Milton Fisk

Socialism From Below in the United States


Chapter III
The Workers’ Party and World War II


1. Defense of the USSR

At the spring 1940 convention of the SWP, 60% of the delegates supported the position of unconditional defense for the USSR in the war. Expulsions of the remaining 40% came only in 1941. In the meantime, those not for unconditional defense were stripped of party positions. This minority kept control of the New International and the majority, under Cannon, consulted lawyers on how to deal with this takeover of property.

Immediately, the Shachtman-Burnham-Abern led minority came out with a “third camp” editorial in the April, 1940, NI. The third camp is the camp of “the submerged, smoldering working masses of the world.” The other two camps are the imperialist Berlin-Moscow Axis and the imperialist London-Paris Axis. The duty of revolutionaries is to organize the third camp “for the defeat and overthrow of both imperialist camps.”

The Workers’ Party, was set up by the minority on April 26, 1940, at a convention attended by 800. It regarded itself as part of the 4th International, in which it remained until 1948. Its working class membership was initially small. Among the 40% of SWP’s 1,500 members who went into the WP were the youth of YPSL (Young People’s Socialist League). YPSL had come into the SWP when the SWP left the SP. (By 1946 the WP had not grown, having then around 500 members.)

The minority position on the war underwent an evolution. The position of no unconditional defense led Shachtman to ask what conditional support could be extended. With no obvious answer, he dropped the position of conditional defense by the end of 1941. As subordinate either to the Berlin imperialist camp, up through the summer of 1941, or, thereafter, to the Washington imperialist camp, the USSR could not be defended. Shachtman still upheld the collectivist property of the USSR, even though there was a bureaucratic ruling clan controlling it. Later even this was to be abandoned.


2. Organizational Questions in the Split

Cannon tackled the organizational questions [1] and Trotsky, who intervened because he saw the SWP as the most important section of the 4th International, dealt with dialectics and the Russian question [2] for the majority. The trade union leaders of the majority were less equipped than were the New York Intellectuals of the minority to deal with matters such as dialectics and defense of the USSR.

The minority asked for and was denied the right to publish publicly its own views in the party press, just as Muste-Oehler-Abern, who had been opposed to the SP entry, had been denied that right four years before. (The Bolsheviks had allowed for such public discussion.) Further, Cannon insisted on the position that every difference leads either to a capitulation or to a split. The minority was accused of running from democratic centralism in wanting access to the party press to conduct a faction fight.

Yet, the majority was not committed to a monolithic view of the party since it wanted to ovoid a split. The majority offered the minority favorable terms for staying in the party. On its side, the minority was confident of its ability to form a party free of what it considered the conservatism of the Cannon leadership. The minority wanted the split, but it was clear by 1943 or 1944 that it was not able to build a party.

The minority was labelled the “petty bourgeois opposition.” And It replied that this was a substitution of sociological for political analysis of the party crisis. Sociologically, it had a basis as applied to someone like Burnham, who merely “visited with the labor movement” and pursued an academic career while trying to be a working class leader. And it was also grounded in the fact that the bulk of the trade unionists, including the Minneapolis SWPers, were in the majority. But the isolation from the CIO and the paucity of unionists of any kind in the party led Trotsky to say that unless non-industrial comrades recruited industrial ones they should drop their membership.

The Cannon faction was accused of bureaucratic conservatism: its main goal was held by the minority to be self-preservation and because of this its politics were said to tend toward the conservative. It would indeed seem that Cannon ran a machine, at least in regard to much of the trade-union work – teamsters, maritime, and auto – and in regard to his ability to carry a tine through the branches. But a machine is of itself not necessarily bureaucratic if it is organized on the basis of principle by a collective leadership.

Cannon’s machine, though, was based on neither principle nor collective leadership. The workers who followed Cannon in the split did so out of organizational loyalty, not because of political principle. The SWP’s class leaders accepted a political orthodoxy about Russia and the war which Cannon had passed on from Trotsky. Neither they nor Cannon could defend this orthodoxy against the minority.

