[Book] Ted Grant Writings: Volume Two


Reply to comrades Cooper and Stuart

The Bolshevik attitude to unity... and splits

September 11 1943

The letters of comrades Lou Cooper and Stuart[1] are models of how not to approach the problems of the separate groups in Britain, the differences between them, the building of the party, the attitude towards internationalism and the question of unification.

It is an almost unbelievable fact, that throughout the discussions on the disputes in the American party as well as in Britain, not once is mention made of the political basis of these disputes. Instead, we are treated to a high pressure sales talk on the benefit of “unity” without reference to time, place, conditions, developments, nature of the disputes, tendencies, social basis, etc., etc. We are asked to believe that all these disputes and splits can be traced to a lack of understanding of the organisational question. That “democratic centralism” is the magic panacea for all evils. The political questions apparently were of no importance.

Fortunately, these letters are merely “personal”, and without the authority of the international. Comrade Cooper starts off:

“Time and again we discussed, you remember, the necessity of WIL taking the lead in raising the banner of unity and storming hell or high water in order to achieve it. In our discussions I argued for consolidation on a principled basis in one united party, in which both programmes and all individuals and groups would prove themselves before the membership in the test of objective events.”

What is this supposed to mean? If comrade Cooper means that after thorough discussion, the policy of the majority is carried with the full rights of the minority to put forward their ideas internally, this is precisely the WIL’s position. But if this means that two tactics are to be operated inside the one organisation, in other words another 1938 which led to 10 splits in five years, then we categorically reject it. The first duty of comrade Cooper is to clarify his ideas on this question and give us precise formulations.

If comrade Cooper means that the WIL should devote the whole of its attention, or even the main attention of the party to the task of achieving “unity”, that would be nonsensical especially in the present period of mass upsurge within the British labour movement. The attitude towards such a proposition is one of tactics and expediency, and not at all a question of Bolshevik principle as such. It cannot be conceived in the abstract, but must be viewed from the political point of view, from the concrete positions of the tendencies, the development of the groups, the social composition, the past evolution, future possibilities, strength of organisation, cadres, etc. etc.

If comrade Cooper means that some attention must be devoted to the problem of unification, then let him refer to the “record.” That record which speaks so much in favour of WIL that he and other comrades across the Atlantic, not having any possible argument against it, refer to it as if forsooth, the WIL were committing some terrible crime in being in an unassailable position. Yes, comrade Cooper - we are for the record - and let the record speak! Since when has there been any other method for Marxists than that of studying the “record” to determine the position of any participants in political discussions?

In this connection, comrade Cooper characterises WIL’s inability to “value tried and tested and proven Bolshevik organisational procedure that alone can firmly build national sections and an international party.” Good! But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. In condemning WIL’s lack of understanding of Bolshevik method, he says:

“From my own close study and from subsequent investigation I am convinced that WIL’s original departure from the unification conference in 1938 was based on unprincipled grounds. No matter how grievous and unjust the WIL’s leaders felt themselves personally attacked, they still had absolutely no right to leave the unification conference.”

Close study? Subsequent investigation? This sounds very interesting, but unfortunately not very convincing and not very enlightening either. If comrade Cooper made a “close study” of the 1938 unification, then he is duty bound to give us the results of his labour. Here is the opportunity to expose the WIL leadership’s alleged inability to face up to... tried and tested and proven Bolshevik organisational procedure. Instead, we get a light-minded assertion, without the remotest shred of evidence, that the WIL leaders felt themselves “personally attacked” in 1938 and that is why they refused to enter the unification. Where, comrade Cooper, is the record? They say fools go where angels fear to tread. It is a noteworthy but deplorable fact that, while repeating this senseless assertion, comrade Cooper fails to make a political analysis of the Statement of the WIL to the founding conference in 1938[2] on the question of unification. He forgets to show us the fruits of the “tried and tested and proven methods...” Precisely here is the opportunity to demonstrate principled politics. Why no mention of the results of the unification – or examination of the unity agreement? Because the results speak too loudly precisely in favour of the position as put forward by WIL.

The WIL alone of all the groups, maintained a principled democratic centralist position in 1938, as it does today. Our principled position was justified to the hilt by subsequent events, as it will be in the future. It is a pity that since comrade Cooper made such a “close study” of the unification, and condemns WIL as unprincipled, he does not show how firmly built was the “united organisation”, which presumably was built on a principled basis. Elsewhere we have published some documents relating to the 1938 unity conference and its results. If necessary we will publish more and can return to this theme again. Suffice is to say that in the whole history of our movement, there can hardly be a more ill-omened or disastrous record of splits [than the one] arising from 1938.

An examination of our statement, taken in conjunction with the subsequent events in the “unified” organisation, would demonstrate conclusively that the source of the splits arose from the lack of political clarification, coupled with the “dual organisational structure” which permitted the operation of two tactics simultaneously, instead of the democratic centralist basis – one tactic, one policy – that of the majority, with democratic rights for the minority.

It would be a much more honest and simple statement of the truth to say that the 1938 unification was a failure, which fortunately, was not fatal for the Fourth International in Britain and the building of the revolutionary party, owing only to the courageous adherence to the principle of Bolshevism and democratic centralism by the WIL. This was not an easy task at that time when the WIL had only a handful of people in comparison with the large organisation which was claimed by the RSL. But, as we pointed out at the time, an organisation which developed on the basis of deep fissures – without discussion of the political and tactical differences and agreement arrived at on democratic centralist basis, was built on quicksand and would end in disaster. In reality all Cooper’s phrases beg the question. A genuine unification can only come on a principled programmatic and tactical basis.

