafted by John Worth and signed by Mage and Arden, the centrist tendency inside the caucus capitulated to the majority. They proposed "that there be a national co-ordinating committee, directly responsible to the LWC Steering Committee and any corresponding AYS body, until the National Young Socialist Unity Committee is established, located in New York, which will organise discussions among tendencies interested in a new youth organization.
That the present composition of the committee be Tim, Shane, Bert, and Herschel.
That the committee be expanded, with the authorisation of the aforementioned bodies, whenever there is a possibility of including new tendencies within the youth movement.
That this committee also function as the basic editorial board of the newspaper.
During the summer months, the LWC leadership deepened its understanding of Shachtmanism. Tim Wohlforth wrote a 22-page history of the Shachtmanite movement. starting with its inception in 1940 and finishing with the lessons of the recent faction fight in the YSL. He wrote:
Marxists hold that fundamental political divergences within the working class movement have a meaning far deeper than their surface appearance might indicate. Such divergences are a reflection of basically different and hostile class forces at work.The recent convention "in the first place ... clears up forever the nature of Shachtmanism, which is today openly and unashamedly a part of the Social Democracy. Shachtmanism can no longer lay claim to an independent existence between the Social Democracy and Trotskyism".
We see that all centrist tendencies are the result of an unstable alliance of revolutionary and reformist elements – an alliance which inevitably falls apart under the impact of events as the organization moves either to the right or to the left. Such is always the fate of centrism and Shachtmanism has been forced to face up to it.
While this document was an excellent analysis of Shachtmanism, it did not completely prepare the LWC leadership for the struggle against the centrists. To do this, it would have been necessary for the SWP to return to the lessons of the struggle against Pabloism in 1953 and train the LWC in its lessons. Because the SWP refused to do this, the next period after the summer was marked by an adaptation to Stalinism by the new youth movement rather than a sharp fight against it.
The fusion with the SWP youthThroughout the crisis in the YSL, the SWP had played a critical role. This was primarily through the relationship between several key leaders of the SWP, particularly Murry Weiss, and the leaders of the Left Wing Caucus.
After the YSL Convention, the collaboration was taken much further. The SWP had set up a new youth organization, the American Youth for Socialism, primarily as a vehicle for collaboration with the Left Wing Caucus youth, as well as with youth breaking from Stalinism.
On May 16, 1957, the AYS issued an open letter to the YSL proposing unity between the two organisations. This letter was printed in the May 20, 1957, issue of The Militant. In this letter Bert Deck, the chairman of the AYS, wrote that the AYS had "been following with great interest the discussion in the (YSL) ranks on the perspectives for socialist youth in America as reported in the publicly distributed Young Socialist Review and the Bulletin of the Left Wing Caucus. The position put forward by the YSL Left Wing Caucus provides the basis for beginning the long and necessary work of constructing a united revolutionary youth movement in the country".
Needless to say, the YSL leadership turned the AYS down and reaffirmed its intention of seeking unity with the SP-SDF, in order to form a broad "Debsian-style party".
The aim of the AYS letter was both to expose as clearly as possible the completely right-wing character of the YSL leadership, its hostility to building a revolutionary youth movement; and to appeal directly to the Left Wing Caucus for closer collaboration.
During the summer, after the YSL convention but before the split was consummated, a series of secret meetings were held between the Left Wing Caucus and SWP youth all over the country. By the end of August, Murry Weiss was able to write that "the Left Wing Caucus of the Young Socialist League and the SWP youth groups are now working together on a more or less fused basis in all localities".
There was also public collaboration. Most important in this regard was the creation of the Young Socialist Forum in New York City. This was decided on by the joint caucus of the AYS and Left Wing Caucus. The forum sponsored a series of six discussions under the general heading, The World in Crisis. The first talk drew an audience of 75 people, mostly college students and youth from the CP periphery. Throughout the summer, the forum had an attendance of over 65 at every talk. The fifth on What Happened in Hungary, given by Tim Wohlforth, attracted an audience of 98. This was the largest meeting in New York of radical youth in many years. It showed the potential for the establishment of the new youth movement, as both newer and more politically experienced youth were driven by the crisis of Stalinism to search for theory
The SWP was now getting into the thick of the fight to construct the youth movement. This was a big and badly needed change, as new young forces were attracted to the Trotskyist movement. During the post World War II upsurge in the US, the SWP had recruited many young workers, students and unemployed youth. There was no national policy at that time for the formation of a youth organization. As a result, each branch of the SWP had its own youth organization. In New York, it was called the Internationalist Socialist Youth. In Los Angeles, the name was the Socialist Youth Club. The SYC played an important role in mobilising opposition to the fascist Gerald L.K. Smith, when he came to Los Angeles to speak at the Board of Education in 1945. This group led a demonstration of over 2000 against his appearance.
These developments receded along with the passing of the strike wave, but a lack of national perspective aided the death of these youth formations
Before the developments in the YSL, there had been some work by the SWP among youth in various parts of the country. An example was the Wayne Socialist Club, which issued the Wayne Socialist, under the leadership of the Detroit branch of the SWP. This had collapsed by the time of the rise of the Left Wing Caucus in the YSL. However, Bob Himmel and Evelyn Sell, who had been active in this club, played an important role in the early years of the new youth movement. In connection with this work, Murry Weiss said in August of 1957 that the "main project that will be undertaken by the Detroit comrades is the revitalisation of the Wayne University Socialist Club".
Across the country the SWP was able to send other cadres into the initial formation of the youth movement as the AYS fused with the Left Wing Caucus. There was Peter Buch from Los Angeles who began to do work at this time. There were Himmel and Sell from Detroit, and Tom Leonard from Minneapolis. Jim Lambrecht and Nora Roberts were from New York. Nora Roberts was the daughter of Dick Roberts, around that time the editor of The Militant, and Francis James, another party leader. A number of these forces had very little experience in the youth movement, and were somewhat old to begin building a youth movement. Bert Deck, for instance, was already in his early thirties.
In spite of these weaknesses, however, which were to a great extent unavoidable, the SWP youth played an important role in the beginnings of the youth movement. They provided some significant forces to get the organisation off the ground and to build its first public activities.
Throughout the summer months, the LWC youth were preparing a statement to release concerning the state of the YSL and announcing their intention to split from it. Shortly after the statement had been finally prepared and approved and after numerous changes were made by different LWC Steering Committee members but not yet released, Tim Wohlforth was notified that he was being brought up on charges by Michael Harrington.
On September 1,1957, the trial took place. Wohlforth moved that the item of his trial be removed from the agenda. This motion was defeated. Thereupon Wohlforth announced that he refused to participate in the trial. The NEC proceeded with the trial. Wohlforth was found guilty of all charges and suspended from the YSL.
The Left Wing Caucus promptly resigned from the YSL. Regroupment was officially well under way.
The launching of the Young SocialistThe first issue of the Young Socialist hit the streets before September 15, in good time to be distributed on the campuses at registration time. Its first editorial ran:
This past year has been one of crisis – a revolution in Hungary; an imperialist invasion in Suez; a struggle for national independence in Algeria; and a vigorous battle against second class citizenship on the part of the Negro people in our own country. These events and many others have not passed unnoticed by the young people in this nation. Many of them are beginning to think about the world in which they live – a world which seems to produce an explosion of some kind or other every week.
These young people are looking for a way out – for a solution to the seemingly perpetual crisis which shakes this world. We all wish to see a world without strife and war, a world where one people does not oppress another, and where one class does not exploit another. It is our opinion that the ideas of the socialist movement have much that is worthwhile to offer to this end. We socialists believe that the crisis the world is in is the crisis of a world social system – of capitalism. Capitalism, once a vibrant, expanding and progressive force, today is in retreat. In one third of the world it no longer exists. One enslaved colonial country after another has risen to remove the yoke of capitalist imperialism.
However, as capitalism retreats, it does so not without a struggle.
The struggle for socialism is not an easy one. The workers themselves must democratically take over the management of industry and abolish the entire profit-making system.
Socialism means the direct control of the basic industries; not by an all-powerful bureaucracy, but by the people themselves through their own organisations and the parties of their own choice. In Hungary, exactly a year ago this month, the workers rose up with the entire nation behind them to demand the removal of troops of another country, the Soviet Union, from their land.
The capitalists' only interest in the struggles of the working people in Eastern Europe is in the futile hope of somehow re-establishing capitalist domination in these countries. We Young Socialists share the Hungarian workers' abhorrence of any attempt to turn the legitimate struggle against bureaucratic rule into an attempt to restore capitalism.
These are the ideas which motivate the young people who have come together from different socialist groups and different traditions in order to publish the Young Socialist. We hope that this paper can help advance the fight of all radicals and progressives for a better America, and a better, more peaceful and just world. The forward march of America's Negro people; the outspoken demands among students for a restoration of civil liberties and academic freedom on the campus; the worldwide protest campaign against the poisoning of the very air we breath with radioactive material; the militant actions of the young workers in the shops and factories across the country – these will be the events we report.
We also hope to present and discuss the liberating ideas of militant socialism as they relate to the struggles and aspirations of the world's peoples.
It is our hope that out of this discussion will grow a broad and revitalised militant socialist youth movement that can act in a progressive way on the campuses and in the factories in bringing the ideas of socialism to America's youth.
The first issue of publication of the Young Socialist newspaper was a year in which the precious advances which had just been achieved hung in the balance.
The reason for this extremely dangerous situation was that while the youth who had just broken from Shachtmanism together with others seeking a road away from Stalinism were moving in one direction, the leadership of the American Trotskyist movement in the SWP was rapidly moving in another. The Left Wing Caucus was trained in the struggle against centrism, but the SWP, which had played such a critical role in winning these youth to Trotskyism, was now moving over to centrism itself.
This was the root of all the disputes and difficulties of this early period of the Young Socialist, and the clubs fcrmed in the so-called regroupment period. The Young Socialist Alliance was not formed as a national organization until 1960. In 1957 and 1958, the cadres developed in earlier struggles were directed to form broad centrist amalgams with Stalinist youth and other tendencies. This policy was the product of a lack of concern for theory. The turn away from theory was later to lead to the complete capitulation of the SWP to centrism.
SWP and PabloismThe Socialist Workers Party had only been able to develop, in spite of weaknesses and difficulties, in the course of a struggle against revisionism, against anti-Marxist tendencies within the Fourth International. A high point was the 1939-1940 fight against Shachtman and Burnham, the lessons of which were brought forward in the 1956 crisis within the Shachtmanites.
Another milestone was the 1953 split internationally with Pablo and his supporters. Pablo, leader of the International Secretariat of the Fourth International, which was based in Europe, broke completely from Marxism, substituting the crudest impressionism and empiricism. He developed theories of the imminence of a Third World War and the creation of deformed workers states that would last for centuries. His perspective was that the Stalinist bureaucracy would reform itself out of existence, and that under the blows of war and revolution the Stalinist parties in the capitalist world would be transformed into revolutionary instruments for the working class.
Pablo began not with a scientific analysis of the world capitalist crisis, the movement of the working class and the need for conscious leadership, but with the strength of imperialism and its bureaucratic agents. Wherever he could, Pablo sent the Trotskyist forces into deep entry in the Stalinist and Social Democratic Parties. He viciously fought and expelled in the most arbitrary and illegal manner those, like the majority of the French Trotskyists, who opposed his liquidationist policies.
In 1953 the SWP, along with the British Trotskyists, had exposed and fought Pablo's revisionism. But this struggle was dropped immediately after the split, instead of being deepened as it had to be.
So rapid was the turn of the SWP away from theory and from any serious concern with the international movement that by 1957 the SWP leaders suggested unity with the same forces from whom they had split less than four years before. In April, 1957, James P. Cannon wrote to Leslie Goonewardene of the Ceylon Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), suggesting unity.
In the past year, since the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the positions taken on the most important questions of the day came even closer together. If the thinking of the two sides should continue to evolve in the same way, then they would both have to consider the question of unity, not as a demagogic slogan to maneuver with, but as a project to be realized.
It would be better and more realistic to contemplate a possible unification for common political action, and to agree to disagree on some questions, allowing the test of events and clarifying non-faction discussion to bring about an eventual settlement.
Cannon could write a letter like this only out of complete cynicism and lack of concern with theory. This was at a time when the Khrushchev revelations and the Polish and Hungarian Revolutions had placed the political revolution against the bureaucracy on the agenda for the coming period. These developments were also the beginning of a new upsurge of the international working class.
The Trotskyist movement was at a crossroads, facing the need to transform itself, to turn outward in a struggle to develop deep roots in the working class. Precisely at this point, the SWP leadership moved back toward those forces who had attempted to destroy the struggle against Stalinism and who refused to see the urgency of the construction of independent revolutionary parties. The same Goonewardene addressed by Cannon in 1957 was already engaged in the most scandalous opportunist maneuvers, and was to join along with the rest of the LSSP leadership in a bourgeois coalition government in 1964. The same Goonewardene, along with the rest, was directly responsible for the brutal, murderous suppression of the revolt of Ceylonese youth in 1971. This was where Cannon's method of "agree to disagree" was to lead.
This movement toward the revisionists went hand in hand with the orientation of the SWP towards regroupment, a policy that almost strangled the youth movement in its infancy. During the regroupment period, the SWP began not with the strategy of building a revolutionary party against capitalism and all of its agents, but with the most pragmatic and narrow considerations. It sought to end a past period of isolation at almost any cost. It sought to make friends with some very dubious elements who had moved away from the Communist' Party. Instead of fighting for Trotskyism, however, it sought to encourage these forces to maintain a position between Trotskyism and Stalinism.
At the heart of this policy was the turn away from dialectical materialism and the open embracing of the pragmatic method. Historical questions and theoretical disputes were no longer of concern because the SWP leadership began not from the conflict and unity between theory and practice, but with a rigid separation, with theory in the books and good solid "practical agreement", unrelated to theory, on which to build a movement:
The turn away from theory was a turn away from a conflict with Stalinism. The SWP leaders agreed with the Pabloites that it was not possible and not necessary to build revolutionary parties in a ruthless battle against the Stalinists. Instead of a sharp coflict with all opponent tendencies in the working class they proceedecl with the conception of winning over support in stages, of winning over those disillusioned with Stalinism by soft-peddling the Trotskyist program, which alone could explain Stalinism and fight against it.