The other point is that Cannon worked almost alone through his loyal agents in the trade union fractions and in the branches. Trade union work was in his hands whereas theoretical work was in the hands of the oppositionists on the Political Committee or in the hands of Trotsky. Farrell Dobbs, for example, who played an important role in the SWP’s trade union work, had little role in Its theoretical work. A separation thus grew up between the theoretical and organization work of the SWP destroying the possibility of a collective leadership that integrated organizational and theoretical concerns.


3. Bureaucratic Collectivism

The split-issue – the defense of the USSR – raised, as Trotsky had noted, the question of the class nature of the USSR. Shachtman developed the theory of the USSR as a bureaucratic collectivist society to answer the class question.

The idea that the USSR was not a workers’ state but a bureaucratic state goes back to the Workers’ Opposition led by Kollontai and Shlyapnikov in the Russian CP in 1921. Then, in 1929, Rakovsky said the USSR was a bureaucratic state with only a proletarian element. In 1939, Bruno R(izzi) published La bureacratisation du monde in which he argued that capitalism was to be followed by bureaucratic revolutions, not a socialist revolution. Bureaucracy was already in control in the USSR, Hitler’s Germany, and Roosevelt’s USA. Rizzi’s ideas were behind Burnham’s Managerial Revolution which appeared an 1941, and they still persist in the view that the US is becoming, along with other major countries, a “post-industrial society” in which scientific management has become more important than ownership.

Shachtman’s defense of the view that the bureaucracy in the USSR had become a class and indeed a ruling class avoided Rizzi’s superficial generalization of this idea to Germany and the US. [3] Shachtman contended that since the state owned the means of production, Russian society could be characterized economically as a collectivist one. Since Soviet state power is In the hands of the bureaucratic class, a full characterization of the society is that it is bureaucratic collectivist. The economic relations established by the Bolshevik revolution were replaced under Stalin by those of bureaucratic collectivism.

In 1948 Tony Cliff, in Great Britain, in a book on The Nature of Stalinist Russia [4], also argued that the USSR is a class society with a bureaucratic ruling class. This laid the basis for the development of relationships between the International Socialists of Great Britain, who were led by Cliff, and some of the successors of Shachtman in the US.

Cliff, however, contended that the USSR is state capitalist. His theory needs to emphasize competition – chiefly military competition – between the USSR and traditional capitalist countries in order to save the “law of value” in Soviet society. This law must hold, in some form, where there is capitalism. It determines long- run prices of commodities by the labor time spent to produce them and, by determining at what price the supply of a commodity balances demand for it, it also determines how much labor will be allocated in the production of different commodities. If the USSR is capitalist, the state regulation of prices and state allocation of labor must be Influenced to some extent by considerations of labor time in the manner required by the law of value. For Cliff the mechanism that insures this influence is international competition.

At their 1974 convention, the United States International Socialists adopted a version of Shachtman’s bureaucratic collectivist view of the USSR, which was presented by Mike Parker. [5] Cliff’s position was criticized on the ground that competition between major world powers does not of itself imply that they must have the same basic economic Structure. It was also argued that, though the rate of exploitation in the USSR may be increased by international military competition, this implies no equalization of wage rates as would be evident if the law of value applied to both western countries and tile USSR.

Defenders of the state capitalist view of the USSR allege that Shachtman’s Stalinophobia was a natural outgrowth of his bureaucratic collectivist view. An alternative interpretation is presented below. Shachtman’s realism about the sad state of the international workers’ movement during World War II led him to put democratic rights before revolution. Since Stalin was clearly an opponent of democratic rights, after the war Shachtman moved closer to the US State Department’s cold war position.


4. Party Building Days for the WP

The theme at the founding convention of the WP was that the WP would not support the USSR in the war because it was an agent of one of the two war camps. But as a tiny group with little penetration into industry, the WP would have to grow rapidly to play a decisive role either during the war or in the revolutionary upsurge that was expected to follow it.