Comrade Cooper repeatedly mis-states the actual position in 1938. WIL “must inevitably fail to explain how they happened to leave the Bolshevik international in 1938...” [!] “WIL’s original departure from the unification conference in 1938...” etc., etc. Nothing of the sort. WIL refused to sign an agreement, which in its opinion, laid the basis not for unity, but for a series of demoralising splits. WIL has no need to apologise for its position in 1938. On the contrary, the divergent elements who made the agreement, are hard put to it to explain how they came to agree to such a document. It is now universally agreed that the unity laid the seeds of disaster for the RSL. If the WIL has not referred in its publications to the 1938 conference, it is not at all from embarrassment of its own position, which is easily defensible, but from loyalty to the Fourth International.

Comrade Cooper asks how the WIL can justify the present split to its membership. The separate existence of the WIL has been historically justified. In deeds, not in words, the WIL has demonstrated the correctness of its position in 1938. The position of WIL is “on the record”.

“Can the WIL leadership justify itself to its membership by saying they are moving heaven and earth to genuine unity?” The WIL leadership would be hard put to justify itself if it went further that it has done. The WIL leadership has no cause to justify its position before the membership. The policy and the attitude on this question was unanimously decided upon at our last national conference. Unity of the groups in Britain is important; but it is not an end in itself. The building of the revolutionary party in Britain is far more important – a party based on the methods and policy of Bolshevism. Furthermore, far from having to justify itself on the attitude of unity, comrade Stuart will be hard put to it to justify to the WIL membership, the prevention of unity of those who stood on the same political platform and the advocacy of a split.

Not having a single political argument, comrade Cooper falls back on personal and organisational grounds.

“Do you mean to say that DDH[3] or anyone else could hold back unity among English Trotskyists if the spirit [! – EG] of unity were deeply imbued in their consciousness? If the stick were really turned by WIL, in the direction of a genuine [! – EG] agitation and a struggle for unity, all obstructions would be overcome.”

This is really almost disarming in its absurdity. If the RSL’s “obstruction” is purely organisational, the IS then has the imperative duty to take organisational measures against the leadership of the RSL. But the problem is not one of organisation only, or even principally, but of the political position of the RSL. Comrade Cooper points to the success of the WIL, which he naively remarks, bases itself on the Fourth International’s “timely transitional and military programme”. But he fails to deal with the decay and degeneration of the RSL which does not support this programme. Is this an accident, comrade?

It is noteworthy to see that comrade Cooper makes no concrete suggestions and no concrete proposals – apart from “spirit” and “genuineness”, on how the unification is to be achieved.

We have the sophistic argument that the WIL is only “getting away” with the present divisions in Britain because it “hides” the existence of the other Trotskyist organisations. In a document which must surely rank as a curiosity of “organisational Bolshevism”, this remark will take pride of place. Since when have Bolsheviks become advertising agents for their opponents? It is not beside the point to remark here that we had to “advertise” the existence of the RSL to the International with which it has lost connection. We believe that this is sufficient advertising. Every member in our ranks is acquainted with the fact that the WIL is not the official section. A mere explanation of the false political position of the other groups, together with the illuminating experience within the official section since 1938, is enough to convince any worker sympathiser.

But as Trotsky would say: “Excuse me, comrade, excuse me, excuse me.” Comrade Cooper has used a most unfortunate argument. Insofar as the RSL conducts any activity at all among the workers, our most [pressing] task is to convince the workers that we are not the same organisation. “If these are Trotskyists,” the worker contacts have said, “then we want nothing of Trotskyism.” Naturally, the fact that they are the official section, certainly places us in an embarrassing position. But not from the angle that Cooper imagines. On the contrary, we are hard put up to defend the position of the International on this question and make an explanation of it.

“The WIL seems to go to the extreme limits to hide such information from its worker sympathisers. In the January issue of the Socialist Appeal, we have the scandalous picture of an appeal for united front action in industry to the ILP, and even the numerically insignificant anarchists, and not to the RSL! In recent issues of the Socialist Appeal there are also editorials discussing the bankruptcy of the old internationals, etc., and information that WIL is building the new international party in England, but not a word of the need of unity, or even of the existence of the RSL.”

What existence means for comrade Cooper, apparently means something else to Marxists and to WIL. Again, it is not the formal position, but the need to examine the problem dialectically. Trotsky wrote that it is easy to determine existence or non-existence of a party. Despite the official label, and with due apologies to comrade Cooper, as a genuine functioning Fourth International organisation, the RSL does not exist. Its significance for the past, the present, and the future of the international movement, its influence in the working class is so negligible as to be almost non-existent and will inevitably become zero. It is sad, and from the point of view of Cooper, a bitter pill, but the “insignificant” anarchists are far more important in industry than the RSL. Such is the sorry state of affairs. (Apart from the fact that this unimportant and unrepresentative group are far closer to the anarchists on industrial policy than they are to WIL or the Fourth International). But we can take no responsibility for it. It is to the point here to anticipate our argument, and ask comrade Cooper how it is that the SWP, far from offering a united front to the Oehlerites, the Fieldites, the Weisbordites[4], etc., in the States, who according to his own admission contained good elements, consistently ignored the constant bombardments of united front offers from them? Yet in Canada, they had a “united front” with the Fieldites. Why? Because in Canada the Fieldites meant something and with the given relation of forces, the Trotskyists were compelled to reckon with, and compete with them. There is no principle involved here, but purely an estimate of what was to be gained and what lost. We might add, that on most of the rare occasions when we had the misfortune to appear publicly with the RSL, one of our main tasks was to disassociate ourselves from them, so well did they succeed in discrediting the name of Trotskyism. If necessary we can elaborate on this with our most recent experience only a few months ago when they disgraced the name of Trotskyism at the conference called by the Labour lefts.