It was in this period that the SWP leadership also began to attempt theoretical justification of its policies and went over more and more openly to Pablo's conceptions. In the spring 1958 issue of the International Socialist Review, SWP leader Joseph Hansen wrote an article entitled "Proposed Road to Soviet Democracy". In this article, Hansen set about reassuring those forces that the party leadership was then trying to ge. close to concerning the "mistaken" idea that the political revolution against Stalinism had anything to do with the violent overthrow of the bureaucracy.
The program of political revolution in the Soviet Union has been badly misunderstood – and sadly misinterpreted – in the radical movement. It has been pictured as 'revolutionary romanticism', a smoking-hot kind of sectarianism that rejects the struggle for reforms in principle. It is much closer to reality to view the program of political revolution as the total series of reforms, gained through militant struggle culminating in the transfer of power to the workers.
No revolution comes in a single oversize dose like a horse pill. It develops in interlinked stages affecting interlinked fields.
This passage was written to placate disillusioned middle-class radicals, to demonstrate that revolution is not the distasteful thing they had imagined, and in fact that it is not revolution at all. Just a little over a year after the crushing of the Hungarian workers, Hansen comes forward as the advocate of reform of the Stalinist bureaucracy. The qualitative leap that is at the heart of all change in nature and society is transformed into an even evolutionary process.
In 1960, Murry Weiss wrote an article on the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Trotsky. In this article, Weiss correctly points to the victory of the Chinese and Yugoslav revolutions after World War II as blows against imperialism and part of the deepening of the crisis of Stalinism. For Weiss, however, the conclusion is not the tremendous responsibilities facing the Trotskyist movement, but the exact opposite. "Trotskyists have never claimed a franchise on revolutionary theory and practice. On the contrary, all of our work is directed. toward convincing the working class and its parties to take the revolutionary road."
Weiss saw the role of the Trotskyist movement as that of an adviser to the working class and its parties, standing outside the class and its struggles. This idealist method, seeing the revolutionary movement as removed from the working class and commenting from a distance, seeing the subjective factor as a passive reflection of the objective, was the justification of the whole regroupment policy and the drift closer and closer to revisionism and to Stalinism.
The first reaction of the SWP to the events of 1956 had been a healthy one. As we have described, the theoretical capital of the fight against the petty bourgeois opposition in 1939-1940 was brought into the present, in the crisis in the YSL in 1956. Out of this came a big development. At the same time, the SWP saw the Khrushchev revelations as a vindication of Trotsky's fight and sought to draw the lessons of these great events.
In 1957, the reaction was quite different. Instead of proceeding from principle, in battle against Stalinism, the policy followed by the SWP leadership in 1957 and 1958 was very similar to that followed by the Pabloites. A kind of deep entry policy was followed. In the US, this took the form of the creation of youth groups dominated organizationally by the SWP, but formed consciously on a minimum program to which even the Stalinists could not take exception.
This was expressed even in the Left Wing Caucus of the YSL before its expulsion. The Left Wing brought in various centrist elements, such as several youth around the American Socialist magazine, the journal published briefly by the Cochranite group, the American Pabloites who had split from the Trotskyist movement in 1953. These people were to play as rotten a role as their small forces allowed, always fighting against all theoretical discussion and any sharpening of the differences with the Stalinists.
The split with Steve MaxWith the launching of the Young Socialist newspaper in the fall of 1957, disagreements cropped up almost immediately, on the editorial board. A report on the first months of activity notes disagreement on whether the paper should be organized around a program, or whether that would come only at a later stage of its development.
At the same time, the so-called IBM clubs, standing for independent, broad and militant organizations, were organized in various cities. Although the newspaper supported these clubs, they had no affiliation to the paper. Although the Trotskyists clearly controlled the newspaper from the start, there was disagreement on how to exercise this control. The clubs were looser than the paper, with Stalinist or pro-Stalinist elements entering them in several areas.
A whole group of youth connected to the Gates section of the Communist Party came around the local YSA club in New York and a sizable number joined. At this time, the Gates group was in a state of deep demoralization and disintegration. After having opposed the Moscow intervention in Hungary, it had come around more and more to a liberal opposition to the Kremlin and was in the process of leaving politics.
Among the leading Gates supporters who joined the YSA was Steve Max, son of Alan Max a former editor of the Daily Worker.
Gil Turner was also to play an important role in the struggles of 1957-58. Turner came from a Stalinist background but independent of the Gates group. He maintained a position even closer to the CP than Max during this period. Turner joined the editorial board of the Young Socialist. Almost immediately, he opposed the printing of an article on the opposition of the youth to the bureaucracy in the Soviet Union. He made numerous attempts to "balance" the presentation of a revolutionary position with one acceptable to pro-CP elements, attempting to turn the Young Socialist into a "broad, progressive paper".
The very first issue of the Young Socialist had printed an article on the tremendous opposition among Soviet youth as expressed at the 1957 Moscow Youth Festival. This article had of course emphasized that the youth opposed not socialism or the planned economy, but the taking of political power away from the working class by the bureaucracy. It was this clear position that was now under attack. The February. 1958 issue of the YS contained a debate between Steve Max, writing under the name Steve Martin, and Tim Wohlforth, editor of the paper and former leader of the YSL Left Wing Caucus. Max`s contribution was an open defense of reformism. He proposed that the way to fight for socialism was to fight for social reforms, and he argued for a peaceful transition to socialism in terms first stated by right-wing German Social Democrat Bernstein 60 years earlier:
It is my contention that an action taken by the government in the interest of public welfare is a step toward socialism. When the demand for public welfare is so great that the government is forced to play an active part, the government is then being inadvertently moved from the normal course of a capitalist government toward the path of a socialist one ... The road towards socialism is a gradual step-by-step process, no part of which can be skipped or rushed. Our job begins now. We as young socialists must seek every available method of working with whatever groups – socialist, progressive, liberal, democratic, etc – which will work with us on whatever socially desirable issue and at whatever level they are willing.
Wohlforth began with a revolutionary perspective, explaining the relationship between the fight for a labor party and the fight for socialism, and discussing how the fight for class consciousness takes place, and the conditions for changes in thinking that were vital for successful revolution.
The American workers lack a socialist consciousness and its expression in an organized form – a political party of labor. It is this low level of consciousness that has led so many to feel that socialism in America is a utopian dream.
But consciousness is not a fixed, unchanging thing. The level of thought among the working class not only changes; sometimes it takes a qualitative leap in order to catch up with the changes in the material reality around it ... The task of American socialists today – especially young socialists – is, first, political action; to oppose the false policy of the union leadership, to support independent labor and socialist political activity.
On February 1-2, 1958, the Midwest Conference of Socialist Youth, attended by 150, was held in Chicago. This conference, held at the peak of the liquidationist pressures amid the construction of the amorphous IBM clubs, received greetings from the Stalinist-run World Federation of Democratic Youth. It reached almost no decisions other than to meet again within a year and to set up a discussion bulletin. The resolutions passed dealt with nuclear testing, civil liberties, the Smith Act prosecutions, but nothing on the burning national and international issues, on the struggle of the working class in the US or internationally, on the role of the Democratic Party, the trade union bureaucracy or the Stalinists.
The dispute with Max and his group came to a head quickly in the spring of 1958. A number of attempts were made to alter the composition of the Young Socialist editorial board in order to weaken and then remove control of the YS from the Trotskyists. On several occasions, motions to add Max and others to the editorial board were made and then tabled. Shane Mage, one of the former leaders of the Left Wing Caucus and then the YSA, played the role previously described of compromising with the right-wing and centrist elements. In March of 1958, a compromise was reached with the addition of Max to the editorial board, along with SWP supporter James Lambrecht, and Richard DeHaan, a self-styled "libertarian" socialist who was considered to occupy a middle position by virtue of his opposition to both the Stalinists and Trotskyists.
Other attempts to change more drastically the character of the YS failed and Max and Turner both resigned in May of 1958. In their statement. of resignation, they gave the Trotskyists credit for initiating, promoting and sustaining the Young Socialist: "They are therefore entitled to consider it their property."
Upon receiving these resignations at the May 18, 1958, meeting of the editorial board, Shane Mage, and Bert Deck and Jim Lambrecht of the SWP, promptly urged Max and Turner to reconsider. The resignations of these openly right-wing and anti-Marxist forces were accepted only because Max and Turner themselves voted to accept them, along with DeHaan and Tim Wohlforth.
The subsequent political evolution of both Max and Turner is instructive. They parted ways almost immediately after their joint resignation from the YS editorial board. Max and his supporters formed the short-lived Tom Paine Club, which soon entered the Social Democratic Students League for Industrial Democracy. Max thus helped to inject some new life into SLID, which several years later became the basis for the Students for a Democratic Society. Max himself was one of those who attended the meeting in Port Huron, Michigan, that led to the founding of the SDS. He then functioned within SDS for several years as its extreme right wing, advocating the closest possible ties to the Social Democracy, the labor bureaucracy and the Democratic Party. Through Max and others the degeneration of Stalinism thus led into the blind alley of reformism. Max expressed the hostility to theory and the working class that was to characterize the New Left of the 1960s.
Turner, on the other hand, joined the CP directly and helped to create the first of several Stalinist attempts to revive youth work, an organization named Advance. It is also significant that one of those who tended to support Max and Turner in the YSA, and who later followed Turner after a period of a few months into the CP, turned out to be an agent of the FBI. Martin Wilner, who left the YSA shortly after Max and Turner, several years later was testifying as an FBI agent at a government hearing to classify the new CP youth group, Advance, as subversive.
The prevailing non-political atmosphere in. the first months of the Young Socialist's existence made it easier for agents like Wilner to penetrate the organization and do their dirty work. These elements always find it easier when theoretical and political struggle is avoided. They blend into the routine activity, sometimes seeking to be among the most active. The adaptation to the Stalinists in this period played a role in smoothing the path for this particular FBI agent.
The period leading up to Max's departure was the one of greatest immediate danger for the youth movement. There was great pressure to dilute the character of the Young Socialist, which had begun publication while not as an open Trotskyist youth paper, at least as a paper that championed the struggle of the working class and youth against both capitalism and its bureaucratic agents all over the world.
The section of SWP youth around Murry Weiss played the most consistent role in pushing for liquidationist policies in this period. Weiss only a year or two earlier had played a very important part in assisting the Left Wing Caucus in the fight inside the YSL. Now he turned very rapidly against Trotskyism. The Weiss group became the most ardent advocates of reunification with the Pabloite revisionists over the next four years. They were the first to champion Cuba as a workers state and Castro as a new Lenin. While the SWP leadership followed this path and went over to the revisionists in 1961-1963, Weiss and most of his supporters went straight out of the movement and politics altogether, following the logic of their liquidationist theories.
At this point, in May 1958, those close to Weiss, like Deck and Lambrecht, were reluctant to recognize the reality of a split with the Gates group, even when it actually took place.
In Philadelphia, this method was also expressed. There Daniel Rubin, presently the national organizational secretary of the Communist Party, joined the Young Socialist Club for a brief period when some youth who had been around the Stalinists had joined the Young Socialist Club, Rubin's role from the very beginning was to seek to bring these youth back into the CP orbit. After a short period, he resigned in a letter dated February 8, 1958, which denounced the Trotskyists. Art Felberbaum, another of Weiss' supporters, wrote back on February 19 asking this supporter of the crushing of the Hungarian Revolution to please reconsider.
This was a highly contradictory and confused period for the new movement, with the former members of the Left Wing Caucus resisting what they saw only as excesses of regroupment policy, but standing by the general policy all the time.
The youth around Weiss pushed for policies that could have led to a Stalinist or centrist takeover of the YS and to a complete dispersal and demoralization of the cadres. The SWP leadership tended to patch up the differences, compromise them whenever possible, but when a choice had to be made came down against the liquidationist moves.
May 1958 was a turning point. With the split of the Gates supporters in New York, the move toward broad centrist amalgams lost steam. But the dispute continued within the SWP youth fraction for some months longer. The position of those who were embracing revisionism more and more enthusiastically was stated by Bert Deck. Deck wrote an article in March 1958 in which he insisted that the main task was building the broadest possible youth movement, open to all youth who considered themselves socialists.
Deck approached the question pragmatically. Since the Stalinists and Social Democrats feared an independent youth movement, he reasoned that such a broad-based movement should be built and political principles did not matter. He worried about the "danger of a hardening of groupings along the old lines ... There is no valid basis for pro-CP, pro-SWP, pro-XYZ caucuses within the youth movement. The only meaningful divisions should be over questions which relate directly to the building of the youth movement among American youth and the elaboration of a socialist program for a new generation."
Deck openly sneered at history. He turned the truth of Lenin's famous statement that the youth must come to socialism in their own way into its opposite, against the history and lessons of the working class in struggle. He demanded that the movement be built by ignoring all questions of theory. He mocked the Trotskyist movement itself, equating the SWP with a mythical nonsensical XYZ, to drive home his contention that theory meant absolutely nothing and that the movement must begin and end with American questions, with narrow national considerations.
Constructing a youth movement required a broad campaign. It required fresh approaches, the bringing of the past in the form of theory into the present struggles. This is the opposite of ignoring theory as Deck suggested. It meant a sharp struggle for Marxism against revisionism and Stalinism. It did not mean a fight for abstract formulas, but the conflict between theory and practice, the development of a program and a fight on all the questions facing youth at that time, including the attacks on civil liberties, racism, student struggles, young workers, living conditions, and so forth.
The revisionists like Deck held the idealist position that theory would come out of practice, that the broad movement was everything. They denied the actual conflict between theory and practice by ignoring theory.
Bob Himmel was another advocate of this conception. His views were if anything even more right wing than Deck's. In a long discussion article in the July 1958 issue of the Young Socialist Forum, he insisted that the IBM clubs were the one and only way to build the youth movement. This was almost two months after the resignations of Max and Turner. Himmel proposed less emphasis on the CP youth, since the Stalinists had, "in large part, succeeded in closing ranks." He proposed the same centrist policy toward youth as a whole, toward "previously non-political youth."
Himmel agreed with Deck on keeping all theoretical discussion and struggle out of the youth movement. He also insisted that the IBM clubs should affiliate to the YS. "If this means that as a result pressures will be brought to bear on the editors, as they seem to fear, attempting to make the YS more accurately reflect the level of consciousness of the youth around the IBM clubs so much the better."