Labor Action was to be one of the main instruments of realizing the needed growth. It began appearing on May Day 1940 as a weekly. The WP’s politics of the war was what had led to the split, and it was used relentlessly in the paper to build the party. The headlines on the first numbers were: “Against Both War Camps – For the Camp of World Labor,” “Let the Bankers Fight on the Maginot Line; Labor’s Fight is at Home on the Picket Line,” “New Commune Can Save France – Only Workers Can Stop Hitler’s March.” Week after week the headlines warned of the efforts of the ruling class to get workers in the US into its war. The paper had regular contributions from Max Shachtman, Dwight MacDonald, J.R. Johnson (C.L.R. James), David Coolidge (Ernest Rice McKinney), Susan Green, B.J. Widick, James T. Farrell, Irving Howe (managing editor of LA in the early war years), and the memorable cartoonist Carlo. By 1943 the press run was up to 40,000.

Mass work included two-month long trans-continental speaking tours by leaders like Max Shachtman. Shachtman also ran in the 1940 Bronx 23rd congressional district election as an anti-war candidate. The WP continued to run candidates on a regular basis, as did the SWP, which ran Cannon in local elections. Community issues were emphasized: papers were sold door to door in black neighborhoods and forums were held in those neighborhoods.

Most important, industrialization was encouraged from the start. Around 80% of the membership became employed in heavy industry by the time the US entered WW II. The youth of YPSL were urged to go into the plants. Industrialization became a mark of full commitment to socialism. Non-workers were often sent as organizers into industrial areas to build worker branches. The level of political discussion was raised by this contact with the working class. The lines of unemployed were drying up as people went to work in The new war industries; party members had no trouble getting industrial jobs. Harvey Swados [6] describes the building of the Buffalo branch under these conditions. Nationally, penetration was made by WP members into auto, steel, electrical goods, shipyards, and railroads.

By April 1941, the party was ready for a major turn. “The firm insistence of the party on the proletarianization of the ranks has had an exclusively beneficial effect. The party today is well on the road to becoming ... predominantly ... working men and women. The proletarianization of the party means ... the recruiting of new proletarian forces from the industries. [This requires] active participation in the class struggle .... Our principal need now is to concentrate on propagandistic and especially agitational slogans which bring us deeper into the mass movement of the workers.” [7] This turn to agitation was being made at the time of the most rapid build up of war industry.

By 1943 indigenous workers were being recruited by ones and twos. But it was hard to hold them. Many of them dropped out in several months. They had difficulty adjusting to the exhausting routine of party meetings and paper sales. As the war neared its end, There was demoralization even among the party members who had industrialized. They had seen the indigenous workers in the plants lose their leftward tendency in patriotism and anti-communism. The revolutionary potential of the proletariat on which their hopes were based had been pushed into the background. As the war ended, industrialized party members left industry and the revolutionary movement to devote Themselves totally to middle-clan careers. Having been taught that committed socialists would go into industry, they had no conception of socialist tactics for themselves once they left industry. [8]


5. Black Work of the WP

Southeastern Missouri was the scene of a successful sharecroppers strike between May and July, 1942. The WP had been active in work among the sharecroppers out of its St. Louis branch. It saw black-white unity as the key to winning the demands of the sharecroppers, and it worked among the sharecroppers to promote unity and build The strike. The demand was for 30 cents per hour rather than the $1.25 per day they were receiving. The Missouri Agricultural Union organized the sharecroppers and other farm workers. This was a section of the Union of Canning Agricultural Packing and Allied WorkersdO. The workers stayed at home and the cotton didn’t get thinned. They had the backing of St. Louis ClO unions. After four weeks wages were upto $2, and after six weeks labor contractors were offering $2.50 to get workers into the cotton fields. The strike was a success, based on cross-racial solidarity pushed for by WP activists and Labor Action.