If comrade Cooper would retort that they are the official section, we would agree, but that does not alter anything fundamental, that is ours and the International’s misfortune. So far as the editorials in the Socialist Appeal are concerned, it is perfectly true that no mention is made of the need for unity. Because that is not the fundamental question for the readers of the Socialist Appeal. We have no need to convince them of this, or of the “existence” of the RSL either. It is up to the RSL to blow its own trumpet... if it can! We must ask comrade Cooper if he would consider the following advertisement would be suitable:

“Attention please!

“This is to draw the attention of the readers of the Socialist Appeal to the fact that the WIL is not the official section of the Fourth International. The official section is known as the Revolutionary Socialist League. It has no independent existence since it claims to be the ‘Socialist Left in the Labour Party’. We cannot supply the address of the official section, for although we are conducting a political discussion for unification, they refuse to give us any address as a means of corresponding. We can, however, inform our readers that the minority of the RSL has recently expelled the majority and there are now three sections acknowledged by the IS [as] fourth internationalists. We must perforce warn our readers that the official section of the Fourth International alleges that the WIL, the American SWP and the IS hold a ‘chauvinist’ and an ‘opportunist’ position on the war... and have deserted the path of Bolshevism. We must apologise to our readers and supporters for any misconceptions that we may have created that we are the genuine Trotskyists of Great Britain.”

If comrade Cooper wants an advertisement of the truth, there it is. Surely this must be a classic gem of “organisational Marxism”, when it is suggested that the unofficial section should publicise the official section. And what an organisation! What a section!

For what object, comrade Cooper? We are not in the movement for the pleasure of erecting Aunt Sallies for the purpose of knocking them down. There is no need for us to tackle the shadow of a shadow in our press. Far more important [is] to deal with the genuine antagonists in the labour movement with whom we are faced. That is more fruitful and more educational for the workers approaching our tendency. However, to say that we hide the existence of the RSL to our new members is simply untrue, and such statements betray comrade Cooper’s ignorance of the position within our organisation and within the Trotskyist movement as a whole in this country.

Our position in relation to the International and the RSL is always explained. The correspondence is always circulated. But if the blunt facts are to be stated, “officially” or not, there is only one section of the Fourth International in Britain: Workers’ International League. Comrade Cooper may say by what right can we arrogate this position to ourselves? By the right of the programme which we possess in common with the International and by the right of the work we are doing. Long ago, Marx and Engels gave a good reply to the German philistines who indignantly asked who had elected them as advisers and leaders of the Social Democracy in Germany: they had been elected by the bourgeoisie and all the enemies of Social Democracy who were attacking them, Engels gravely replied to the complaining deputation which was sent to interview them.

This in its turn, raises the question: what makes an organisation a section of the International? Merely the formal connection? Nothing of the sort. This is of tremendous importance, but what is decisive is the political programme. To argue any other way is to stand internationalism on its head. It is to regard the problem in the same way as the centrists. “The International is first of all a programme and a system of strategic, tactical and organisational methods that flow from it.” And as comrade Cooper himself said in a speech to our members: “You are the Fourth International.” We do not know what made comrade Cooper change his mind; perhaps it is the climate of New York. Certainly he has not explained it by any other reason in his open letter to the British comrades, except by mysterious references to what he “discovered” and did not have time to tell us.

It is the blind and empirical insistence on the “organisational question” which can alone explain the crude errors against Marxism committed by comrade Cooper. The first question a Marxist would ask of any factional dispute, especially one which has raged for a number of years, and in which different tendencies have become firmly crystallised, is, what are the political differences? In what directions are the two factions moving? What is the social basis of the political positions adopted? How have the differences revealed themselves in action over a number of years? Etc., etc. This is certainly not the method adopted by comrade Cooper. Take this example of petit bourgeois thought:

“Woe to the WIL’s present stand if the RSL adopted by a majority the correct program for the day and started to grow! How will the WIL justify [the] split at that time?”

When we read these lines at first, we looked at one another with astonishment and consternation. Is this how the cadres are educated in America in their approach to problems, we wondered? For surely the least acquaintance with elementary Marxism would dictate the understanding that a group does not arrive at a political position by accident. In another Internal Bulletin we have dealt with the political ideas of the RSL and the evolution of its point of view. But it is to the point to remark here that they characterise the WIL and the Fourth International political position on war as “chauvinist”. That is, in war time, the most serious and fundamental crime against the interests of the working class which any party claiming to be Marxist could commit. A crime which caused Lenin to break with the Social Democrats. Does comrade Cooper believe that there exist differences between us that need discussing and thrashing out? Are the differences between Bolshevism and sectarianism of no importance? Does comrade Cooper take the transitional and military programme, the strategy and tactics of Bolshevism in war time, as of such little importance that he can dismiss disagreements so lightly?

The position put by comrade Cooper cannot be taken seriously by anyone who thinks the problem out. What possible objection could, not the WIL, but the RSL leadership have to unity, if they held the same political position? What possible “obstruction” could they place in the way of unity? “Woe to the WIL...” What a terrible threat! That one’s opponent should adopt one’s point of view!

The WIL has stated it is prepared to unify: what then could possibly stand in the way of such a unification? The boot would rather be on the other foot, and the RSL would not have the slightest possibility of preventing unification. The bulk of the RSL membership has maintained its political position for three years or more. Most of those in the RSL who were won over to the position of the TO[5] belonged to a group which consisted of splitters from the RSL and expelled members of WIL and only “fused” with the RSL at a later date. The “principled” TO has been trying for more than 14 months, and have not succeeded in making the slightest impression on the RSL. But that such a fantastic and ridiculous statement should appear in a document intended to influence the WIL is disgraceful. If there was not a single other statement, this alone would be sufficient to destroy the effect the writer intended to have. It has about as much relevance to the situation as if we were to write to the SWP regarding the Schachtmanites: “Woe to the SWP if the Workers’ Party adopted a correct programme...”