Evelyn Sell wrote a discussion article that expressed outrage over the inclusion of articles on Marxism and on the'struggle of Polish, Soviet and Cuban youth. "Overseas events certainly are of the greatest importance but to be utterly practica about the question of how to convince American youth of their stake in socialist actions, let me stress the fact that it is the American question that will turn them to revolutionary socialism, not the Hungarian, Polish, the East German or the Russian Question." Sell criticized an article written in "horrendously partisan tones on the Hungarian Revolution. I was aghast when I learned of the resignations of Turner, Max and Buitrago." This was the statement of a member of the SWP.
The position of the youth leadership that had come out of the YSL, particularly Wohlforth and Robertson, was important in these developments. These forces, which had come over to Trotskyism from the Shachtmanites, tended to resist certain policies pushed in the name of regroupment. They accepted the regroupment policy itself, however, in its fundamentals.
Thus, they agreed with the need for the IBM clubs. They went along with the building of centrist clubs, but resisted the logic of this policy, which was put forward by those who demanded that the YS become the paper of the centrists. The IBM clubs were accepted as a necessary stage, and this meant a distortion of the Leninist conception of the independence of the youth to mean independence from Marxism.
Wohlforth and others resisted this only on a tactical level. Martha Wells expressed the very dangerous confusion among these comrades when she wrote: "The paper is a beautiful weapon: it has a Stalinist coloration in the superficial aspects ... but Trotskyist politics come out in every issue."
In May 1958 Robertson and Wohlforth introduced a draft perspectives resolution, which defended the IBM orientation while suggesting it would not last too long: "Our vehicle for reaching the Stalinist youth is the IBM clubs ... The building and expanding of these clubs must remain for the coming period our major task."
At the same time, the authors proposed that the Young Socialist be the vehicle for the revolutionary socialist forces within the broader arena that they were trying to create. The problem with this approach was that it was just as pragmatic as the others, only with a bigger dose of Marxist orthodoxy. What was ignored was the actual development of the international crisis of capitalism. Instead the starting off point was tactics. Precisely because of this weakness of perspective, the youth leadership was on the defensive when arguing against the liquidationist policies.
The youth leaders began as radicals, as propagandists, distant from the struggles and history of the working class. It could not have been otherwise among those who had been attracted to Marxism in the 1950s, during the period of the greatest capitalist stability. In these conditions, anti-theoretical prejudices were strengthened. The youth leaders had little understanding of international developments in the Trotskyist movement. As we have shown, however, these were at the heart of the regroupment policy and the only way it could be understood.
At the same time, the SWP leadership began to play the role of miseducating these youth after having helped to win them over. Weiss in particular aggressively argued for the conceptions he outlined in his article referred to previously. The other leaders stayed in the background, not bothering themselves with the theoretical struggles, with the necessary conflict that had to take place with the new forces in the movement.
The Indepenent Socialist Party campaignA discussion of regroupment policy would be incomplete without an explanation of the 1958 united independent socialist election campaign in New York state, although this development did not primarily concern the youth movement.
The Independent Socialist Party became the most developed expression of the regroupment policy the SWP had sought to implement since 1957. The editors of the National Guardian, together with a number of individuals who had been prominent in the old American Labor Party in New York state, allied themselves with the SWP in running candidates for senator, governor and lesser offices.
These forces had been close to the Stalinists for years. The ALP had been the major vehicle through which revolutionary minded workers had been channelled into support for Roosevelt, on an "independent" ticket. With the development of the Cold War and the witch-hunt, the Stalinists scuttled the ALP completely. Many of the old ALP leaders disagreed, although this disagreement did not mean on their part a real search for a revolutionary policy. They tried to occupy a center position, maintaining support for peaceful coexistence and hostility to Trotskyism with support for a "socialist ticket" as a centrist and parliamentary gesture.
In a report to the SWP Plenum in Januery 1959, a month after the Detroit conference, Murry Weiss explicitly defended the bloc with these forces.
How could we help create a more favorable relation of forces for the revolutionary socialist wing of the radical movement in relation to social democracy and Stalinism?
Weiss saw all changes in the relation of forces in a gradual and evolutionary way, through neutralizing certain elements or winning their sympathy on certain points, not fighting it out for Marxist leadership. He saw the Trotskyists simply as a "wing" of the radical movement, not the leadership of the working class. This was very much as he stated it in 1960 in terms of the Trotskyists giving advice to the working class and its parties.
Weiss claimed that the Stalinists were routed in 1958, with the initiative going over to the SWP as a result of the alliance with a section of the CP periphery on electoral policy.
What was the content of the electoral policy? During the long negotiations, the SWP won its point of putting forward a full slate of candidates, since it was obvious that running only a senatorial candidate, as the Stalinists and their closest sympathizers first suggested, would leave the way wide open for support to the Democratic governor then running for re-election, Averell Harriman.
But Weiss was forced to acknowledge that the SWP conceded on two other very major questions. It gave in on including any statement at all in the election platform on the fight for socialist democracy against the bureaucracy in the Soviet countries. Only 18 months after Hungary, and only a few months after the successful fight to include this position in the pages of the Young Socialist, the SWP went along with a coalition that was unable to take a stand on the struggle of the Hungarian workers.
The allies in the bloc also backed off from an earlier agreement to give the SWP a position on the slate of candidates. When the Stalinists launched a broadside attack, these elements suddenly discovered that since there could be no CP representative on the ticket, there should be no Trotskyist either.
Thus, the actual situation was that the SWP adapted completely to this small centrist group, a group with absolutely no ties either to the working class or to the youth. The SWP members did almost all the organizational work of the campaign, while centrist politics dominated completely. These allies of the SWP included people who maintained they would support certain Democrats, who had absolutely no perspective for the working class, and who defended Stalinism. Senatorial candidate Corliss Lamont made a number of public statements in support of peaceful coexistence, the United Nations, and a peaceful foreign policy for capitalism.
The real content of the campaign was therefore not significantly different from the third party campaign of Henry Wallace in 1948. Behind the move of the SWP leadership in support of this kind of campaign was its complete lack of assessment of the world capitalist crisis, and its growing assumption that the postwar boom was almost permanent. Weiss wrote, "we know that the regroupment process did not arise from, and wasn't accompanied by, a new forward thrust by the American workers."
This policy was based on a refusal to begin from the crisis, to analyze the changes in the situation, and to see the crisis of Stalinism as an expression of the world crisis, as the first tremors of explosions that were developing rapidly. A fight based on an understanding of the crisis and for leadership in the working class would have attracted the best elements, those looking for a road to the working class. It would have repelled those disillusioned middle-class radicals for whom this campaign was nothing but a liberal gesture. But the whole campaign was held together by accepting the terms set out by these same centrists and Stalinist sympathizers.
Weiss also reveals the philosophical method behind this policy. The method of Weiss and the rest of the SWP leadership was to search for agreement, to accentuate the positive. This completely formal and idealist method led them into organizational maneuvers divorced from any revolutionary strategy. They did not see change taking place through conflict. They did not see the development of Marxism and of a party and cadres in this way. Instead of exposing the need for a complete break from Stalinism, they encouraged the illusion that some kind of halfway house between Stalinism and Trotskyism was possible. Behind these methods of work and recruitment, and the softening of differences was the turn to the perspective and political positions of the Stalinists and revisionists. Thus Hansen's article, which completely distorted the fight for political revolution, was written in the very midst of these maneuvers.
The Independent Socialist Party proved to be a very short-lived political entity. The turn away from the regruupment policy, which was begun in the youth movement in late 1958, was clearly announced at the SWP convention in the summer of 1959. It was at this time that Cannon made his well-known remark directed at those in the SWP who confused regroupment with "political togetherness". The open liquidationist tendency was temporarily resiste, as the SWP fell back once more on the traditions of the movement and the objective developments themselves forced a certain empirical turn.
The Detroit conferenceThe turn away from the regroupment policy actually took place a few months earlier in the youth movement. After the summer of 1958, the differences over youth work were resolved, although only on the surface. Around this time, Tom Kerry replaced Murry Weiss as the liaison between the SWP leadership and the youth. The leadership generally supported Wohlforth's position against Deck and Himmel. This was reflected in the preparation for the Detroit Conference.
This conference, which was originally projected for the summer, was held in December of 1958. It became a conference of YS supporters, a compromise in the direction of the creation of a revolutionary youth movement, as against the centrist IBM clubs, which were not affiliated to the YS.
Lip service was still paid to building IBM clubs. For all the talk, however, the opportunities for creating anything along these lines practically disappeare, as the Stalinists rallied few forces and a handful of demoralized centrists simply drifted out of activity.
The Detroit conference adopted a "Memorandum on the Building of a Revolutionary Youth Movement" that praised the "regroupment process" unstintingly while unmistakably moving away from it. With the creation of the YS supporters, the newspaper was put on a stable financial basis and its circulation was developed and stabilized.
A central decision of the conference was the adoption of the "Motion on Editorial Policy", which marked a definite turn away from conciliation with the Stalinists and centrists. It meant that the whole basis of the movement, centered on the fight for the Young Socialist newspaper, was placed on a firm, principled basis.
The resolution adopted by the conference read as follows:
This conference of Young Socialist supporters approves the general line of the editorial policies of the Young Socialist as they have been expressed on specific issues in its editorials. The major points of policy can be summarized as follows:
1. For a labor party by the union movement. As an immediate goat, for independent political action through united and independent socialist electoral opposition to the two capitalist parties.
2. Unconditional backing of the fight for full equality by the Negro people and other minorities. Militant opposition to the entire witch-hunt with special focus on the witch-hunt on the campus and the political screening of youth in connection with military service.
3. Militant opposition to the entire witch-hunt, with special focus on the campus and the political screening of youth in connection with military service.
4. Support to the colonial peoples' struggles for freedom and independence. For the withdrawal of all imperialist troops from foreign soil.
5. Advocacy of workers' power as the only progressive alternative to the capitalist drive toward military dictatorship and fascism, a drive recently illustrated by General DeGaulle's placement in power in France.
6. Support to struggles for workers' democracy in the Soviet Union and Peoples' Republics such as the Polish and Hungarian workers' revolutions. Opposition to attempts of imperialism to re-establish domination over this section of the world.
7. Against further nuclear tests and the build-up of the US war machine. The success of the struggle against the capitalist war danger and for world peace depends upon the success of the struggle for international socialism.
8. For the regroupment of revolutionary socialist youth into an independent, broad and militant national youth organization based on the editorial policy of the Young Socialist.
The policy formulated in these positions should serve as a guide to the editors of the Young Socialist in the next period. It is understood that the editorial board will initiate an extended discussion with free and full participation by all YS supporters to develop a more precise and rounded program for American socialist youth.
The leadership of the SWP was very much involved in the turn consummated at the Detroit conference. Attending the conference was Carl Fine, who functioned as a personal representative of James P. Cannon, the founder of American Trotskyism and at that time the national chairman of the SWP.
Fine had been the organizer of the Los Angeles branch of the SWP, where he worked with Peter Buch in building a local YS club. Fine was also later to become, in 1960 and 1961, the representative of the SWP political committee to the YSA.
At the Detroit conference, Fine was in frequent telephone contact with James P. Cannon in Los Angeles. The turn towards the consolidation of a Trotskyist youth movement was taken with the full support and even participation of Cannon at this time.
The agreement on perspectives and program reached at the Detroit Conference laid the basis for a certain development and growth of the Young Socialist and its supporters over the next 18 months.
In this new period, the task of the revolutionary forces was primarily to build the Young Socialist newspaper, deepening its roots in the struggles taking place, developing its program and building the revolutionary youth organization. The period between the Detroit conference in December, 1958 and the founding convention in April 1960 was when the basis for the national organization was laid.
This could only have been accomplished by taking up a sharp fight against the only other organized tendency among the youth: the Young Peoples Socialist League, the youth movement of the Socialist Party-Social Democratic Federation. The YPSL now exists as a tiny handful of extreme right-wing partisans of the Humphrey and Jackson sections of the Democratic Party. During this earlier period, it had some hundreds of members and a certain measure of influence among radical youth on the campuses.
During this period the Stalinists of the Communist Party were still recovering from the gigantic blows of the Khrushchev revelations and the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. They had not yet been able to revive their youth work in any form.
The Young Socialist was to play a critical role in building the YSA. From the very beginning, there had to be a fight for the right to sell the newspaper. YS distributors and sellers faced harassment from school authorities, red-baiting from reactionary elements, and police repression. The newspaper was launched as a challenge to the McCarthyite witch-hunt atmosphere, which still pervaded much of the country.
The very first issue of the Young Socialist was greeted with a barrage of slander and red-baiting. At the University of California in Los Angeles, the Daily Bruin, the campus newspaper, headlined its issue "Socialists Stir at UCLA – Radicals Pass Out Colored Circulars". With a large photograph of the paper and a caption, "The Young Socialist – Socialism's Approach to America's Young People", the paper warned that the "enemy" was on campus. Peter Buch, YS corresponding editor in Los Angeles, challenged the Daily Bruin editors to a debate, which was never accepted.
At the University of Colorado, the YS was banned. In New York, two YSA members distributing the paper in front of Hunter College were given summonses by the police.
During this period, the anti-communist hysteria, which reached its peak in the early 1950s, had ebbed considerably. This was reflected in the University of Chicago student government elections. The Independent Student League, one of the campus parties, launched a red-baiting campaign against its rival, the left-liberal Student Representative Party. In spite of these attacks, the Student Representative Party won the elections.
At the University of Michigan, the YS rallied masses of students to its defense. The Red Squad, which was secretly taking pictures of all those buying copies of the YS, was forced to leave the campus when it was exposed. At the Bronx High School of Science, fierce free speech fights took place. The YSA decided to hold a rally in front of the school. At the first rally more than 300 students listened. The school administration sought to whip up anti-communist sentiment in order to provoke a confrontation. A few right-wingers threw eggs at the speakers. At a second rally, Dick DeHaan and Russell Jones, members of the YSA, were arrested. At the third rally called in defense of the YSA's democratic right to speak and the rights of the students to hear them, an hour-long discussion on the political issues of the day took place. In spite of the presence of many police, the YSA successfully defended its right to speak. Later the case against the two who had been arrested was dismissed.
The Young Socialist was also the major weapon in the continuing battle against the YPSL. Following the entry of the Shachtmanites into the Socialist Party, the YPSL had more members than the YSA. This fight was not seen in narrow organizational terms, however. The YPSL was seen as an organization in tremendous crisis. The fight against YPSL was a fight to educate the ranks of the YS supporters as well as to win whatever forces possible away from the Social Democrats.