With the war calling blacks into industry and the military, actions against discrimination had a greater chance of success. The WP pushed equal pay and equal opportunity in the UAW, for example. Comrades who were drafted, and in particular black comrades, were to agitate against all forms of Jim Crow in the services. [1*]

The CP subordinated the struggle against Jim Crow in industry to the war effort. Thus when, beginning at the 1942 UAW convention, the CP organized blacks to win a special post on the UAW International Executive Board for a black, it was attempting to get black support for the faction it backed in the UAW and for its anti-labor policy of an all-out effort to increase war production. At the Buffalo convention, in 1943, Reuther, in an equally demagogic way, denounced the idea as Jim Crow in reverse. Shelton Tappes, of River Rouge Ford Local 600, spearheaded the CP efforts. He wanted fellow blocks to stick with the Addes faction. This faction had CP backing and was opposed to the Reuther faction.

At the November 1947 UAW convention blacks finally saw through the CP device. A majority of them swung to the Reuther faction. For the first time a black officer was elected to the executive board, without there being any necessity for appointment to a special post for a black. From the beginning, the WP agitated against the CP attempt to manipulate blacks by calling for a black IEO post?


6. Independent Black Organization

The majority position of the WP was by 1945 to push merely for equality for blacks. This position was counterposed to the position that integrationism is not enough but that it is necessary to recognize the need of blacks for independent organization. The majority position was written by David Coolidge and the minority position by J. R. Johnson. These positions were discussed under the heading Negroes and Revolution at an NC in early 1945. Johnson said, “In the United States social revolution is impossible without the independent mass struggles of the Negroes, whatever the prejudices, the reactionary fantasies, the weaknesses, and errors of these struggles.” [10]

The majority resolution proposed that the key issue is the winning of white workers to supporting black equality and class unity. Separatist struggles were viewed as a function only of the backwardness of whites. And so independent struggles of blacks are at best an inevitable antecedent to, but not an integral part of, the struggle for socialism. More important is the struggle of black workers to achieve the level that white workers had already achieved. When there are no longer any special privileges for white workers, there can be working class unity and then the real struggle for working class emancipation can begin.

This emphasis on equal rights as a prelude to the struggle for socialism paralleled the WP’s emphasis on democratic rights for the workers of nations overrun by fascism as a prelude to the struggle for socialism.

Johnson’s resolution, by contrast, emphasized not white backwardness but the role of blacks in the American bourgeois revolution and their subsequent integration into industrial production. This history, not white backwardness, is the basis for the tendency for independent struggle among black. [2*] Johnson contended – and the history of blacks in industry in the post-war period confirmed his contention amply – that integration into industry does not decrease the blacks’ sense of oppression, but increases the tendency of blacks for independent struggle. The way blacks have been used in the accumulation process, and not the backwardness of whites, is the decisive factor in understanding the roots of independent organization.

Blacks in the US are, Johnson contended, a national minority distinguished by race. Nationalist revolt in the capitalist heartland foreshadows the breaking apart of capitalist society itself. This national revolt is not a mere antecedent to the struggle for socialism but an integral part of it. Winning whites to black equality is only half of the battle. In addition, independent struggles of the black community must be supported by whites, and black workers must stand at the head of those struggles.

The Independent Socialist Clubs, in 1967, viewed the ghetto rebellions as a confirmation of Johnson’s view and responded to them as the breeding grounds of a revolutionary movement among blacks. In 1969, the International Socialists studied the Black Panther Caucus at the Fremont, Calif., GM plant [11], the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement at Dodge Main, and the United Black Brothers at Ford in Mahweh, New Jersey [12] as instances of independent black workers’ organization. In 1972, Jack Trautman developed further the view of the black question on the model of blacks as an oppressed nationality. His view, which was adopted by IS in 1973, called for support of and demands for black caucuses in the unions. [13] Sy Landy opposed this analysis and saw independent black organization as becoming less important. With the Turn to Agitation in the IS in 1975, a different perspective was needed to fit the Turn, one focusing more on equal rights. The emphasis with the Turn was on demands that affected workers as workers, and the most implied by this for blacks was equality. With the last sparks of the black movement fading. Trautman’s July 1975 document recognized that black caucuses were not active. Thus his document focused on countering the anti-busing movement. This movement had been rekindled in 1974 in Boston. It was also building up in Louisville in anticipation of court-ordered busing there in September 1975. [14]