Here we would point out that if the RSL held its “principles” seriously, it would be their duty to openly break with the Fourth International and prepare the formation of the new international. As internationalists it is the first duty of comrades Stuart and Cooper to demand of the leadership of the RSL that their position be clarified one way or another: either a unity on the basis of the programme and principles of the Fourth International, or a break with it. But apparently for the American comrades, the political issues and the programme of the Fourth International are of secondary importance: what is of primary importance is “unity.” Thus they stand Bolshevism on its head.

We are for unity, as the record has demonstrated. If we were not prepared to carry through our proposals for unification through to the end, we would not have put ourselves on the record, for instance, as the RSL did for years. We have taken this position, principally because of the attitude of the IS and in order to resolve the problem. But our main job in Britain consists in building the party. That is our duty to the International and to the working class. That remains our decisive criterion. We have no particular “enthusiasm” for unity and never have pretended to. The RSL is hopelessly encrusted in sectarianism. And with our meagre resources in cadres and forces we have to put our energies in the direction where the best results can be achieved for the party in Britain and for the International. The American party did not waste time on the sectarians in America, despite the fact that, as comrade Cooper himself says, they contained “some very good elements”. Yet they continue to pay quite a good deal of attention to Shachtman & Co. Why? Obviously, because despite their incorrect position, they still retain a number of good rank and file elements.

The fact that the RSL is nominally the official section, does not alter anything fundamental. Their political position, though more confused, is basically that of Oehler. The bulk of the RSL membership are not industrial workers. So that the problem of winning over the Bolshevik elements they might have in their ranks, must remain a subordinate one. The potential Bolshevik elements among the sectarians in America had to be sacrificed because more and better Bolsheviks could be won and trained from fresh elements among the mass of the workers, and indeed, with less expenditure of energy. The position is precisely the same in Britain. We are prepared to devote a minimum of activity to the solution of the problem. The American comrades say: “You are only for the record.” Yes, we are for the record. But what does this mean? We have stated our terms for unification and these we are prepared to carry out.

But this “for the record” position has two sides. We have to ask ourselves: are the American comrades who write to us for “unity” and “internationalism” “for the record”? We receive one document from an American comrade hysterically calling for “unity” without adding anything to how the problem is to be solved except by a change of heart. The TO receives another letter putting forward the idea of an entirely unprincipled split. One letter is “open”; the other is secret. We can understand the position of comrade Cooper, perhaps, in a young comrade carried away with enthusiasm. Though it would be the duty of the party leadership to use tact and curb such an outburst. But the position of Stuart is inexcusable.

Comrade Stuart arrived in Britain with the unalterable banner of “democratic centralism” and of “unity” as the principle above time and space. It was with this argument that he prevented the unification of those who stood on the same political platform. We pointed out the falsity of this position. A unification of the TO with ourselves need not prevent further discussion with the RSL on the problem of unity, and indeed would assist in clarifying the question. The TO would have become integrated with our organisation; the general movement would have had a fillip. Under comrade Stuart’s influence the TO was prevented from doing so. And the result? A shift in their political positions; expulsions of those who agree with WIL politically; fusion with those who have opposed WIL’s policy for years. Unity discussions with the ultra-lefts, whom comrade Stuart correctly termed “maniacs.” A most enlightening example of how to educate young people in the principles of democratic centralism!

We cannot but remark in passing, that nearly every letter that arrives from the States, like some King Charles’ head, the name of Lawrence appears as a subject of praise. This method of ballyhoo and advertisement – or as it is termed in the United States – “a build up”, on the “key man” principle, is certainly not the organisational method of Bolshevism, but savours more of bourgeois publicity methods. In comrade Cooper’s document we see the statement: “L. is a Bolshevik of high calibre who is seeking unity on a principled organisational basis.” Lawrence is a notorious weather-cock, incapable of maintaining a consistent political position for two days in succession. What is dangerous in the attitude of Cooper and some of the members of the IS is that by incorrectly posing the problem as they do purely as an organisational one, they inevitably leave the door open to political deviations and differences. Already Lawrence has made an unprincipled bloc with three sectarians and now with the ultra-lefts. Cooper makes great play of the “fine group of Bolshevik elements in the L. wing.” What exactly does comrade Cooper mean with “Bolshevik”? True it is that there may still be in the RSL and the TO a few worth while comrades who can be won to the methods of Bolshevism. Certainly the method of Stuart has been the means of retarding the possibility of these comrades developing in a healthy proletarian milieu. Many of them have been poisoned and demoralised by the unprincipled clique atmosphere engendered by Stuart, with his stupid assertions [to] a group of green young comrades, that only they knew how to “conduct principled politics” of all the English groups; that these are the “key” Bolsheviks, etc., etc. However, be that as it may, the position in Britain, not from the formal point of view, but from the living reality, is that there are dozens and hundreds of revolutionaries in the Stalinist party and the ILP, of whom half a dozen are worth the whole of the RSL, the Lefts and the TO thrown in for good measure. They may not regard themselves as Trotskyists at the present time, but they will find their way to our ranks if we put forward a correct programme and if they see in our organisation a healthy proletarian milieu, and not a petty bourgeois debating society. If it comes to a question on whom we will work [with] in the present period, a hundred times over, we reply: we prefer the active revolutionaries in the other parties, to the paper “Bolsheviks” and sectarians in the RSL. “By their deeds shall ye know them” is an excellent text. What deeds make the RSL and its factions “Bolsheviks”?