The battle began in earnest in mid-1958, on the eve of the formal dissolution of the YSL into the YPSL. An article appeared in the July 1958 YS sharply condemning YPSL's support to the Democratic Party. The August issue reported: "SP-SDF Backs McCarthyite Against YS." The SP-SDF had intervened to prevent a debate between William Rusher, a notorious, extreme right- winger who published the National Review magazine, and Tim Wohlforth. The SP claimed that Wohlforth was not a genuine socialist, and lined up with Rusher against him.
The YSL and YPSL were unified in August 1958. In a report to the Young Socialist editoral board. Tim Wohlforth stated:
The YSL-YPSL represents our only major competitor on the college campus for the new youth. The Stalinists have as yet made no bid for these youth, conducting whatever youth activity they have on an underground basis. The Stalinists still are a threat to us in relation to the ex-LYLers, but they do not as yet represent a significant counter-pull to the new young people who are now becoming radical.
We must follow the developments in this field very closely as we will be meeting these people again and again in the next period. In a way the political strength of the Young Socialist tendency will be tested in its ability to win more youth to it than the Social Democratic youth can.
In Berkeley, California, on October 1, 1958, more than 70 students heard a debate between Tim Wohlforth and Bogdan Denitch of the YPSL, in which the political nature of the SP-SDF was thoroughly exposed. The entire campaign against YPSL had a big effect. Compared with its previous convention and its great plans upon merging with the YSL, the September 1959 convention of the YPSL represented its real death agony.
At this convention a vote was taken that liquidated completely the organization's publication, Challenge. Michael Harrington, now the leading McGovern supporter in the SP, was graduated at this time from the YPSL into the adult party. A severe factional and financial crisis was revealed at this convention.
The Young Socialist continued to wage the battle against YPSL in 1959 and into 1960. In the latter part of 1959 and the beginning of 1960 a series of articles appeared in the paper that continued to hammer at the Social Democrats. These articles probed the social roots of reformism as a "reflection of the intermediate or petty bourgeois strata in society", and showed that reformism finds its social base in the labor aristocracy and the union bureaucracy. This series of articles also exposed the myth of the all-inclusive party, fostered by the Shachtmanites to get closer to the right wing. The YSA fought instead for the conception of a Leninist party, with its roots in the working class and fighting at all points for Marxist theory.
In the February 1960 issue of the YS, the upcoming April conference to found the YSA was counterposed to the stagnation and right-wing role of the YPSL. The whole fight against the YPSL was not just a literary one. At every point the actual construction of the youth movement was related to the theoretical and political fight. During this period, several members of the YPSL were won to the YSA. Barry Sheppard, who was later to play an important role in the YSA, was recruited from the YPSL during this time.
While the fight against the YPSL was proceeding, the YS was fighting to deepen its roots among the youth. This meant primarily the fight against all forms of Jim Crow. This began immediately with the first issue of the paper. Actual interventions began with the Youth March for Integration on October 11, 1958. This march was called because desegregation efforts in Little Rock and Virginia had been stymied. An article about the march appeared in the October 1958 issue of YS, and all supporters of the paper were urged to participate.
At the march one member of the YPSL accused a YS salesman of inviting police repression by selling the paper. He then proceeded to point out the salesman to the police. In spite of this and other harassment, more than 400 copies of the paper were sold on the march, in which 10,000 took part.
The Kiss CaseIn the very midst of these demonstrations, the so-called Kiss Case developed. Two Black school children in Monroe, North Carolina, were arrested and charged with the so-called crime of being kissed by a white girl while playing on the way home from school. The children were Hanover Thompson, aged 10, and David "Fuzzy" Simpson, aged 8. Their white playmate was 11 years old.
The YS sent Joan Garrett and Nora Roberts to North Carolina to cover the story. They met Robert Williams, the president of the Monroe branch of the NAACP. "The mothers", reported Williams, "had seen their sons once since the day the Monroe Police Force hauled the boys away to the County Jail. That was for 20 minutes, in the defendants' section of the segregated trial. City officials claimed, according to Dr Perry, (another NAACP leader), that there was no evidence to substantiate charges against the children, and that they would be freed as soon as the mothers found them a place to stay outside of Monroe. Four days after this statement was issued, Mrs Thompson and Mrs Simpson were notified of a trial to be held within one half-hour, to determine the fate of their sons."
At this trial, Hanover was convicted of "assaulting and molesting a white female". Eight year old Fuzzy was branded an "accomplice". Both boys were sentenced to an indeterminate number of years in the reformatory for Negro boys, with a promise of parole when they come of age (21), "if they have earned it".The Young Socialist supporters were quick to respond to this attack. Sending two reporters to cover this story was an expensive proposition.
Besides articles, the paper participated in forming the Youth Committee to Free Hanover Thompson and Fuzzy Simpson. This committee brought the case into every civil rights demonstration then occurring. The paper fought for a Marxist understanding of Jim Crow. Evelyn Sell wrote an article in the YS entitled: "Jim Crow Is Rooted in Profit System". She explained the use of racism and segregation: "The reign of terror that has existed in the South since the end of the war is designed to 'keep Negroes in their place' and to keep white workers in their place – and to keep unions out of any place. The problem of civil rights and economic rights are two sides of the same coin."
On February 13, 1959 the Kiss Case victims were freed. In the YS, Jim Lambrecht announced this victory and explained it as a "concession on the part of the North Carolina authorities, who have conceeded, however, only what was forced out of them".
As the release was being announced, demonstrations were still being planned and Robert F. Williams was presenting the facts of the case to a trade union audience in Cleveland. In his article Lambrecht posed the way to take the civil rights struggle forward. He explained:
"A new party of labor and Negro rights would serve as a permanent national center for organizing militant struggle against racial injustice and in defense of its victims; it would be a standing threat to racists everywhere. Through the new party such a pressure on the present Big Business racist-backed government would be generated that no government on earth could withstand it, for it would be the united pressure of the majority of the people in America."
The YS was the most consistent and uncompromising force behind the defense of the Kiss Case children. This struggle was very important in the history of the YSA because the YSA began to turn outward with it and participate in the struggles of the youth, fighting to give them a Marxist leadership.
The sit-in campaignWithout this fight the YSA would not have been prepared to intervene in the Woolworth sit-in demonstrations in the way it did a year later. These demonstrations began when Black students sat in at a Woolworth lunch counter in the South that was segregated and demanded to be served. The arrest of these students provoked a powerful response by the youth in the South and the North.
From the Young Socialist editorial board minutes, the basic analysis of these demonstrations and the perspective of the YS supporters was put forward:
The sit-in demonstrations to integrate lunch counters in Woolworth and Kress Southern branches are student actions. They represent the first break in the Southern Negro struggle in many months. Largely spontaneous, the demonstrations have occurred in 16 cities to date – in North and South Carolina, Virginia, Florida and Tennessee. In every instance the demonstrators are students, usually college students. As the demonstrations spread, they began to encounter violent counter-mobilizations; this happened in Rock Hill, SC, over the weekend in High Point, NC, and today in Portsmouth, Va. Forty-one demonstrators were arrested in Raleigh, NC, for trespassing.
A supporting student movement in the North is the key to victory in this struggle against the national chain stores. Demonstrations should be launched at Woolworth and Kress outlets all over the country. The immediate and surprising response to the campaign we initiated at CCNY indicates the potential of this idea; to our knowledge the activity at CCNY represents the first step taken anywhere in this direction. We will try to spark action at other NY campuses through CCNY, and aim toward a city-wide student committee in support of the Negro students in the South.
At the College of the City of New York (CCNY), a few YSAers went to campus clubs and got their endorsement for a picket line in front of Woolworths. The petition was presented to the student council, calling on it to sponsor this demonstration. The student council endorsed this action, and March 5, 1960, was set as the date of the demonstration. In addition the Queens College Student Council and the NAACP campus chapters at Brooklyn College, Queens College and Columbia University endorsed it.
Besides getting the support of college students, the YSA reached out to high school youth. The Chelsea NAACP Youth Council endorsed it. An informal committee of students at New Rochelle High School actively aided in mobilizing support. Groups of Students at Monroe, Morris, Elizabeth Irwin, Evander Childs and Music and Art High Schools all pledged support for the demonstration.
This call for action met with tremendous success. More than 400 students attended the picket line in front.of Woolworths at 34 Street in Manhattan. "The police harassed them throughout and tried to break up the demonstration as being 'too large'."
But the mere presence of the 400 youth prevented their doing so. At one point there were so many people that the line barely moved. The spirit of the picketers was extremely militant from the very beginning. They chanted and harangued all who entered, calling them scabs, were very hostile to the cops, and had an unbelievable amount: of energy. Twenty YSAers participated and [Fred Mazelis] was a picket captain and in charge of relations with the press.
At 1:15, the pickets marched at least 300-strong from 34 Street and Sixth Avenue down Fifth Avenue to Washington Square ... with their signs, chanting as they went. In the Square the NSA speakers gave meaningless talks (the NSA had in reality only mobilized about 10 people aside from our demonstriation!). Following the talks our comrades shouted: 'To the Broadway Woolworths', and away they went to picket another nearby Woolworths for an hour or so. Then a few of the hardiest went back to the 34 Street Woolworths to find that 150 students had arrived after they had left and organized themselves into a picket line on their own. These youth then joined the picket line and picketed for another hour. By this time the police, who had been following us all over town, were worn out and gave us no trouble.
In order to preserve the militant thrust to these demonstrations, a continuous battle had to be waged against those elements and forces who, while posing as supporters of these actions, attempted to destroy them. This was so even with this first demonstration.
The liberal National Students' Association intervened to attempt to cut off the movement of the youth. First it supported the demonstration in such a way as to give the impression that it was the initiator of the action. Then it called for a rally to be held in Washington Square in competition with the picket line. An Ad Hoc Committee was formed of all those active in building the picket line and the NSA was finally convinced to support the picket in return for the picketers attending the NSA rally. This Ad Hoc Committee grew into the New York Youth Committee for Integration. Behind these maneuvers of the NSA stood YPSL.
The Trotskyist youth also had to fight against the pacifist elements and the Stalinists. All these forces attempted to destroy the leadership of the YSA and mass solidarity action in support of the Southern Black students.
Actions were held in cities around the country and in almost all areas, the leadership fell to the YS supporters.
After the first picket line demonstration, a second one was called for the next Saturday. Differences began to manifest themselves with increasing frequency between the forces on the New York Youth Committee for Integration. At a meeting of this committee, the Stalinists criticized a leaflet that was produced by the YSA for the committee for not containing a non-violent pacifist line. They succeeded in passing a vote refusing to distribute the leaflet because of this. Members of the YSA distributed the leaflet at the high schools on their own.
A. Philip Randolph, the president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, called, through his Committee to Defend Martin Luther King, Jr, for a mass rally on May 17 in the garment district of NYC. Randolph was an old union official very close in outlook to the Social Democrats of the SP-SDF, although he was never formally a member. The YSA took up his call and called for national demonstrations in front of Woolworths on that day.
All this activity of the YS supporters was reflected in the Young Socialist and through its sales. The April issue was expanded by eight pages and 9000 copies were printed. In the first eight days in New York, 550 copies were sold.
Over the next two weeks a sharp battle broke out over the very life of the independent committee and the mass picketing. A reformist bloc of Randolph-NSA-CORE-YPSL lined up against the Trotskyists, seeking to destroy the independent committee and disperse the mass picketing. The Stalinists groveled before these so-called respectable elements and aided them in their task. Their groveling began on March 18 when the Stalinists heard that Randolph and the YPSL were setting up a youth committee and calling a mass youth rally for Harlem on Saturday, March 26. The Stalinists went into the rally of picketers on Saturday, March 19, and proposed that picketing be called off the following week and that the group support Randolph's rally. One Stalinist supporter went so far as to say that "communists" did not belong in the leadership of this struggle.
At this rally, speaker after speaker urged that the picket line take place and support also be given to Randolph's rally. The final vote on the question was 98 to three against calling off the picket line. The Stalinist maneuver had failed miserably.
The YSA met this attempt to liquidate the committee by immediately building the next picket line and mobilizing its forces for the next meeting of the committee. At this meeting the Stalinists voted in a bloc with the NSA and urged the dissolution of the committee and support for the Randolph student meeting which would be open to all "democratic students".
This Randolph Committee was a handpicked group of NSA liberals and YPSLs. Three YSAers had been thrown out of an organizational meeting of this group on the preceding Saturday and it was clear that "open to all democratic students" meant exclusion of the YSA.
The meeting had been packed and voted to dissolve itself by a vote of 17 to eight. The YSA interpreted this to mean that those 17 people voting to dissolve the committee had in effect resigned.
The Stalinists, by their actions, had placed themselves in a very difficult position. They had handed control of the committee over to the Trotskyists through their attempt to destroy it. At the same time, they were excluded from participating in the Randolph Committee. As expected, the Randolph Committee did nothing after their rally. If the YSA had given in to the demand to stop picketing, it would have meant destruction of the movement.
At the Harlem rally, Randolph launched a heated red-baiting attack on the YS from the speaker's platform. He attacked the Youth Committee for Integration. While holding up a copy of the April issue of the YS with its banner "Boycott Woolworth's" headline, he attacked it as communist. Buell Gallagher, president of CCNY, followed suit. In response to these attacks, the sales of the YS increased.
The next meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee showed that the YS and its supporters could withstand these attacks. Twenty five people attended. They represented 11 colleges and high schools. Only four of them were YSAers. Fred Mazelis was elected chairman and Nora Roberts treasurer. The committee voted to hold a rally on April 8, and laid plans for the next picket line. More than 150 high school and college youth joined the picket line. Additional forces from CORE and the SP-SDF swelled the line to 300 during the day. At the height of the picketing, the Youth Committee sent in forces to occupy lunch counter seats and conducted the first Northern sit-in of the whole campaign. The audacity of this tactic put the New York Youth Committee on the front page of the New York Times and the Herald Tribune, with a full-page picture spread in the New York Daily News.
On May 17 demonstrations were held across the country. Three hundred marched in Chicago and more than 100 in Seattle. In Madison, more than 600 students marched down State Street to the steps of the Capitol demanding an end to segregation. In New York, 10,000 boycott pledges were handed in to Woolworths national headquarters.