7. The National Question in World War II

The December 1942 issue of The Fourth International contained Three Theses on the European Question, an article submitted by “a group of European comrades.” The Theses emphasized the problem of the national liberation of the overrun countries. International socialism should help to solve this problem, because, “First these are democratic demands ...without the realization of which socialism cannot win. Second, socialism cannot find the necessary allies ... if it hasn’t stepped forward as the determined defender of [democratic] demands. Third, only revolutionary socialism is in the position to realize the democratic program .... The transition from fascism to socialism remains a utopia without an intermediate state, which is basically equivalent to a democratic revolution.” The SWP reply was that this separated the slogan of national liberation from the Comintern’s 1923 slogan of a Socialist United States of Europe. The Theses relegated the later to a level of propaganda, whereas in fact, as Felix Morrow of the SWP put it, “national liberation in this epoch is the task of the working clan under the leadership of the Fourth International.”

The national question as applied to both Europe and Asia was debated between January and September of 1943 in the NI. The 1943 WP resolution on the national question was an elaboration of the Three Theses. This resolution marked a break with Trotsky’s perspective of immediate revolution after WWII. This development began an emphasis on democratic rights, without class content, which was to lead the WP and its successor, the Independent Socialist League, farther and farther to the right.

The fact was “The working class movement exists nowhere in Europe.” [15] The task of the revolutionary vanguard is, then, to find itself in the heart of the underground movement. There it should combat both Stalinism and the attempt by the Anglo-American imperialists to co-opt the underground and to reimpose a new imperialist oppression. The link between the national struggle and the victory of socialism is “represented by the fact that the democratic and social aspirations of the masses cannot be fully achieved ...unless the masses continue their struggle to the point of taking power in their own hands.” [16]

There was a dilemma here; On the one hand, with a strong workers’ movement and a revolutionary party, the program of a Socialist United States of Europe could be implemented in the very process of defeating Nazi imperialism. On the other hand, in the absence of both a worker’s movement and a party, there was no conceivable way to prevent the Allies from carving up Europe as they pleased. Not being able to prevent this, the underground’s fight for democratic national rights could not be projected into a fight for socialist freedom.

The WP’s slogan “Through National Freedom to Socialist Freedom!” had, then, to be trimmed in practice to, on the one hand, a demand for a national freedom that the Anglo-American liberators would institute, and to, on the other hand, a rejection of the introduction of Stalinist totalitarianism. So without the crucial ingredient of a workers’ movement, not only was a Socialist United States of Europe not on the agenda but also any bourgeois-democratic interlude imposed by the Anglo-American invading armies would be indefinitely long. In practice, the slogan “Through National Freedom to Socialist Freedom!” was merely a call for democracy as opposed to Nazism and Stalinism.

By September of 1943, Shachtman saw his way through to this conclusion. With Mussolini dead and the Allies advancing through Italy. the Italian masses surged into action. “What do the Italian masses want? They want an end to fascism and an end to the war .... These demands, especially the first, cannot be realized without elections, which presuppose the right to vote, of which the masses were deprived by fascism .... The demand for the right to vote is a revolutionary demand, and so is the struggle to attain it.” [17] Here the fight for democratic rights has altogether replaced the class struggle.