But it is particularly noteworthy to see the perspectives of the leadership of the TO in the future unified organisation. JG writes that the TO must prepare for the maintenance of their fraction inside the fused organisation – as the watchdogs of the IS! JC of the TO stresses the need to maintain their fraction to prepare for “minor battles” inside the unified organisation, etc. Thus they prepare for “unification” along the lines of Stuart’s advice, who wrote to the TO:

“In all likelihood there will be a withdrawal of recognition from the RSL and a period of testing in which all three groups will be regarded as sympathetic. After the testing period there will probably be convoked a unification conference for a final settlement of the question. The TO’s programme presages a long term perspective, however, and it should prepare to maintain itself on this programme for a considerable time to come, no matter what organisational turns the situation may take.”

Stuart says “a consistently false line on organisational questions (we refer you to the history of the Abern group[6] in the SWP) cannot fail to have in the end a disastrous effect on a group’s attitude to programme and tactics.” Yes. This is precisely true, as we see from the results of the incorrect organisational tactics in relation to the RSL as well as the TO. But see whither Stuart has developed! He began with the sacredness of “unity”; he ends up with the advocacy of unprincipled splits!

Perhaps one of the mistakes that the WIL has made in the past was not going into the question of the “unification” of 1938 and its results. It certainly provides an example for all time, of the consequences of light-minded unity, leading to light-minded splits. This in itself could be the only fruitful result of a discussion arising from comrade Cooper’s letter: political lessons or genuine organisational conclusions, there are none. The unity of the party is a precious thing. Only people who are criminally light-minded would break the unity of the organisation which has been built by painstaking efforts and sacrifice on the part of the membership. But to believe that a recognition of this fact would in itself be a guarantee against the possibility of splits in the future, is to reason not as a dialectician, but as a formalist and idealist. The unity of the party is guaranteed not at all by solemn assurances pledging against splits, but by the programme on the one side, and loyalty to the organisation on the other. The fact [is] that the participants in the 1938 “Peace and unity agreement” “...mutually pledged themselves before the membership and before the Fourth International... to work together in harmonious collaboration laying aside like principled Bolsheviks all personal animosities and antagonisms, and refraining from factionalism, and especially from any kind of factional organisation, during the six months period allotted to the new Executive Committee...” This pledge to the Fourth International, did not prevent three splits before the six months were up. And how could it? It is significant in this regard, that there have been no breakaways or splits in the WIL, while the history of the “unified” organisation is an interminable and unseemly one of splits and further splits.

We could not guarantee in advance that there will be no serious disagreements, or even splits in the future in WIL. We do not think so. Serious Bolsheviks do not split easily from a genuine Bolshevik organisation unless the issues are of such a character as to reveal a profound social divergence. But again, it is impossible to view this problem in the abstract. We have to take the time, the conditions, developments, size of the party, etc., etc., into consideration. Many factors play their part which cannot be evaluated in advance. Here we would point out that, despite the metaphysical approach of comrade Cooper, the American party, no more than WIL, is guaranteed in advance against the danger of split. And if comrade Cooper would say otherwise, he would be an idiot.

It is instructive in this regard to note that Shachtman, one of the leaders of the latest split in the American party, wrote a very witty and informative article a few years back, in which he depicted the fate of the splitters. This did not stop him from joining their ranks. The solution to this problem does not merely lie in warning against the danger of split, but to quote comrade Cooper:

“The methods of a democratic centralist party that democratically arrives at decisions and carries its decisions into action in a disciplined manner, and later, democratically decided again to carry same or other decisions into action (and so on round the democratic centralist circle), are the only methods that can carry the party through all its tasks and to its final victory.”

Here, we might suggest to comrade Cooper that he once again direct his remarks to the right address – the factions of the RSL. Certainly light-minded unity would and does lead inevitably to splits precisely when it is opposed to the conception of the party and to democratic centralism.

WIL has had disagreements in its ranks, sometimes serious disagreements. There will be disagreements in the future as well. But the majority will decide. There is as little, or as much, possibility of a split in the WIL, as there is in the SWP. No more no less. Precisely because WIL, like the SWP, is based on the programme and the policy of the Fourth International and on the principles of democratic centralism.

So far we have seen the prediction of the WIL, and the methods of the WIL on the question of unification and splits, justified up to the hilt by the development of events. Is it an accident that the “unity” ended in such a speedy and inglorious debacle? Of course not! Theoretically in advance the WIL document said:

“The new Revolutionary Socialist League is founded on a compromise with sectarianism, and arising out of the political compromise there is naturally a dual organisational structure. The membership is left free to decide, each for himself, the milieu of work; the principle of centralism is thrown overboard, and with it any pretence of democratic discipline. In effect, the new RSL consists of two organisations masquerading under a single name, a state of affairs that cannot be hidden from the outside world, even if internal friction is sufficiently overcome to enable the organisation to begin to function.”

There were other reasons as well, of course, both practical and theoretical, for the debacle. But the caricature put forward by comrade Cooper as the attitude of the WIL – “I’m king – Recognise me!” – reveals a superficial approach to the problem. “Democratic centralism” is not an end in itself, but a means to the building of the party. But WIL never has “learned”, and we hope never will learn, the method of cynical and light-minded unification, without preparation and without discussion. The “democratic centralists” didn’t succeed in building the party in Britain. But the WIL, which has not learned the “tried and tested methods”, did succeed. Does this mean to say there is something wrong with democratic centralism? Nothing of the sort. It means that the collapse of the RSL can be traced to the fact that it was not based on the Bolshevik conception of the party and democratic centralism.

Unity too, is not an end in itself, but must be the means to the building of the party. Nor is the party an end in itself, but a means towards the seizure of power. In this connection, we might add that it is not “unity”, but the programme and policy, which is decisive. We might remind comrade Cooper that, despite its democratic centralist basis, in the epoch of reaction the Bolshevik Party suffered a whole series of splits. This was, of course, due to the pressure of reaction, which was reflected in the ranks of the Bolsheviks. It is to the point too, that the history of Bolshevism began with a split over an important, but minor issue. Trotsky’s mistake up to 1917 was precisely his insistence on “unity” with the Mensheviks.