This campaign became an international one when the Toronto YSA demonstrated in front of the Toronto Woolworths. Many messages of international support were also sent. In the editorial board minutes of the Young Socialist, Tim Wohlforth outlined the strategy of the Woolworths campaign:
Our task is the organization of a mass movement among the students of the North in support of the Southern students' integration struggle. We seek therefore to form broad ad hoc committees representing the active militant students on the campus and in the high schools as well as community organizations such as NAACP, CORE, NSA, for these committees and their participation in these committees if they wish. We do not, however, hand over the leadership to these elements as we know they will do all in their power to stifle the movement and that their leadership is not necessary to rally students to the actions.
As can be gathered from the reports of our activity in Philadelphia, New York, Boston and a few other areas, our comrades are deeply entrenched in this movement. It is also becoming clearer just how decisive our leadership is to the preservation and expansion of a Northern solidarity movement with the Southern sit-in struggle. However, I feel that it is possible that all our comrades have yet to grasp fully and completely what we are doing in this campaign. Some areas continue to lag in their intervention or have allowed a single act of intervention to substitute itself for the type of activity we have been conducting in New York, Philadelphia and Boston.
There is a certain tendency to look upon our role as merely that of a petitioning body urging some other "respectable" forces into action.
This tendency is quite understandable as it flows from our previous mode of political functioning during these last few years of isolation and the witch-hunt. What these comrades fail to grasp is that for once we have a chance to act independently of these "respectable" forces.
Within a few months the Woolworths demonstrations subsided. While not immediately forcing the desegregation of lunch counters, this campaign played a major role in winning that victory.
The fight against lunch counter segregation was only the beginning of a decade of struggle. In the mid-1960s Black workers and youth erupted in spontaneous rebellion against the conditions imposed upon them by capitalism. The limited gains won in 1960 set the stage for the next rounds in the struggle. Every step of the way it was shown that racism, discrimination and all other fundamental attacks could only be eliminated for good with the overthrow of capitalism.
The 1960 sit-ins were the beginnings, the first stirrings of great class movements to come. It was not simply Black Southern students on the move. Underneath that was the movement of millions of workers, white and Black. The period of relative political stability was giving way to a period of explosive class struggle.
Of course, mistakes were made in the course of this struggle, but on the whole the YSA took up a correct fight. It fought for leadership, it participated in all the main struggles and fought to reach the broadest layers of youth on the questions facing them. At the same time it did this through an uncompromising struggle against Stalinism and reformism, which sought to strangle the movement at its birth. This was a period of important training and experience for the young cadres of the YSA.
Founding convention of the YSAIn the midst of the Woolworths campaign, on April 15-18, 1960, at the second national convention of the Young Socialist Supporter Clubs, it was moved and carried to constitute that body as the founding convention of the Young Socialist Alliance. This convention had a four-point agenda:
1. Founding of the YSA on a nationwide basis. (Declaration and constitution).
2. The international political turn and its impact on the struggle against American militarism by youth. (War Resolution).
3. Memorandum on the 1960 elections.
4. Tasks and perspectives resolution
One of the most important differences discussed at the convention was over the relationship of the YSA to the SWP. Previous to this, the Young Socialist Supporters had no formal ties to the SWP. The draft document presented to thecConvention stated:
The Young Socialist Alliance is in basic political agreement with the Socialist Workers Party. It recognizes that only the SWP of all existing political parties is capable of giving the working class political leadership on class struggle principles. It therefore offers its political support to the SWP.
This met with opposition from many quarters. One of those who opposed this section was Peter Buch. He chose instead to formulate the relationship as: "The YSA therefore looks to continued close fraternal relations with the SWP in the development of a political program for the YSA.
In response to the discussion over this section of the draft statement, Tim Wohlforth and Jim Robertson wrote in the Discussion Bulletin:
To a large extent the actual nature of the youth movement we are building is related to the way in which this movement relates itself publicly to the SWP.
It is not so much the political identity of the youth movement that is involved. By and large most of the critics of this section do not criticize it because of their own opposition to the SWP – in fact in most cases the critics are members of the SWP. What is really at issue is the type of youth movement we are creating.
To omit Section 11 is to leave the document with an immense and obvious hole in it. We carefully explain that a revolutionary party is needed, that the youth movement can be no substitute for a revolutionary party, that the CP and SP-SDF are not such parties, that no new one has arisen and – ? To not stick in the punch line is to either suggest that we must set ourselves the task of creating a new revolutionary party as none exists or it is simply an evasion and one which has as a lesser objection the fact that it would fool no serious political element
We have nothing to be ashamed of! The SWP is the only party in this country to really fight for socialism. We declare in Section 1 that we are committed to the traditions of Marxism. The whole history of the Trotskyists in this country should be a matter of study and pride: the defense of truth and revolutionary integrity through the years of Stalinist abuse and worse, a militant role in labor strike struggles, intransigence in the face of imperialist war and witch-hunt.
The convention passed the section calling for political support to the SWP.
The convention reaffirmed the eight points put forward at the national conference of the Young Socialist Supporters in 1958, as well as giving a brief history of the struggles that led to the creation of the YS, starting with the formation of the Left Wing Caucus in the Young Socialist League.
The YSA was also founded as an internationalist organization. This did not simply mean having fraternal relations and exchanging greetings with other sections of the world movement. It meant that the organization based itself on the understanding that the class struggle was an international one, and the fight for socialism in any one country could only succeed by basing ourselves on all the history and struggles of the international working class and its revolutionary vanguard. The convention defeated an amendment to the founding declaration that would have stated that the YSA bases itself "on the American tradition of struggle against its ruling class".
The internationalist perspective was at the heart of the basic document on war which was written by Shane Mage and adopted by the Convention. This resolution analyzed the class relations behind the role of US imperialism around the world. It explained the fundamental differences between the Soviet Union and the US and posed the threat of a new world war coming out of the contradiction between the gains made by the workers' states and the drive of imperialism to expand and preserve its system. The resolution stated that war could only be stopped by extending the socialist revolution all over the world, and that meant the fight for socialism in the US, the heart of world capitalism.
One of the most important decisions of the convention was the adoption of the "Memorandum on the 1960 Elections", which called for support to the SWP candidates as part of the fight for an independent labor party and revolutionary leadership for the working class and the youth. It stated:
American experience, past and present, has confirmed that, as in all other countries, political parties are organizations of economic classes and in fact are totally incomprehensible unless viewed primarily from this standpoint. Our principled opposition to the Republican and Democratic parties is based on their character as class parties of capitalism. This is demonstrated by the historic origins of these parties, the unfailing consistency of their policies in defense of the interests of the capitalist class, and the composition of their leading circles.
The pattern of history has shown that at one stage or another the working class feels compelled to organize itself into its own party. That this has not yet been the case in America only indicates that this step is still on the agenda of unfinished tasks. Disillusionment in the capitalist parties is already evident in significant sectors of the working class who see the politicians as the opponent on the picket line and in the government bodies. This growing disaffection plus the now accepted theory that labor must be in politics indicates that the historical trend in America likewise is toward an independent party of labor.
The first national conference of the supporters of the Young Socialist translated these general conceptions into the proposition that the duty of socialists is to help the labor movement make its inevitable break with the Democratic Party by propagandizing for a Labor Party. Therefore the conference rejected the policy of the Communist Party and the Socialist Party-Social Democratic Federation of supporting the Democratic Party. .
Recent events (the steel strike, Landrum-Griffin, Kennedy bill) have disclosed that a significant break in class relations has taken place in this country.
While this new situation in American politics has not yet produced a mass break with the Democratic Party, it has already prepared a more receptive audience for socialist education, especially among the youth.
The 1960 elections provide a magnificent opportunity for socialists to reach, educate and prepare militant youth to play an indispensable role in the coming decade of class struggle.
We commend the Socialist Workers Party for all of its efforts to encourage the broadest socialist intervention in the coming elections. Theirs will be the only ticket to call for a Labor Party.
Therefore we offer our support to the candidates of the SWP and pledge ourselves to work actively for the largest possible vote for socialism this November.
The founding of the Young Socialist Alliance was an historic step in the development of the Trotskyist movement. This step was greatly feared and hated by the counter-revolutionary forces in the workers movement, most importantly the Stalinists.
The development and formation of the YSA materially weakened the Stalinists. They admitted this in the pages of Political Affairs, when they wrote:
Among the conditions for the establishment of a Marxist youth organization is the existence of a substantial body of non-party socialist-oriented youth, participating in various degrees in the activities of existing youth in its formation. Since this condition is not yet fulfilled in a sufficient number of areas in our country, the formation of such a national organization would be premature.
This statement appeared in March 1960 just before the founding of the YSA. In August of the same year, the Stalinists reviewed the situation again, with a sharp attack on the growing forces of the YSA:
A smaller number have joined the Young Socialist Alliance or support its newspaper, the Young Socialist. The line of this organization is Trotskyite, publicly supporting the political position and candidates of the Socialist Workers Party. They continue their main function in life of trying to win or split the genuine Marxist Left. Due to their opposition to peaceful coexistence and their denial that the socialist lands are socialist and splitting tactics in the mass movement they do not hold many youth for long. But they do disorient some and drive them from all progressive activity.
The Stalinists feared the YSA because they feared the movement of youth on which it was based. Their plans for peaceful coexistence with the imperialists were being disrupted more and more. Within a few months of the YSA founding convention, the Stalinists launched a new youth formation called Advance. The bureaucracy in Moscow had been shaken but not destroyed by the events since Stalin's death. Now, as the class struggle deepened, the US supporters of the Moscow bureaucracy sought to intervene in order to derail this movement.
The YSA was formed through theoretical struggle against Shachtmanite centrism, the YPSL reformists, the Stalinist sympathizers on the YS editorial board. After the founding convention, it entered a critical period, a period of very rapid political developments in which there could be a very rapid development of the youth movement, both quantitatively and qualitatively
Young Socialist, and the Detroit conference decisions. The Left Wing Caucus's struggle was a continuation of the earlier struggle against Shachtman and Abern in 1940. The Young Socialist from the beginning took a clear revolutionary position on the main questions facing facing the youth. The Detroit conference turned the movement towards broad layers of youth on the basis of the Trotskyist program.
However, because the theoretical and philosophical roots of all the problems facing the movement were not probed, there was actually a turn away from Marxism during the regroupment period. The internal crisis grew without being consciously guided and fought out, and it exploded with new force soon afterwards.
Only a month or two after the founding convention of the Young Socialist Alliance in April 1960, sharp differences of a very confused character were expressed on the national executive committee.
Cliques and factionsThe internal life of the Trotskyist youth cartnot be understood separate from the internal life of the SWP. The faction fight in the YSA in 1960 was extremely confused, continuing for months during which almost nothing was clarified. Neither side began from the fundamental questions, from international perspectives and the problems of the world movement.
Especially after 1953, the internal life of the SWP was dominated by organizational maneuvers and clique formations. In 1953, Cannon had led the decisive break from Pablo with his open letter to the world Trotskyist movement in defense of Marxist principles. But the party turned away from theoretical questions almost immediately afterwards. The decay of theory led inevitably to a situation where secondary questions dominated. Where the probing of philosophical and political differences was avoided, class pressures were reflected in extremely distorted ways.
Within the SWP, there was a long history of informal, personal groupings. This was the situation during the period of the birth of the YSA. The youth movement began to manifest the same disease from the start.
Cannon, Dobbs and Kerry all had personal followings inside the SWP. Murry Weiss was the leader of one of the most ingrown groupings. This group was made up of intellectuals and semi-intellectuals, largely divorced from work in the trade unions and the working class. Weiss had played an important role in the fight against the Cochranites, who were Pablo's supporters inside the SWP in 1953. He and his supporters were also to play a key role in the development of youth work.
This group was privately denounced as a clique, but the leadership refused to take up any political struggle, and their hostility to the Weiss group took on a clique character of its own and reflected an anti-theoretical and anti-intellectual outlook.
The political divisions and contradictions within the SWP leadership, which had been hidden behind personal groupings, exploded in the mid1950s. Cannon then intervened to resolve a tense situation. He maneuvered and made a deal as he had in the past. With no political discussion, Weiss was asked to dissolve his group, while he was kept in his position of leadership. Cannon thought he had settled a bothersome source of friction. He had only pushed aside a sore that would continue to fester and grow.
There were two other groups that played an opposition role in this period, and showed the consequences of the anti-theoretical outlook in the movement. The Cowley group was based largely in the Brooklyn branch among some trade union members. The Marcy group had existed for about 10 years as a small circle, composed largely of the entire Buffalo branch of the SWP. Sam Marcy had some supporters among the youth.
The Cowley and Marcy groups blocked together against the regroupment policy. They could only see party policy in bits and pieces, however. Because this opposition did not base itself on the questions of philosophy and perspectives, it could make no contribution to resolving the crisis and went over to revisionism itself.
Joyce Cowley counterposed an orthodox outlook to what she saw as the party losing its bearings. She counterposed a proletarian orientation to the maneuvers of the leadership with the middle class circles around the Stalinists. She made some very telling criticisms of the ISP election campaign, the coalition of the SWP with the supporters of the National Guardian and others from the Stalinist milieu in 1958.
But Cowley's opinion on what was wrong with regroupment reflected complete disorientation. She was opposed not so much to the policy as to any turn to the Stalinists at all. She also displayed complete lack of interest in, if not hostility to, the construction of a youth movement. Concerning the crisis in the Stalinist movement, she wrote:
"In the absence of a broad leftward movement today, the tendency of groups and individuals breaking with Stalinism, and of the radical movement generally, is to the right ... The 20th Congress was not a defeat for social democracy."
Cowley's proposals were based upon doing what she thought had been done in the past, and continuing along the same lines in a situation that she characterized as one of capitalist stability under which there would be no change. Behind her criticisms, therefore, stood a completely formal method, a method that prevented her from understanding anything. With this deeply conservative and pessimistic outlook, Cowley quickly became demoralized and left political activity.
The Marcy group made a more rapid and decisive attack on Marxism. They had existed as a small circle in the SWP for about 10 years. For the Marcyites, hostility to regroupment was based on going over to the Kremlin's position. They supported the invasion of Hungary on the grounds that the 1956 revolution was a counter-revolution.
The position of Marcy's supporters, in favor of an exclusively proletarian orientation in the youth movement, was connected to their pro-Stalinist outlook. Their labeling of all opposition to the Stalinist bureaucracy as counter-revolution reflected the same method that had led Pablo and his supporters to predict centuries of deformed workers' states and the self-reform of the bureaucracy. A completely rigid and schematic assessment of the postwar situation and the Cold War led Marcy and his supporters to see only the power of imperialism and Stalinism, not the crisis of capitalism and the bureaucracy, and not the movement of the working-class at the heart of this crisis.