Johnson argued weakly against this that even in the, absence of working-class organizations soviets could be formed in European factories within hours. With seven and one-half million foreign workers in Germany the ground was laid for the defeat of capitalism there. But this spontaneism could not make the SWP’s slogan of a Socialist United States of Europe any more “urgent.” [18]

The defeat of the workers’ movement in Europe by the Popular Front and Nazism meant that no revolutionary perspective was immediately actionable. The defeat was not limited to Europe. Where there had been a shop steward system in the US – as at Ford local 600 – it was defeated by the War Labor Board. The patriotism of the labor officialdom and of the CP-USA undermined the base needed for killing the “no-strike pledge.” It was, though, a mistake to avow this international defeat of the working class in the way Shachtman did. He avowed it by taking the democratic part of the revolutionary national perspective out of that perspective and setting it up as an adequate socialist perspective by itself. What was needed was the vision of a long slow reconstitution of the international workers’ movement in the wake of the war.


8. The Rank and File Caucus

Immediately after Pearl Harbor, union officials gave FDR their word that there would be no strikes for the duration. The ranks weren’t consulted. And during the four war years more person hours were lost to production because of strikes than during any previous similar period in US labor history. Both the Addes-Stalinist faction and the Reuther faction opposed strikes by the UAW. The union would not protect strike leaders, who were often inducted into the military. So locals opposed to the no-strike pledge began to come together.

At the Michigan State CIO convention in July 1944 a group of local presidents and committeemen from the UAW formed the Rank and File Caucus. One of its leaders with national visibility was Larry Yost of Local 600. Another was Tom De Lorenzo of the New York Brewester airplane local, where the WP was actIve. The three-part program of the R&F Caucus was: Revoke the No-Strike Pledge; Labor Off the War Labor Board; and Establish a Labor Party.

Ford Highland Park Local 400 R&F Caucus members wore jackets with the slogan “Scrap the No Strike Pledge” sewn onto them. The national newspaper of the R&F Caucus, the Rank and Filer, did not appear until February 1945. The caucus’s main action was at the September 1944 UAW convention. WP members were active in forming the caucus and gave it a political thrust. They emphasized that taking away the rights of labor in war time was a step toward totalitarianism. Support for the R&F Caucus grew after V-E Day, when the war rationale for the no-strike pledge seemed outdated. [19]

At the September 1944 Grand Rapids UAW convention there were three positions: the Addes-Frankensteen-Stalinist position of upholding the no-strike pledge unconditionally; the Reuther-Leonard position of revoking the no-strike pledge only for industries that had reconverted from war production to peace-time production; and the R&F Caucus position of revoking the no-strike pledge for all industry. The R&F Caucus position gained 36% of the vote, and because of the split between the other two positions, there was only a minority for the unconditional no-strike pledge. By clever maneuvering Reuther kept this result from standing. The no-strike pledge went to a referendum in which it was upheld 2 to 1, with only a small portion of the members returning ballots. But by this time the pledge was irrelevant: strikes were increasing toward their 1945-46 high point. Immediately after V-J Day, the R&F Caucus fell apart and the militants swung into Reuther’s faction. [20]


9. Reuther and Anti-Stalinism

The policy of the WP in the UAW was to work with the militants and progressives. Except for the brief period of the R&F Caucus, this meant working in the Reuther-Leonard faction. This was a way of avoiding isolation and of building toward the defeat of the Stalinists. But it had its dangers, dangers that were increased by the growing intensity of WP anti-Stalinism.

Max Shachtman, WP National Secretary, wrote of the 1943 UAW Buffalo convention that the militants and progressives were in the Reuther faction, but since Reuther was a compromiser, the militants must organize. [21] The Addes-Frankensteen faction was partly composed of Stalinists and they were for incentive pay. A year later the militants did organize the R&F Caucus, but after the war at the time of the 1945-46 GM strike, Reuther’s demand, as director of UAW’s GM division, to see the company’s books in order to prove to everyone that it could afford a 30% pay hike without raising prices was termed by the WP a “revolutionary change in union struggles.” [22] The next and logical step, the WP thought, would be the demand for workers’ control. Reuther was, in effect demanding the right to participate in price and profit determination. But this was to be a right of the union tops, and not, as under workers’ control, of the ranks. Under the slogan “Back the UAW to Victory” the WP supported Reuther in the GM strike as the most advanced leader in the post-war labor insurgency. “His alliance with militants in the 194546 strike put him miles ahead of all other officials.” [23]