Comrade Cooper might say, how can we compare the struggle between Bolshevism and Menshevism with the struggle between RSL and WIL, since both claim an allegiance to the Fourth International? We would point out that the differences between Bolshevism and Menshevism also began when both formally gave their allegiance to the same cause and the same International, and the divergences in the beginning were not of a fundamental character.

But Lenin, who stood against “unity” was correct in 1912, as he was in 1917 when he opposed Stalin and Kamenev who advocated unity with the Mensheviks. If we accept comrade Cooper’s description of the crisis in the Bolshevik Party in 1917 (it is not at all an accurate picture, but it would lead us too far afield to deal with events as they developed) what follows? More banalities. The unity of the party must be preserved. We must allow differences of opinion. You must not break party discipline, etc., etc. Excellent! But what exactly is comrade Cooper supposed to be teaching us? His conclusion from this is through and through false:

“In England today the WIL ‘prepares’ for similar party conditioning and maintaining in [a] time of real crisis – by completely avoiding a democratic centralist solution of the present divisional crisis! How is the WIL going to know how to maintain the party, the precious instrument of the revolution, in [a] time of real crisis, when it never learned how to resolve a party crisis previously (in 1938) and persists in refusing to resolve the present divisional crises!”

Poor comrade Cooper obviously has no inkling of what developed in Britain from 1938. We recommend him to study the record. Certainly we would say in advance, we would never participate in another 1938. Not under any circumstances. We would never agree to a violation of the principles of democratic centralism with the rich lessons of the results of this before our eyes. By what right does comrade Cooper say that we are “completely avoiding” a democratic centralist solution? He should provide the evidence for this. Once again the “record” speaks against comrade Cooper. Far from avoiding it, the WIL intends to insist on a democratic centralist solution to the problem, and we are insisting now that the problem be viewed in this light. We are all for a movement that will stand up to the shocks of future events. Certainly we are determined that it will not be on the model of the RSL of 1938. If the RSL never even began the task of building the revolutionary party, one of the organisational reasons can be traced to the unification of 1938.

In reality the whole method of comrade Cooper in his approach to this problem is false. The splits and divisions which have taken place in the Trotskyist movement in Britain and throughout the world have been no accident. Our international movement has been marked by splits in nearly every country where we had sections, without exception, including the Soviet Union where presumably the Opposition was educated in the methods and principles of democratic centralism perhaps better than any cadres of any party in history. The centrists, with their formless “unity” without principles and without perspectives, and without Marxist understanding, have used the argument of the “innumerable splits” within the Trotskyist movement, as a proof of the fact that the Trotskyists are incapable of building a movement. Others have argued that it was all due to “democratic centralism” as was the degeneration of the Russian revolution. This of course, is as false as the arguments of comrade Cooper. The splits did not fall from the skies. They came as a direct consequence of the epoch of reaction which followed the defeat of the revolution in Europe, ushering in Thermidor in Russia with its consequent reaction throughout the world. This reaction destroyed a whole generation of revolutionaries reared by the Comintern. But the degeneration of the old internationals could not but affect also the young and weak forces of the Fourth International as well. Isolated form the labour movement, persecuted by reaction, developing under the hard and difficult conditions of the defeats of the proletariat, even large sections of the elements which formed the International Left Opposition were bound to succumb, as did the Opposition in Russia, to the pressure of the unfavourable historical circumstances. The elements which began the work of the opposition, even in the majority, were not of the best material. The difficulties of growth and the milieu in which they had to work; the composition of the Opposition itself; the different stages of development through which the organisation passed; the necessity at various stages of making sharp changes if the movement was even to survive; all these factors led necessarily and inevitably to the splits. A movement, no more than society itself, cannot move forward without crises and even without splits.

There is nothing surprising in this. It is according to the laws of history. But this pertains not to the history of Trotskyism, or even to the history of the party, but to its pre-history. We are now entering a new period, a period when fresh forces and fresh cadres will be decisive for our movement. Not for nothing did the Old Man point out for the movement in France that the old leadership had been developed in a period of reaction and isolation from the labour movement and were inevitably moulded and conditioned by this in their outlook and psychology. A great part of the leadership were incapable of adapting themselves to the tasks which lay ahead. The revolutionary wave would produce fresh cadres and fresh leaders who could alone provide the backbone for the leadership of the party and lead the masses to victory. This applies not only to France but internationally.

The new stage of the movement was presaged by the founding of the Fourth International and the development of the Transitional programme. A new period for the building of genuine mass parties opens up for the Fourth International. Parties which can only be built on the basis of the mass programme of the Fourth International, of which the transitional and military programmes form an integral part. Anyone who slurs over these absolute prerequisite for the building of the Fourth International shows an un-Marxian attitude towards the programme and principles of Bolshevism. Not for nothing did Trotsky say that “toleration” of the sectarians and sectarian policies within the ranks of the Fourth International would be disastrous. Without a clarification of the political position in Britain all arguments on organisational questions are fruitless. Indeed, if not connected with the political problems, are actually harmful and can do great damage.

In this connection it is very instructive to note that comrade Cooper misinterprets the history of his own party. He holds up the bogey of the horrible results of the splits in America as a warning to the WIL. And we agree that the examples do not make a pretty picture. But the WIL has always agreed on condemnation of these splinter groups and have always supported the stand of the American party against them. But what is alarming, is that in discussing these splits, comrade Cooper looks only at the organisational question and completely ignores the political basis of the splits. Here, as always, it is the political criterion that is decisive. These groups had a wrong political estimate of the situation, it was their policies which led to split, further splits among themselves, and ultimate extinction. Extraordinary! Bot nowhere in comrade Cooper’s document it is made clear that it was the wrong orientation of all these groups which differed politically from the Fourth International, which led to their doom.