The youth leadership correctly fought this group at the Detroit conference in 1958. At that time, they opposed the perspectives adopted by the conference. They expressed their pro-Stalinist position in the form of a left-sounding call for a proletarian youth organization. Less than two months after the Detroit conference, this group walked out of the SWP. These supposed left critics of regroupment, who are now called the Workers World Party, have apologized for nearly every twist and turn of both the Moscow and Peking bureaucracies.
It was within this difficult internal framework that the forces that had come from the YSL sought to develop as part of the leadership of the YSA and as part of the SWP itself. The YSL left-wingers could not become a part of any of the existing cliques, semi-factions and factions within the SWP because political differences of a principled character prevented this.
In the first period of its development, the entire left wing was very close to Murry Weiss. This position was strengthened by the fact that the leading SWP youth, with which the YSL left-wingers collaborated in the early stages of building the Young Socialist newspaper, were part of the Weiss clique. But the sharp differences that arose over regroupment disrupted relations with Weiss far more than the decision of the SWP leadership to have Tom Kerry, rather than Weiss, act as the liaison with the youth. It was the supporters of Weiss among the youth who took the most liquidationist positions, thus threatening the very existence of the youth movement.
Those in the YSA leadership who resisted the excesses of regroupment, which included the bulk of the former YSLers, found themselves drawn to the Cowley group and the Marcy group because of the position of these groups on regroupment, but there was no principled basis for any kind of collaboration and in the end it was the youth leadership who fought it out, against Marcy in particular.
The closest political collaboration actually existed between the YSA leadership as a whole through Tim Wohlforth with the central party leadership through Tom Kerry. However, the YSA leadership as a whole, and particularly those who had come from the YSL, were not really part of a group around Kerry or Dobbs.
Did the YSL left wing then survive as an entity itself, "unassimilated", as Peter Camejo would later claim? The answer to that is absolutely not. Actually, the sharpest divisions existed as the issues in dispute within the whole of the youth leadership divided the left-wingers as well. In the early period, those youth associated with the Cochranites, who had come along with the left wing out of the YSL, were among the most fervent supporters of the liquidationism among the youth. They were not alone. Shane Mage continued his treacherous role of compromise with liquidationism. Mage, in fact, spend most of 1950 hitch-hiking through Algeria and Morocco as a radical tourist. He did not concern himself with the problems of the development of the YSA.
On international issues in particular, there was great confusion among those in the YSA leadership who had come out of the YSL. Mage had close relations with the French section of the International Committee. He wrote in the Militant defending their position of support to the Algerian nationalist group, the MNA. He even conducted a debate over the question with the Pabloites, which was published in an SWP internal bulletin. The position of the French section on the MNA was, in any event, as erroneous as that of the Pabloites, who supported the FLN faction.
Wohlforth, with Robertson's support, for a period expressed interest in the political positions of the Pabloites as put forward by their English-speaking representative, Sherry Magnan. James P. Cannon learned of this while Wohlforth was on national tour. He had Wohlforth over to the house and had him sit down and read through the internal documents of the struggle with the Pabloites, particularly Cannon's speech to the majority faction on relations with Pablo. Wohlforth became convinced that whatever confusion he still had on Pabloism, it was clearly a liquidationist tendency aimed at destroying the existing cadres of Trotskyism and thus they were like the Shachtmanites who he had fought earlier.
In early 1960, Wohlforth was part of the SWP delegation to a special meeting of the International Committee held together with the Canadian section and Gerry Healy, representing the Socialist Labour League (Britain). Following that meeting, a much closer international collaboration was carried out between the YSA and the Young Socialist movement built around the paper Keep Left. It was under these circumstances that the Socialist Labour League and Keep Left sent greetings to the founding conference of the YSA. Gerry Healy wrote:
"On behalf of the Executive Committee of the Socialist Labour League we would like to send you our best greetings as well as congratulations for the great work you are doing under extremely difficult circumstances."
It can therefore be said that the YSL left-wingers emerged as the main leadership of the YSA under conditions in which the very party they became part of was itself in the middle of a contradictory struggle. While this struggle did not take a clear political form until 1961, it was nonetheless there. The break from centrism by the left wing could not be completed under the conditions of joining a movement that itself was plagued with the same disease.
Like the SWP as a whole, the left wing was confused and torn apart by centrist pressures that were not confronted openly and fully. At the same time, the left-wingers shared a common experience of struggle against centrism and were an expression of the first movement of the American working class through the beginnings of a movement among youth. This background in no sense prevented the left-wingers from fighting through issues that cut across the old faction lines, as in the case of Mage. At the same time, the relations were yet to become wholly political and principled and could not become so until the battle was joined on an entirely different level, within the party itself and over international questions.
Factionalism in the YSAThis was the background to the emergence of majority and minority factions in the YSA right after the founding convention in April 1960. Although there were some changes in membership on the YSA national executive committee, for most of the time the lineup was five to three or five to four. The majority was composed of. 'Tim Wohlforth, Martha Wells, Jim Robertson, Shane Mage and Fred Mazelis. Only Mazelis was not originally from the Left Wing Caucus. The minority was made up of Nora Roberts, Jim Lambrecht, Art Felberbaum and, for some of the time, Sherry Finer, the daughter of SWP national secretary Farrell Dobbs. The others were supporters of Weiss.
The completely unclear factionalism, which consumed entire meetings of the NEC and seriously interfered with the work of the organization, was a sign of the real breakup of the youth leadership. The forces originally from the SWP, as well as those who had come out of the YSL, could go no further without confronting thp international questions.
On June 6, 1960, Wohlforth introduced the "Memorandum on ihe Antiwar Movement", which became the object of much debate and very little clarity. Wohlforth began this statement with the moods of the students.
We have received requests for a clarification of our line in relation to the antiwar groups, marches, demonstrations, etc, from a number of areas including New York City, Boston and Los Angeles ... All the comrades have been aware of the startling change of mood on the American campus that has come to a head this spring.
He then proceeded to a brief discussion of the state of the antiwar movement, its leadership and activities, and to the YSA's tactics:
Our first task is the most important: despite programmatic differences of the most serious nature, we must enter every organization and participate in every activity which objectively opposes the prowar policies of the capitalist class ... Our goal should be the creation of an independent student action movement of militant opposition to the US military establishment and the war policies of our government.
This proposal to build a middle class protest movement on a minimum program was based on an attempt by Wohforth to draw the lessons of the history of the student movement in the US. In the spring of 1960, he had written the pamphlet Revolt on the Campus.
In this pamphlet, Wohlforth wrote about the student movements of the 1930s and of their evolution and the Stalinist policies that dominated them. He also wrote about the history of the Trotskyist youth movement and made an assessment of its propagandistic character. He explained that this was the unavoidable product of the inexperience, immaturity and relative isolation of the revolutionary forces. Concerning the role of students, he wrote:
Capitalist society creates in the student a rather peculiar phenomenon, which while basically a part of the middle class is more subject to non-middle-class influences than is the class as a whole. One can say that, outside of the special case of the barracks, the campus is the only place in capitalist society that young people are organized separately from adults and where they are forced into a common situation with common problems. It is therefore only in his role as a student (excepting again the soldier), that a young person can exert an influence and play a political role in capitalist society.
Wohlforth went on to justify a permanent and primary campus orientation for the youth movement, an orientation first and foremost to the college student, not the high school and working class youth.
The campus is to the youth what the factory is to the working class. It is where capitalist society concentrates a social grouping, organizes it, and therefore creates out of it a powerful counterforce to the ruling class. It follows that a youth organization must in all periods orient toward the campus and the student just as the adult radical party orients toward the factory and the factory worker.
If this conception sounds familiar, it is because it has actually been taken to its logical conclusion by the revisionists today. Ernest Mandel, their leading international theoretician, has developed the theory that students and other middle class layers are part of a new working class. In the US, the SWP and YSA orient entirely to the students and to middle-class protest, developing slogans such as the "red university", separating the students from the working class and the struggle to lead the working class on the basis of Marxist theory and program.
Back in 1957, in the preparation for the launching of the Young Socialist, as well as in preparing the publication of the History of the International Socialist Youth Movement, Wohlforth had taken the position of fighting for a revolutionary youth movement that looked to the working class and sought to deepen its roots in that class. He had posed the need for a campus orientation not as an end in itself but as part of the forging of a revolutionary leadership among youth who would build a working class youth movement.
Now Wohlforth was proceeding mechanically, reacting just to the surface of the movement among students, not seeing it as a reflection of the first stirrings of the working class, but simply as a development parallel to the working class.
Weiss groupThe reaction of the youth supporters of Weiss to Wohlforth's "Memorandum" was to launch a full-scale factional war. James Lambrecht wrote a critique denouncing its alleged capitulation to pacifism. This same Lambrecht had led a move on the YSA NEC only a month earlier, in opposition to Wohlforth, in favor of the YSA providing ushers for a civil rights rally in New York being run by A. Philip Randolph, who had just finished a red-baiting campaign aimed at excluding the YSA from the campaign to boycott Woolworths in support of the Southern students fighting lunch counter segregation.
The Weiss supporters had also been the most consistent advocates of a liquidationist line during the regroupment period. A few months later they were to drop this whole question of the student movement and pick up the subject of Cuba, which they characterized as a healthy workers' state, with Castro as a modern Lenin. Art Felberbaum wrote in an attachment to the April 18, 1961 minutes of the YSA NEC:
The program of the Cuban Revolution and its leadership moves closer to Trotskyism day by day; the day it showed that it understood the permanent revolution was a new stage in that development. This is our point of departure. Our tactic – the tactic of the French Turn, of the fusion with the Musteite-led centrists, of the fusion with the Left Wing Caucus of the YSL – is regroupment. In this instance, the programmatic basis and tasks are different. This tendency is at the head of a workers' state. But the tactic is essentially thesame.
The zig-zags of the Weiss group reflected complete impressionism. Their orthodox position on the antiwar movement was their last left cover for complete capitulation to revisionism, as they called for liquidation into Castro's movement. This group proceeded with the method that Pablo had used before them. They fastened onto an aspect of the world situation, as with the colonial revolution or the crisis of Stalinism. They saw this aspect in a completely one-sided way, divorced from an international understanding or strategy.
Revolutionary developments were then turned into the justification for turning away from revolution, turning away from the construction of a revolutionary party. The subjective factor was seen as automatically reflecting the irresistible surge of historical forces. Behind the revolutionary phrase-mongering all contradiction and movement was removed, and the result was that no need was seen for revolutionary leadership in the youth movement, in Cuba or elsewhere.
With this method, Weiss and his supporters became the biggest boosters of unity with the Pabloites, from whom the SWP had split in 1953. In 1960-1961 the entire SWP leadership, and not just Weiss, began to move closer and closer to the revisionists. What was then posed more sharply than ever was an examination of the roots of revisionism in the Trotskyist movement as part of the struggle to develop perspectives and a youth movement at that time.
At the same time, the Weiss group sought to line up the party leadership against the youth leadership of Wohlforth, Mage and Robertson. The Weiss supporters sought to oust the youth leaders as part of their campaign for unity with the revisionists.
The other element in the situation was the SWP leadership itself, which had very few supporters in the YSA leadership. Just as Cannon had maneuvered for a deal in relation to the Weiss group some years earlier, the party leadership now proposed to maneuver around the political dispute that had flared up in the YSA.
In September 1960, the SWP political committee was invited to send a representative to the YSA NEC. Tom Kerry functioned as this representative for nearly a year. He sought to moderate the factionalism which, under the circumstances of the political unclarity involved, was completely correct.
On October 10, the Weiss supporters dissolved their minority faction on the NEC. The disputed drafts of a "Tasks and Perspectives Resolution" were withdrawn, and a joint drafting committee was formed to work on a new one. At the November 1960 Plenum of the YSA, both majority and minority agreed to a joint statement to guide the work of the organization in defense of the Cuban Revolution. At this plenum, the YSA majority group also issued a separate statement explaining its reasons for agreeing to the joint statement and, in the course of this, labeling the minority as cliquists and factionalists. Kerry intervened strongly against this, for the majority in effect brought the factional issues back in at the very moment it was agreeing with the Weissite youth to remove them. This reflected a confusion and impatience on the part of the majority, which was still seeking to short-circuit the necessary, and very soon to come, process of political clarification.
The international discussionIn the very course of this most difficult and confusing factional situation within the YSA top leadership, the fundamental discussion within the international Trotskyist movement began. The struggle within the youth movement had been its first unclear tremors. It would soon be superseded by a fundamental discussion involving the very fate of the movement that Leon Trotsky had begun, and with it the future of the working class itself.
The international discussion broke out first on a secondary issue, that of the Cuban Revolution, which could not be understood outside of an understanding of the whole of capitalist development and of the development of revisionism. The majority comrades in the YSA leadership began also with this issue. Seeing in the SWP leadership's adaptationist position on Castro revisionism similar to that expressed by Shachtman in the earlier period, and like that which had been under the surface in the controversies over regroupment, the majority leaders of the YSA went into opposition. Wohlforth, Mage and Robertson submitted to the political committee a memorandum on the Cuban question. This occured during the same fall period when the struggle with the Weissite youth was being consummated.
The YSA leaders submitted this statement as members of the SWP and not as YSA members. They sought to have a discussion in the party and on a leadership level. They did not at that point form any kind of faction around this issue. At the same time, the YSA leaders did not yet see the full implications of the controversy that was breaking out. They viewed it more as a matter of defending orthodoxy against revisionism, as this was expressed around the question of Cuba.
On January 5, 1961, the Socialist Labour League wrote a letter to the national committee of the SWP that sharply posed all the questions that had been brewing in the international movement since 1953. This letter stated that Pabloism represented a tendency that had broken with Trotskyism and that had drifted even further away over the years. It opposed the whole course of the SWP back towards reunification with Pabloism. It proposed instead a renewed struggle to construct the Trotskyist movement in a new period of class struggle.