Reuther consolidated his election to the UAW presidency in March 1946 by winning a majority on the IEB at the November 1947 convention. At this point the WP support for Reuther was based simply on anti-Stalinism. The “revolutionary change” in union struggle of the GM strike had reverted to the earlier reality of collaboration between Reuther and both the bosses in auto and the government David Coolidge, National WP Organizer, wrote, “The Reuther victory over the Addes-Thomas-Leonard-Stalinist force was not mere red baiting as the SWP contended. It wiped out a real menace in the UAW .... The defeat of the Stalinists was a political victory, a triumph over Stalinist totalitarianism. The majority of Reuther delegates want their union determined here not in Moscow.” [24] It didn’t matter that the anti-red hysteria sweeping the US was being given aid and comfort by supporting Reuther in the UAW with his affirmation of the non-communist Taft-Hartley affidavit.

There was no longer any credibility in the line stated by Coolidge that “Implicit in the ‘Reuther Program’ is class struggle, the class organization of labor along political lines and for independent working class political action .... The ‘Reuther Program’ tends away from class collaboration .... The Workers Party member will function in the Reuther caucus .... He will chastise Reuther for his wavering, ... his class collaboration.” [25] In 1947 this was only a cover for a growing fixation with Stalinism. [3*]

The exaggerated anti-Stalinism of the WP resulted from its emphasis on democratic rights in face of the defeat of the workers’ movement during WWII. The emphasis on democratic rights also prepared the WP for what in effect was uncritical acceptance of Reuther’s leadership during the GM strike. It was willing to back a bureaucrat who supported democratic capitalism and to liquidate all efforts to build a base of its own among the militants. Reuther had shown during the war that he was on the side of capitalism. He had been a faithful watchdog for the no-strike pledge. For him the radical demands were mere form with which to capture the militants. Behind them lay a practice of according less and less power to the ranks for the sake of making bureaucratic control of the union complete. It was correct to support Reuther’s demands against GM, but they should have been used to criticize Reuther’s own leadership. Militants needed to organize themselves to win those demands. Reuther would have been the first to strike out against such organization.

Reuther’s attack on Communists in 1947 was not new. He was in the vanguard of red baiting as WWII began. The SWP was correct in rejecting the Reuther faction for its red baiting, but of course that did not warrant its joining in support of the Stalinist faction. The suicidal consequences for the WP’s classless support of democratic rights were by now evident in the fact that, having no base of its own in auto, it tailed Reuther in his red baiting campaign to control the IEB.


10. Unity Talks with the SWP and the Break with the Fourth International

Since the SWP defended the USSR, it was for maximum production in plants producing for the Russian war effort. But since it was not defensist in regard to the US, it was not for the subordination of the working clan in plants producing for the US war effort.

Even though the SWP had the perspective of the 4th International of revolution after the war, it thought nothing could be done in the US during the war. The court corvictions of the Minneapolis Trotskyists along with James Cannon. National Secretary at the SWP, Albert Goldman, SWP attorney, and Felix Morrow, Militant editor, under the Smith Act in 1941 was partly responsible for this pessimism. Despite intense strike activity, the SWP viewed militancy in the US as adventurist during the war, since it thought this would expose its members and periphery to reprisals. This contrasted strongly with the industrial activism of the WP.