Many times we have listened patiently to some of the American comrades as they unfolded the sorry tale of sections which split from the American party, the history of which we were not unfamiliar [with]. But we were struck by the fact that the American comrades were quite unaware that whereas the movement in America is a good example of the results of unprincipled splits, the movement in Britain is an even better example of the results of unprincipled and light-minded “unifications.” The political tendencies of Oehlerism, etc., found full flower within the RSL. And if it is splits the comrades wish to study, there is no need to cross the Atlantic. For every split in America, we can show them two or three in the “unified” British section. As comrade Healy used to be so fond of saying: “Comrade Cannon came to Britain and unified four groups into seven.”[7]

But here again, we would not adopt the attitude of comrade Cooper. There is no absolute rule on this question. We have to examine the problem in a dialectical way, not in a formalistic fashion. We cannot a priori and in advance, condemn every split automatically, merely because it was a split. We have to analyse the political basis and the social meaning of the split. If there had been powerful parties of the Fourth International throughout the world the problem would obviously be posed in an entirely different way. But then we would have been faced with entirely different tasks. In the past period, as today, the main problem was to prepare the building of the party, of transforming a sect into a party. The first prerequisite for this was to rid ourselves of the corroding influence of sectarianism. In this connection, we would say that it was the weakness and immaturity of the Fourth International, coupled with the terrible pressure of the reaction, which produced these splits. However, these splits cannot be conceived as an unmitigated evil. On the contrary, it was thus that the real cadres of the movement were educated, and a clear understanding of the role of the party, the tasks, and the political problems, were gained.

Let us examine the problem in the light of the developments of the International Left Opposition and the Fourth International. If we accepted the metaphysical absolutes of comrade Cooper, we would have to condemn Trotsky and the Fourth International as “unprincipled splitters”. Relying on memory, in Belgium in 1929 there was a split in the Trotskyist party. At that time Chiang Kai-shek was trying to seize the Chinese Eastern Railway in Manchuria, in which Russia had half-share (having previously ceded a half-share to the Chinese). Encouraged and incited by world imperialism he launched attacks on the Russian troops guarding the railway, and bloody collisions began to take place. There was danger of war. The majority of the Belgian Trotskyists condemned the Soviet Union in their official organ and supported China as a colonial country. The minority refused to distribute the party press which contained attacks on the attitude of the Soviet Union, and instead distributed a paper which they immediately rushed out. Thus a split took place. Trotsky and the International naturally, gave full support to the minority, and were correct in doing so.

Here we would like to deal with the position developed by comrade Stuart who points to the fact that Trotsky consistently stood for the reform of the Communist International up to 1933. He uses this analogy in justifying the directives which he gave to the TO as a “principled” question. His statement is perfectly correct. The sectarians, who insisted in 1928-33 in attempting to build “independent” parties, suffered dismal failures. But comrade Stuart, this too was not an eternal and unalterable principle, but was dictated by the objective situation. There is no need to go into any long or involved discussions on the question. One fact is sufficient to refute Stuart’s position. Apparently he does not know the history of his own party. Trotsky suggested in the early days of the Communist League of America, while other sections of the International Left Opposition stood for the reform of the Communist International, that the American comrades should launch out on the road of the independent party and prepare to compete with the CP in America. He did this, because of the weakness of the American CP, the freshness of the American workers, etc. To a different situation corresponded a different tactic. Thus the alleged “principle” on which Stuart based himself is revealed as a phoney. Cooper and Stuart might argue that the formal founding of the Fourth International alters the situation. But this too has already been answered by history.

All this nonsense about “absolute” principles on the question of “unity” is revealed by a very recent example. In France after the founding conference of the Fourth International, i.e. after the 1938 unity conference, in 1939 there was a split. The split was over a purely tactical question. One section wished to work as an independent party, the other insisted on the necessity of entry into the PSOP (the French ILP). We believe that the latter was in the minority. How to solve the problem? Why not all in one party, operating two tactics as in 1938? If it was a question of “Bolshevik principles” for Britain, why not for France? According to the latest prescription the minority should have been sternly condemned. But Trotsky and the International believed that the minority position was the correct one. The solution to the problem was that both groups remained within the Fourth International, while temporarily they separated in order to work out the tactics in practice. Trotsky believed that they would come together after a period had lapsed, and the results of the tactic of entry one way or another would have been worked out and demonstrated. There is nothing opposed to democratic centralism in this. Or is there?

To come nearer home. In Britain in 1933 there was a difference of opinion over the question of entry into the ILP and the so-called “independent” tactic put forward by the sectarians. Trotsky had advised correctly, entry into the ILP, which was in a state of flux and moving towards the left, as the only possibility of achieving results and preventing ossification and collapse. The sectarians were in a majority. Moreover, they comprised the leadership and the most experienced comrades. Yet Trotsky advised the young and less experienced comrades to enter the ILP. The path of the majority of the Communist League was suicidal and indicated their complete inability to face up the tasks. There could only be one thing to do. The minority entered the ILP. Were they correct in “splitting”, comrades? We refer you to the father of the split, comrade Trotsky.

Stuart admitted that had he arrived a few days later and the pending unification of the TO and the WIL had taken place, he would have been forced to accept the new position, as that would have been a “different situation.” So much for the sacred “principles” of democratic centralism.

However, these few examples suffice to show that the problem of “unity” and of split are not settled by shouts of “Unity! Unity!”. Our exceptional historical difficulties on an international scale have precisely been because in not one country have we possessed a mass party, and only in ideological struggle have the differing and heterogeneous elements which inevitably composed the beginnings of our movement, been tested and the wheat selected from the chaff.