At the national committee plenum held in January, Tim Wohlforth represented the minority position on Cuba. Shortly thereafter, on March 8, Wohlforth submitted a "Memorandum on the World Movement", which took essentially the same stand as that of the SLL. On this basis, a minority was organized in the SWP that was part of an international tendency including the SLL and the French section of the IC. In the period from January to June, a very bitter factional struggle took place in the SWP that completely overshadowed developments in the youth movement. Clearly the fate of the whole movement was at stake. The minority grew to about 60 supporters – the bulk of whom were young members of the SWP. In addition, the minority remained the majority of the youth leadership.
On the very eve of the June SWP convention, a special all-day national committee plenum was held. It opened with a special report from Tom Kerry, who accused Wohlforth of factionalizing the youth and turning them against the party over the Cuban and related questions. Kerry neglected to point out that Wohlforth had only approached youth who were members of the SWP and had done so through proper party channels. The real worry of the SWP leadership was the widespread character of the opposition to its policies among its younger members.
It was at this time that Cannon made a proposal to the minority comrades that two comrades be removed from the NEC, the YSA's leading body. This would be done by setting 27 as the age limit for membership. The two to be removed would be Robertson from the party minority and youth majority, and Lambrecht who represented the other tendency. These two comrades would be replaced by neutral comrades not involved in past faction situations. At the same time, Carl Feingold would be added to the NEC as the representative from the SWP.
Since it was proposed that this arrangement would lessen the whole factional situation, it was accepted by the minority comrades, whose main concern was to get some sort of hearing at the convention for the critically important international questions. Clearly, control of the YSA's top leadership would now depend on the political character of the "neutrals" who were added.
In the period immediately after the convention, a new factional situation developed on the YSA NEC. While Barry Sheppard was accepted on the NEC as one of the neutrals, the NEC majority resisted the seating of Peter Camejo as the other neutral. Their position was that these two were far from neutral because both had been outspoken defenders of the party majority faction's line and hostile to the present leadership of the YSA. They held that it was the task of the upcoming YSA national conference to decide the political issues before the YSA and to choose its leadership. In the interim, the existing leadership would submit to party discipline in the youth movement if requested to.
It became immediately clear that the party leadership would be more than happy to push this issue all the way through to expulsion of the party minority. It became equally clear that the need now was for the minority to turn into the party to fight day and night to reach the working class layers of the party, to fight through the international issues. To continue a factional course in the youth, regardless of the merits of the issues involved, could only be harmful to the future of the youth and the party. Thus, it became necessary for the youth majority to vote in Peter Camejo and become a minority.
This still left open the question of how the political issues within the YSA would be resolved. First, the party leadership refused to explain whether the SWP members in the YSA were expected to follow the line of the party majority in any discussion on Cuba in the YSA. It appeared that the question was being left intentionally vague in order to set the minority up for suspension or expulsion. Then Morris Stein, one of the old party leaders, intervened to insist that the leadership should state clearly whether or not an open discussion on Cuba would be allowed, and he proposed that it should be. It was then decided to allow such a discussion.
Thus, at the 1961 YSA convention, a combination of the age limit and the discussion on Cuba resulted in a complete change of leadership. The former majority of Wohlforth, Robertson and Mage was reduced to one representative on the NEC. The party leadership sought to allow a political discussion only insofar as it suited its organizational maneuvers. By this time, however, the youth leaders who had formed a minority in the party were able to clarify some of the issues, explaining the relationship between the dispute on Cuba and the questions facing the international movement. On this basis, the minority received some 20 per cent of the vote at the convention.
It is also important to note that Tim Wohlforth got up at the convention and corrected the mistake that he had made the year earlier in regard to the student and the antiwar movement. This was another important step in clarifying the issues and laying the basis for a principled struggle in the party, a struggle that was to go on inside the SWP for another two and a half years.
Finally, the party leadership also maneuvered the key supporters of Weiss out of their leading positions in the youth movement. This was done with the aid of the nominating commission, a body that had been used for years at SWP conventions, supposedly to democratically elect a new leadership, but actually to maneuver between various cliques and groupings in the movement. This commission was now used to remove certain people, in particular Art Felberbaum. The Weiss supporters were then left with only one representative on the NEC.
The party leadership had now succeeded, through the kind of organizational maneuvers that it had many years of experience using, in changing the youth leadership with a minimum of discussion and with absolutely no statement or accounting with the Weiss group.
Although they successfully maneuvered their own supporters into the leadership of the youth movement, the SWP leaders solved nothing, and within a few years were confronted with a political monstrosity. Because the party leadership could not and would not train the youth on the basis of Marxist principles, it created a leadership that has now become the driving force behind every tendency in the SWP to completely liquidate even the remnants of any connection with Trotskyism. In the YSA today are the most right wing and anti-working-class elements, who know nothing about the struggles that formed men like Dobbs and Kerry. The pragmatic method in the SWP has led to complete disaster.
There were two individuals in particular whom the SWP leadership groomed for leadership in the youth movement, and who were to preside over the complete degeneration of the YSA.
The first was Barry Sheppard, who had been a supporter of the Shachtmanite right wing during the struggle of the Left Wing Caucus in the YSL. Only later, in 1959, was Sheppard recruited from the YPSL – into which the YSL right wing had liquidated itself – into the YSA. Sheppard had almost no record of independent political struggle. He is now a top leader of the SWP.
The second was Peter Camejo, who was recruited to the YSA in 1958, left in April of 1959, and rejoined in August. Camejo and Sheppard were both from Boston, and they became the leadership of the YSA after the 1961 convention. Camejo came from a pro-Stalinist background. He was the son of a prominent Latin American capitalist, and his mother was an American citizen who came from a Stalinist background. It was precisely the struggle of the Young Socialist against Stalinism and revisionism that Camejo had strongly resisted in the early development of the movement. The April 26, 1959, minutes of the Young Socialist editorial board noted that Camejo had resigned, and that this was no surprise since he had "shied away from any identification with the YS".
Camejo played an important role in building the YSA but always on the most shallow level, never fighting for theoretical development, and always seeing the growth of the movement in the narrowest, crudely pragmatic way. Camejo was a demagogic speaker, optimistically predicting huge growth for the organization without ever developing perspectives to show how the growth would take place or what it would mean for the movement.
The man who manuevered Camejo and Sheppard into their position of influence was Carl Feingold, who was known as Cannon's man, having functioned for some time as SWP organizer in Los Angeles where Cannon lived from the 1950s on. Feingold was also considered to be friendly to Weiss. For these reasons he was not fully trusted by the leaders in New York around Dobbs and Kerry, but he was brought to New York and he did the organizational job to which he was assigned.
After doing this job, however, Feingold found himself manuevered out as organizer of the important New York branch of the SWP, to he replaced by Jack Barnes. Feingold wound up. some years later as a supporter of the Shachtmanite International Socialists. This was a stinging condemnation of the methods of organizational maneuvering followed by Cannon. This was how Feingold was trained. When there was no longer a place for him, he changed his political suit with about as much difficulty as one buys a new suit of clothes, and as if the fundamental 1939 struggle against Shachtmanism had never taken place.
Jack Barnes was originally Feingold's agent, but also someone with whom the central party leadership felt much more secure. Barnes came from Carleton College in Minnesota, but had played almost no role in the youth movement. He moved into the party, and soon to New York, where he replaced Feingold as New York organizer. He was involved from the beginning only in the internal apparatus of the organization. He emerged within a short time, with no theoretical and political training and no experience in the class struggle, as one of the top leaders of the SWP, and a leader of the extreme right wing that sought to break all ties with Trotskyism.
The development of the original majority group of the YSA in 1960 contains its lessons as well. It was only on the basis of the international questions that the original issues, which were raised in the very birth of the YSA, could be finally fought out. The issue, then, was centrism or Trotskyism. This issue, too, had to be fought out in the party opposition as well as between the party opposition and the party majority.
It was in the period after the decision was made to break from the factional course in the YSA that the differences within the left wing began to arise. This represented a turn as fundamental as the original turn to stand on international issues in the spring of 1961. It meant devotion to the hard struggle of winning working class forces in the party to the opposition, while at the same time searching for the roots of the degeneration of the SWP.
This led in time to a new split in 1962 led by James Robertson and supported by Shane Mage. Nearly three-quarters of the old Left Wing Caucus followed Robertson, refusing to subordinate themselves to the construction of an international tendency. They were unable to complete the break begun in 1957 with centrism. They remained politically with the Scott Ardens and their ilk who first opposed Shachtman only to break with those who fought it through against Shachtman.
Robertson today maintains a small unprincipled sect called Spartacist, while Mage went all the way to an open renunciation of Marxism in favor of psychedelic idealism.
It is not surprising that the SWP today is afraid of its own history. It cannot face this history because it would require an accounting of where it stands, of how and why it has broken from eyerything that is revolutionary in its past.
The only significant attempt to deal with the history of the youth movement was a speech by Peter Camejo in 1970, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the founding of the YSA. This effort of Camejo's was smug and complacent. It represented a lying attempt to remove the living movement in our history, to wipe out everything the revisionists cannot explain today.
If Camejo tried to explain the role of the early-leaders of the YSA, in particular the leaders from the Left Wing Caucus, he would have to explain why these leaders were expelled from the SWP. He would have to explain how they were able to build a youth movement.
If he were to explain the real nature of the early struggles of the YSA – its internal life as well as its activities – he would have to deal with regroupment policy, the role of the Weiss group, and other questions that cannot be answered. So Camejo's account was a fraud from beginning to end. He began by denying the whole meaning of the struggle in the YSL out of which the YSA was born. He said:
A handful of the people in the Independent Socialist League and the Young Socialist League refused to join the Socialist Party, for one simple reason – the Socialist Party openly supported the Democratic Party.
As everyone in the SWP at that time knew, the fight in the YSL was not simply over the decision to join the Socialist Party. It was a fight against centrism, a fight for Trotskyism in which most of the central political questions of the day were raised and fought out, including the role of the liberals, the Hungarian Revolution, the colonial revolution and the fight for revolutionary leadership in the advanced capitalist countries.
The Left Wing Caucus did not and could not begin this fight as Trotskyists. They were won to Trotskyism in the course of the struggle: that struggle against the opponents of Trotskyism, the Shachtmanites. Camejo distorts and denigrates not only the principled fight of the Left Wing Caucus, but the role of the SWP itself in winning over this section of youth. In this respect, the SWP leadership performed a truly historic task in the building of a youth movement and in laying the basis for a new generation of revolutionary leadership. Camejo then goes on to minimize the role of the Left Wing Caucus in the construction of the youth movement.
Right from the start the key political element in this formation was the young comrades in the SWP. But there were also these 30 people from the YSL who played an important leadership role-they were people like Tim Wohlforth, the leader of the Workers League, and James Robertson, the leader of the Spartacist League, and others.
Several paragraphs later Camejo lets slip a statement in which he says something quite different.
The leadership that the YSA had in those days – people who had come from the Independent Socialist League and the Young Socialist League – had certain weaknesses which it had picked up from its previous political experience. It was basically a weakness that characterized petty bourgeois type organizations. They had this big carry over of rigidity and formality that they picked up in the infighting and maneuvering of the left-wing social democratic organizations to which they belonged prior to joining the YSA. Plus they had not totally dropped the political program of the Young Socialist League, in my opinion. It was soon revealed, as I will explain, that theydid not really fully agree with the YSA.
First Camejo says that the Left Wing Caucus was not "the key political element". Then he calls it "the leadership that the YSA had in those days". Then he says that they "did not really fully agree with the YSA".
Camejo cannot produce a shred of evidence of this last charge. It was these leaders who formed the YSA. It was they who fought more consistently than any others, including Camejo himself, for the program of the YSA. While Camejo was complaining about the hostility of the Young Socialist towards other tendencies like the Stalinists and the Social Democrats, the Left Wing Caucus leaders had joined the Trotskyist movement and were fighting for the Trotskyist program in the youth.
Both the youth from the SWP and those from the Left Wing Caucus played an important role in the formation of the movement, but it was the latter who played precisely the key political role. For a whole period, the only SWP member on the YS editorial board was Bert Deck. The leading role was played by Wohlforth, Robertson and Mage, not against the SWP, but precisely because they had come over to the SWP and functioned as SWP members even before they formally joined. This connection is what Camejo seeks to hide at all costs. The key role in the launching of the Young Socialist and the YSA was played by Trotskyist youth who had been won over in the struggle against Shachtmanism.
Rather than give an objective historical account, Camejo is forced to slander the youth leadership, who fought Shachtman, claiming they were tainted with Shachtmanism. The 1956-57 fight did not complete the struggle against centrism and that was not surprising. But Camejo will not recognize the decisive step that was taken.
Camejo's discussion of the differences on Cuba was designed to avoid the international questions around which the struggle actually took place. The differences on Cuba could only be understood in relation to the international movement, the struggle against revisionism, and the struggle in the SWP itself. All these questions are ignored by Camejo. Otherwise he would have to explain the present crisis in the revisionists' United Secretariat. He would have to make an assessment of the reunification between the SWP and the Pabloites in 1963 and he would have to discuss all the philosophical questions which the revisionists are determined to avoid, but which come back to haunt them more and more.
Another major lie of Camejo's was his amalgamation of the tendency that formed the Workers League with the Robertson group, which formed the Spartacist League in 1963.
The minority also had a document which explained what they were going to do, that is, how they were going to work against the YSA and the SWP but stay within them. We found out about this document so we expelled them. They went on to form a group called the Spartacist League and a group called the Workers League.
As Camejo knows, the group that formed the Workers League was not expelled for nearly a year after the expulsion of Robertson. It was expelled for requesting a discussion on the entrance into a bourgeois coalition government of the Ceylonese LSSP: an entrance which was supported by the SWP and its international co-thinkers up until the very moment of its great betrayal.
In the period from 1958 to 1960, the new forces attracted to Trotskyism went through the experience of building a youth movement as part of the US movement, with all its strengths as well as weaknesses. This was a healthy development, a necessary development. It was a stage that could not be bypassed. It was also a development that could not have taken place in the Shachtmanite cesspool of middle-class radicalism, just as today nothing can be learned except in struggle against the SWP revisionists.
Now the YSA has turned its back completely on Trotskyism. It has turned its back on the very first issue of the Young Socialist, with its clear revolutionary stand on the tasks facing the working class and the youth. It has turned its back on the struggle of the Left Wing Caucus out of which the YSA was formed. It has turned against the first "Motion on Editorial Board Policy" of the Young Socialist, with its clear fight for a labor party and for a socialist fight against imperialist war.