In August 1945, a minority, including Morrow and Goldman, in the SWP, was the vehicle used to approach the WP for unity negotiations. The 4th International was putting pressure on Cannon to negotiate a merger. The unconditional defense of the USSR, over which the groups split, was no longer a central concern. Alledgedly, Cannon’s conception of a monolithic party made the negotiations terminate in failure. The SWP rejected the right to publish a tendency bulletin against its “bureaucratic” leaders. Morrow was soon expelled; Goldman joined the WP along with a minority opposed to bureaucratic leadership in the SWP. Actually, more than bureaucratic power was at issue. The drift away from a revolutionary perspective toward a democratic rights perspective within the WP could not be reconciled with the Trotskyist belief in post-war revolution. [4*]

In 1948, the WP broke with the 4th International over the question of Eastern Europe. Shachtman attended the 2nd Congress of the 4th International in March 1948. At this congress the position was adopted that countries in which the CP had come to power, like Czechoslovakia, were still capitalist states. If they were recognized as workers’ states, then there would be a recognition of the ability of the CPs to make revolutions. If the CPs were revolutionary then The 4th International was unnecessary! An editorial in the April 1948 issue of NI says the WP has nothing in common with this position. For the WP, those countries were neither capitalist nor workers’ states. The International Secretariat of the 4th International, however, in July notified Tito of its support in his break with Stalin, indicating its belief that Stalinist parties, such as the one in Yugoslavia, could be reformed, a belief that Trotsky had given up after Hitler rose to power. The WP was unwilling to support Tito.




1*. Draft resistance was grounds for expulsion from the WP. As the war started, the SWP urged its members to go in maritime to avoid the draft. The SWP called for putting the draft under union control. (This was different from having workers’ militia independent of the government.) The WP saw this as giving in to the Imperialist war.

2*. C.L.R. James had written The Black Jacobins, an account of black revolt in Haiti, seven years prior to his writing this resolution.

3*. Coolidge (McKinney) ii currently working in the A. Philip Randolph Institute with the right-wing social democrat Bayard Rustin.

4*. This rightward drift was behind the return of the Johnson (C.L.R. James)-Forest (Raya Dunayevskaya) Tendency of the WP to the SWP In 1946, which drained the WP of 15% of its members.



1. Cannon, Struggle for the Proletarian Party, 1943; see the appendix, The War and Bureaucratic Conservatism, setting forth the minority view.

2. Trotsky, In Defense of Marxism, 1942.

3. Max Shachtman, Is Russia a Workers’ State?, New International, Dec. ’40.

4. Cliff’s State Capitalism in Russia, 1974, contains the revised substance of the 1948 book.

5. Mike Parker, Bureaucratic Collectivism, IS Convention Document, 1974.

6. Harvey Swados’ novel Standing Fast, 1970; see John Single’s perceptive review in Workers’ Power 28, Jan. 15-28, ’71.

7. From the Plenum of the NC, Labor Action, 4-7-41.

8. Stan Weir, IS Bulletin 29, Sept. ’72, pp.85-71.

9. LA, 11-24-47; also Irving Howe and B. J. Widick, The UAW and Walter Reuther, 1949, pp.223-225.

10. NI, Jan. ’45, p.16.

11. International Socialist 19, May ’70.

12. IS 17, March ’70.

13. Jack Trautman, Black Liberation Perspective, IS Bulletin 41, II, July ’73.

14. Jack Trautman, Entering the Black Movement, IS Convention Bulletin, July ’75.

15. The National and Colonial Struggles, NI, Jan. ’43.

16. The National Question in Europe, NI, Feb. ’43.

17. Max Shachtman, Problems of the Italian Revolt, NI, Sept. ’43.

18. J.R. Johnson The Way Out For Europe, NI, Apr.-May ’43.

19. Howe and Widick, The UAW and Reuther, pp.120-1 24.

20. Art Preis, Labor’s Giant Step, 1984, Chapter 21, The Fight Against the No-Strike Pledge.

21. Shachtman, LA, 10-25-43.

22. LA, 12-3-45.

23. Herman Benson, What Is Walter Reuther?, NI, Dec. ’47.

24. Coolidge, LA, 11-24-47.

25. Coolidge, LA, 12-1-47.


Last updated on 9.1.2002