It is instructive to observe the evolution of the different tendencies in Britain. Far from the WIL evolving in a direction politically hostile to the Fourth International, it has been the official section which has been evolving more and more politically away from the Fourth International. And not at all accidentally.

The evolution of the TO is a classic example of what happens to a tendency which raises the organisational above the political questions. By preventing a unification of the TO with those who were in political agreement with it, the TO landed in a blind alley. Quite unable to justify the completely unjustifiable split with the WIL, they developed political differences with the WIL and began to engage in the most shameless political horse-deals. And their evolution has just begun! Thus do unprincipled politics recoil on the heads of those who act blindly and empirically. In Stuart’s letter we see the full results developed to an unprincipled position in the most startling fashion. His letter constitutes a model of where an incorrect stand on an organisational question and an incorrect understanding on the methods of democratic centralism, can lead. After preventing the fusion of the TO with WIL for what he claimed was a “principled” position – “to split from the RSL was unprincipled” – he ends up, after the inevitable fiasco, with advocating the formation of another Trotskyist organisation. In other words – precisely a split! Now he says it would be “a caricature of real Bolshevik Leninist discipline” to continue the past tactic. And as a direct result of this directive, the WIL will be faced with the necessity to re-educate the TO in the organisational and political methods of the Fourth International. As comrade Cooper says: “Split is the greatest crime...”

Thus, in the most unprincipled fashion, Stuart discards his alleged principles of yesterday. But an important question arises precisely on this issue: the question of democratic centralism and internationalism. Just think of it! We are now in a pre-revolutionary period in Britain. Stuart claimed that “unity” was the most important problem in Britain. He accuses WIL of not understanding the principles of democratic centralism and internationalism. Certainly he provides a nice example of both. He is a member of the IS. On his personal responsibility he gives a directive “advising” the TO to set up a new organisation and to attack the other sections publicly, directly violating the previous instruction of the IS to the groups. Even if we were to concede for a moment that Stuart were correct in his advice to the TO, by what standards has he the right to give such [a] directive, which leads to action, in a secret letter to the TO? And by what standards of internationalism do two American comrades write to Britain, one addressing WIL in an open letter calling [for] “unity” in a vacuum; the other a secret letter to a faction advising split and a new organisation? If this is what Stuart imagines is democratic centralism, it would be difficult to understand the difference between unprincipled and principled politics.

Even if we accept the argument (which is entirely without foundation) that the WIL split on a “personal” issue; how does it happen that the WIL has built a thriving and living organisation with the correct Bolshevik policy, while the RSL has decayed and disintegrated and finished up on an entirely false position? Does this happen by some mysterious accident? Of course not! Despite the official label, the RSL as a genuine Bolshevik organisation, was always a fiction. If we would seek the theoretical explanation, even apart from the causes dealt with in this polemic, it has been provided by the Old Man:

“An organisation may be signified either because of the mass it embraces or because of the content of those ideas that it is capable of bringing into the workers’ movement...

“...More than once in history the rift within a lifeless organisation has given an impulse to the progressive development of its viable section...”

If there was nothing else, this in itself would confirm the position of the WIL.

As the record shows, WIL stands for the principled democratic centralist solution to the problem in Britain. We are for unity, but not a fiction of unity at any price. Unity must be on a Bolshevik basis to build the Bolshevik party.

We believe that our Conference Resolution lays the basis for the solution of the problem. Unification will be achieved. A united party on the basis of one policy – the policy of the majority – with full democratic rights for the minority. Our party must not be turned into a discussion club, but into a fighting party of the working class, protected by the application of the principles of democratic centralism.

Political Bureau, September 11 1943


[1] Stuart was the pseudonym of Sam Gordon, member of the International Secretariat of the Fourth International who visited Britain in the summer of 1942. The secret letter to John Lawrence was sent in February 1943. Lou Cooper was a leading cadre of the US SWP.

[2] The British Trotskyists’ unification conference of 1938 led to the formation of the Revolutionary Socialist League. The Workers’ International League opposed the terms of the unity agreement as unprincipled and decided not to join the RSL, which was then recognised as the official section of the Fourth International. The WIL could not send delegates to the founding conference of the Fourth International held in Paris in September 1938, but submitted a document, the Statement of WIL to the international congress of the Fourth International, asking to be officially recognised as a sympathising section and proposing a path towards clarification and unification of British Trotskyism. See, Ted Grant, Writings, Vol. 1, pages 46-7.

[3] Denzil Dean Harber (1909–1966) was one of the early supporters of Trotskyism in Britain and the secretary of the RSL.

[4] Alfred Weisbord joined the Trotskyist Communist League of America (CLA) in 1930 after breaking with Stalinism, but immediately split to form the Communist League of Struggle and eventually broke politically with Trotsky in 1934 over the tactic of entrism, which Weisbord regarded as a capitulation to Menshevism. B.J. Field was expelled from the CLA in 1934; after some vicissitudes his group developed some roots and influence especially in Canada. In 1935 a minority faction of the Trotskyist Workers’ Party led by Hugo Oehler refused to accept the majority decision to enter the Socialist Party of America and split.

[5] The Trotskyist Opposition, led by John Lawrence.

[6] Martin Abern was a leading member of the US young communists and one of the early supporters of Trotsky and the Left Opposition in the USA. Expelled from the CP in 1928, he was one of the founders of the Trotskyist CLA and later of the SWP. In 1940, along with Max Shachtman and James Burnham, he led a bitter factional dispute within the SWP that ended with a split and the formation of the Workers’ Party.

[7] Gerry Healy became suddenly the most outspoken partisan within WIL (for his own factional reasons) of immediate unity with the RSL, making a u-turn on his previous fierce opposition to the 1938 unity agreement.