It has also turned its back on the fight for the revolutionary youth paper. Eight years ago it changed the format of the Young Socialist from a newspaper to a magazine, following in the footsteps of Shane Mage and others who feared that the movement would reach out to lead the struggles of masses of youth. Some years later it liquidated the Young Socialist entirely.
Meanwhile the Trotskyist movement in the US re-established the continuity of the revolutionary youth movement with the Conference of Revolutionary Youth on December 18, 1971, and the launching of the Young Socialist pages in the Bulletin.
Now the revisionists have attempted to begin publishing a newspaper again, in answer to the development of the Trotskyist YS and the YS pages in the Bulletin, and the preparations for launching a national youth movement in the immediate future. The circulation of the revisionist monthly paper, which they now fraudulently call the Young Socialist, is only 5500. In 1959, the monthly circulation of the YS was 4200. With the YSA today claiming over 1000 members, that means an average of less than five papers are sold by each member per month.
The founding conference of the Young Socialists, planned for May 26-27, will be a fitting answer to the revisionists. It will be a continuation of the struggles to build a revolutionary youth movement, based on all the lessons of our history. If we study and apply these lessons in the explosive period of revolutionary struggle we face today, we can be confident of building a mass revolutionary youth movement that will play a crucial role in building a leadership to take the working class to power.
Notes1. James Burnham was a prominent intellectual in the Workers Party, who was won to Trotskyism after the fusion of the Communist League of America (consisting mainly of Trotskyists expelled from the Communist Party after the Stalinisation of that organization) with the Workers Party, led by former preacher A.J. Muste in the mid-1930s. The Workers Party had a strong working class component that had grown out of involvement in several major strikes. Burnham moved rapidly to the right after breaking with Trotskyism in 1940.
2. The Struggle for a Proletarian Party, James P. Cannon
3. Albert Goldman was a lawyer and leading member of the SWP. He was counsel to the defendants in the trial of the Minneapolis sedition trial.
4. The Struggle for a Proletarian Party, James P. Cannon
5. In Defense of Marxism, Leon Trotsky
6. In Understanding History, George Novak
7. In Defense of Marxism, Leon Trotsky
8. Transcript of discussion in Coyoacan, Mexico, April 11, 1939.
9. Discussion with SWP leaders and trade unionists, 1940
10. Discussion with SWP leaders and trade unionists, 1940
11. S. Arden, J. Barnes, H. Gales and C. Radetsky, "Tasks of the September Plenum", Young Socialist Review, publication of the Young Socialist League, volume 3, August 15, 1954, p 19.
12. Crimes of the Stalin Era, Nikita S. Khrushchev, The New Leader, p 521.
13. Crimes of the Stalin Era, Nikita S. Khrushchev, The New Leader, p 522.
14. Statement of the national committee, CPUSA. Political Affairs, July 1956, pp 35-36.
15. Quoted in "Lessons of the Recent NEC Meeting", by Shane Mage, Left Wing Bulletin, March 1957, Vol 1, No 1, p 31.
16. SP-SDF Memorandum of Understanding, appeared in the Left Wing Bulletin, April 1957, Vol 1, No 2, p 58.
17. SP-SDF Memorandum of Understanding, appeared in the Left Wing Bulletin, April 1957, Vol 1, No 2, p 59.
18. SP-SDF Memorandum of Understanding, appeared in the Left Wing Bulletin, April 1957, Vol 1, No 2, p 60.
19. Arlon T was considered a left-winger in the ISL. He had previously collaborated with James Robertson. He wrote the letter referred to here, denouncing the Left Wing as "Cannonite agents" and lining up with Shachtman.
20. Ed in Chicago was John Worth, a Left Wing Caucus member who was hostile to the SWP. His role is discussed elsewhere.
21. "Lessons of the Recent NEC Meeting," by Shane Mage, Left Wing Bulletin, March 1957, Vol 1, No 1, p 29.
22. Asher H was a leading member of the SWP in the Bay Area.
23. Dave Carleton and James Robertson were leading members of the Left Wing Caucus in the Bay Area.
24. Letter of Murry Weiss to James P. Cannon with attachments, February 18, 1957.
25. Letter from Dot in Chicago to Murry Weiss, 1957. No date.
26. "Symmetrical Errors on Stalinism and the National Question" by Jim Robertson, Jack Walter and Arlon Tussing. Young Socialist Review, Vol 1, No 3, August 15, 1954, p 2.
27. Letter of James Robertson to Tim Wohlforth, carbons to Ed, Scott and Shane, February 10, 1957.
28. Letter of Tim Wohlforth to Shane Map, carbon to Scott, December 11, 1956.
29. Letter of Tim Wohlforth to James Robertson, carbon to Shane Mage, February 3, 1957.
30. "YSL Left-Wing Declaration", Left Wing Bulletin, March 1957, Vol No 1, p 3.
31. "On the Left-Wing in the YSL", by Michael Harrington, Young Socialist Review, Vol 3, No 4, p 2 and p 5.
32. "On the Left-Wing in the YSL", by Michael Harrington, Young Socialist Review, Vol 3, No 4, p 8.
33. "NAC Draft Resolution on the Crisis of World Stalinism," Young Socialist Review, Vol 6, No 4, April 18, 1957, p 5.
34. "NAC Draft Resolution on the Crisis of World Stalinism," Young Socialist Review, Vol 6, No 4, April 18, 1957, p 8.
35. "NAC Draft Resolution on the Crisis of World Stalinism," Young Socialist Review, Vol 6, No 4, April 18, 1957, p 9.
36. Amendments submitted by Tim Wohlforth to the draft resolution on the crisis of world Stalinism. Young Socialist Review, Vol 6, No 4, p 2.
37. "In Defense of the American Forum, The Strange Case of the American Forum", by Tim Wohlforth. Left Wing Bulletin, July 1957. Vol, 1, No 5, p 40.
38. "In Defense of the American Forum, The Strange Case of the American Forum", by Tim Wohlforth. Left Wing Bulletin, July 1957. Vol, 1, No 5, p 40.
39. "In Defense of the American Forum, The Strange Case of the American Forum", by Tim Wohlforth. Left Wing Bulletin, July 1957. Vol, 1, No 5, p 40.
40. "In Defense of the American Forum, The Strange Case of the American Forum", by Tim Wohlforth. Left Wing Bulletin, July 1957. Vol, 1, No 5, p 49.
41. Quoted in "Reach for Your Wallet – An Answer to Our 'Supreme Democrats' on Being Expelled", by Tim Wohlforth.
42. Mimeographed report by Murry Weiss and Bert Deck on the recent YSL convention, July 9, 1957, p1.
43. Mimeographed report by Murry Weiss and Bert Deck on the recent YSL Convention., dated July 9, 1957, p 1.
44. Mimeographed report by Murry Weiss and Bert Deck on the YSL Convention, dated July 9, 1957, p 2.
45. Mimeographed report by Murry Weiss and Bert Deck on the YSL Convention, dated July 9, 1957, p 6.
46. Letter by Scott Arden to all Steering Committee members, dated August 5, 1957, p 5.
47. Letter by Tim Wohlforth to Robertson, Mage, Arden, et al., dated June 7, 1957, p 1.
48. Letter by Tim Wohlforth to Robertson, Mage, Arden, et al., dated June 7, 1957, p 2.
49. Letter by Tim Wohlforth to Robertson, Mage, Arden, et al., dated June 7, 1957, pp 1-2.
50. Letter by Tim Wohlforth to Robertson, Mage, Arden, et al., dated June 7, 1957, p 4.
51. Confidential mimeographed communication to all Left Wing Caucus, YSL, and SWP youth, dated July 10, 1957, p 1.
52. Mimeographed communication, no date, issued probably between July 13 and 18,1957, p 2.
53. Letter from Scott Arden to Murry Weiss with copies sent to LWC Steering Committee members, dated July 23, 1957, pp 3-4.
54. Letter by Tim Wohlforth to all Steering Committee members. Dated July 27, 1957. pp 2-3.
55. Letter by Shane Mage to Tim Wohlforth, dated July 30, 1957, p 1.
56. Motion submitted to Steering Committee August 11, 1957, appended to a letter to Tim Wohlforth by John Worth, dated August 12, 1957.
57. What Makes Sbachtman Run? The life and death of a tendency. Tim Wohlforth, p 1.
58. What Makes Sbachtman Run? The life and death of a tendency. Tim Wohlforth, p 3.
59. What Makes Sbachtman Run? The life and death of a tendency. Tim Wohlforth, p 22.
60. Quoted in the reply by Michael Harrington and Max Martin to Bert Deck, dated May 22, 1957, p 1.
61. "Report on Youth Situation," by Murry Weiss. Mimeographed communication to all locals and branches, dated August 30, 1957, p 1.
62. "Report on Youth Situation," by Murry Weiss. Mimeographed communication to all locals and branches, dated August 30, 1957, p 4.
63. Young Socialist. First issue.
64. Quoted in SWP International Information Bulletin, 1972, No 1, p 7.
65. "Proposed Roads to Soviet Democracy," by Joseph Hansen. International Socialist Review, spring 1958, p 50.
66. "Trotskyism Today," by Murry Weiss, International Socialist Review, fall 1960, p 106.
67. Young Socialist, Vol. 1, No 5, February 1958.
68. Young Socialist, Vol. 1, No 5, February 1958.
69. Young Socialist Forum, July 1958, Vol. 1, No 4.
70. Letter from Daniel Rubin to Philadelphia Young Socialist Club, February 8, 1958.
71. Letter from Arthur Felberbaum to Daniel Rubin, February 19, 1958.
72. "Comments on the Current State of the Youth Movement," by Bert Deck, Young Socialist Forum, Vol 1, No 3, June 1958.
73. "On the Wohlforth-Robertson Orientation", by Bob Himmel, Young Socialist Forum, Vol 1, No 4, July 1958.
74. "On the Wohlforth-Robertson Orientation", by Bob Himmel, Young Socialist Forum, Vol 1, No 4, July 1958.
75. "On the Wohlforth-Robertson Orientation", by Bob Himmel, Young Socialist Forum, Vol 1, No 4, July 1958.
76."Youth Work; Then and Now," by Evelyn Sell, Young Socialist Forum, Vol. 1, No 4, July 1958.
77. "Youth Work; Then and Now," by Evelyn Sell, Young Socialist Forum, Vol. 1, No 4, July 1958.
78. "On Building A Revolutionary Youth Movement," by Martha Wells, Young Socialist Forum, Vol 1, No 3, June 1958.
79. Resolution on "Tasks and Perspectives for Building a Revolutionary Youth Movement," by Tim Wohlforth and Jim Robertson, Young Socialist Forum, Vol l, No 3, June 1958.
80. SWP Discussion Bulletin, Vol 29, No 1, January 1959.
81. SWP Discussion Bulletin, Vol 29, No 1, January 1959.
82. Proceedings of the Detroit Conference, December 27-28, 1958, Young Socialist Forum, Vol 2, No 2, May 1959, p 8.
83. Report to the editorial board of the Young Socialist on the Labor Day YSL and YPSL convention. September 2, 1958. By Tim Wohlforth.
84. Young Socialist, Vol 2, No 4, January, 1959, p 4.
85. Young Socialist, Vol 2, No 4, January, 1959, p 4.
86. Young Socialist, Vol 2, No 6 March 1959, p 1.
87. Young Socialist editorial board minutes, February 15, 1960.
88. Appendix A of March 7, 1960 editorial board minutes.
89. "Our Orientation in the Current Sit-In Campaign," Appendix B of the March 7, 1960 editorial board minutes.
90. "One Again On Our Orientation", by Tim Wohlforth. Appendix C of the March 28, 1960 editorial board minutes.
91. Young Socialist Forum, Vol 3, No 2, (whole No 8), p 9.
92. "On 'Political Support' to the SWP" (amendment to "Where We Stand") by Peter Allen (Buch). Received March 31, 1960. Young Socialist Forum, Vol 3, No 3, (whole No 9, p 9).
93. "On Section 11 of the Draft 'Where We Stand' Declaration". By Tim Wohlforth and Jim Robertson, Young Socialist Forum, Vol 3, No 3, (whole No 9, p 12).
94. On Section Eleven of the Draft "Where We Stand" Declaration. By Tim Wohlforth and Jim Robertson, Young Socialist Forum, Vol 3, No 3, Whole No 9, p 13-14.
95. Proceedings of the founding conference of the Young Socialist Alliance, Philadelphia, April 15-17, p 13.
96. "Memorandum on the 1960 Elections", proceedings of the founding conference of the Young Socialist Alliance, Philadelphia, April 15-17, p 32.
97. "Resolution of the 17th Convention CPUSA on the Youth Question", Political Affairs, March 1960, p 76.
98. "American Youth On The Move", by Dan Ross. Political Affairs. August 1960, p 29.
99. SWP Discussion Bulletin, Vol 20, No 1, January 1959.
100. "Proceedings of the Founding Conference of the Young Socialist Alliance", Philadelphia, April 15-17, Young Socialist Forum, Vol 3, No 4, August 1960, p b.
101. "Memorandum on the Antiwar Movement", by Tim Wohlforth, Young Socialist Forum, Vol 3, No 5, September 1960.
102. "Memorandum on the Antiwar Movement", by Tim Wohlforth, Young Socialist Forum, Vol 3, No 5, September 1960.
103. Revolt on the Campus, by Tim Wohlforth, a Young Socialist Forum publication, September 1960.
104.Revolt on the Campus, by Tim Wohlforth, a Young Socialist Forum publication, September 1960.
105. Revolt on the Campus, by Tim Wohlforth, a Young Socialist Forum publication, September 1960.
106. Remarks on "The Conscious Element in the Social Process", by Art Felberbaum, Attachment to YSA NBC Minutes, April 10, 1961
107. Young Socialist editorial board minutes, April 26, 1959.
108. Young Socialist Organizer, Vol 13, No 4, April 29, 1970.
109. Young Socialist Organizer, Vol 13, No 4, April 29, 1970.
110. Young Socialist Organizer, Vol 13, No 4, April 29, 1970.
111. Young Socialist Organizer, Vol 13, No 5, May 13, 1970.
The Oehlerites were an ultraleft sect, the Revolutionary Workers League, led by Hugo Oehler, which split from the Workers Party in 1935 when the Trotskyist leadership of that party decided to enter the Socialist Party.
Editor's note: This text, originally published in 1973 by the US Workers League, has been slightly edited to correct obvious typographical and grammatical errors.
Since May 3, 2005