THE STRUGGLE FOR MARXISM IN THE UNITED STATES AMERICAN TROTSKYISM’S GREAT CRISIS 1951-1954 TIM WOHLFORTHS CONTINUING CONTRIBUTION TO TROTSKYISM 1963-1974 PART 2 BY LAURENCE HUMPHRIES

21/04/2014 by socialistfight

In Part 2 I will continue to analyse Wohlforth’s contribution to American Trotskyism and his ability to dissect the various groups and formations in the American Trotskyist Movement. The Cochranite struggle of 1952 and 1953 had similarities with the struggle that Trotsky engaged in his last great battle before his death in 1940. “The 1952-3 Cochranite struggle has many similarities to the 1939-1940 struggles (with Burnham and Shahctman). It was without doubt the most profound internal struggle the SWP experienced since the death of Trotsky” [1]
After the 1951 World Congress George Clark and Bert Cochran who were delegates of the SWP returned to America as agents of Pablo. They were determined to carry out Pablo’s line which would have meant the liquidation of the SWP into the American Stalinist Movement. “In this effort he had the factional backing of Pablo. Clarke’s mission threatened to break down the basis for the long standing bloc between the Cannon leadership and the Pablo International Leadership”. [2].
It was a provocation started by this right wing Tendency around Cochran and Clarke. Pablo orchestrated and led this provocation. The American Communist party had moved to the right and were openly supporting the Democratic Party. Wohlforth selects two main elements in the Cochran/Clarke faction. There were trade Union elements and a Petty bourgeoisie faction.Wohlforth explains the nature of this trade union composition. “Cochran’s base in the party was the Party’s strong auto fraction in Detroit and Flint Michigan. In addition old time trade unionists in almost every branch throughout the Party supported Cochran. Cochran’s base was this working class section. It was however a working class base of a very special kind-an aristocratic stratum in the working class which Trotsky had warned about in 1940” [3].
David North Leader of the Socialist Equality Party in the USA and a successor to the Workers League of which Wohlforth was its National secretary until 1974 learnt about this aristocratic layer while they were members of the WL. North adopted a position that because Trade Unions were imbued with this conservative layer of workers as privileged, that this stratum of Aristocratic workers would always betray and North’s position is to write of any work or intervention in the Trade Unions. North completely misread the situation and has rejected the Transitional programme, the Founding Document of Trotskyism framed and written by Trotsky. North who prides himself on understanding Dialectical and Historical Materialism is in fact a Mechanical materialist providing reasons of how he can fit a programme with Marxist sounding philosophy.
There are conservative layers, but the task is to combine the more oppressed sections of workers, appeal to them and conduct a fight against this conservatism in the Party. Pablo and co were a right wing tendency as the following comments from Cannon confirm this fact. “The old Union militants in the plant are still in the plant and many of them are 13 times more conservative. They have many years seniority and that has become a sort of vested interest, a special privilege in steady employment as against the younger newly recruited slaves of the assembly line who have no privileges whatsoever” [4].
Cannon summarises the social basis of these conservative layers. “And the conservative trade unionists are the real social basis of Cochran in our party. They are the conservative right wing of our party” [5]. As well as this right wing element in the trade unions Wohlforth identifies the petty bourgeoisie elements that were moving closer and closer together. Wohlforth using the dialectical method establishes the forces at work and the possible directions they would be following. “Thus we can begin to see the elements which came together in the Clarke/Cochran minority inside the SWP in late 1951. There were a small group of petty bourgeoisie and worker elements who were seeking to jump over the extremely difficult objective circumstances facing the party through a special capitulatory orientation towards the Stalinists” [6].
Cannon describes this conservative layer amongst trade unionists which Trotsky had warned about. “Their conservatism which clashes head on with the revolutionary line of the Party expresses itself as revolt against the Party. They want to withdraw from the political struggle in the open arena. They want to retreat into a propaganda circle”. [7].Wohlforth establishes that the grouping around Murray Weiss who were opposed to Clarke and Cochran, although impatient, they wanted to fight the liquidationist line of Clarke/Cochran. “Weiss and Cannon worked closely together because of the need for a Party. It was because of this need for a party that they conducted a fight against Cochran and Clarke who were looking for the easy way out and wanted to liquidate the SWP into the Stalinists” [8]. Farrell Dobbs was a leading one time supporter of Cannon and the Majority, but had an ambiguous position and tried to remain neutral. Dobbs had his own problems. He had written a 3 volume History of the Teamsters, but failed to tell us with Cannon’s approval that he took a full time position within the Teamsters Bureaucracy. This once again shows the weakness of the Trade Union work. It is necessary to establish at the outset that if you are to challenge the Bureaucracy for Leadership one of the first demands must be democratic control and elected positions for full time officials and not to take full time positions which are what Dobbs did with Cannon’s approval.
Wohlforth correctly pinpoints the role of Dobbs. “The Dobbs section of the party was that section of the proletariat kernel of the movement which had retreated into the party, while the Cochran section was that section of the proletarian kernel that had retreated into the trade unions and the trade union apparatus” [9].
Cannon like Healy (Leader of the Workers Internationalist League (British section of the FI from 1947) before 1955 had been loyal followers of Pablo as Wohlforth demonstrates. “As if in order to prove this point in 1952 Cannon fully solidarised himself with Pablo’s expulsion of the majority of the French section” [10].
It is interesting to note that it was Clarke and not Cannon who made reference to Trotsky’s prognosis that the germ of Cochranism emerged because the Leadership Cannon et al evaded the responsibility of understanding what Trotsky had identified, Revisionism developing in the trade union section around Clarke and Cochran. This Cannon failed to appreciate. Referring to Cannon’s weakness Wohlforth states “He was incapable of looking back at the history of the party and explaining how a central section of the party’s cadre degenerated to a point where they could reject the revolutionary party” [11]. “In the autumn of 1953 the entire Cochran faction comprising perhaps a quarter of the membership was unceremoniously expelled from the Party” [12].
A split also took place in Britain when Gerry Healy, Mike and Tony Banda split from John Lawrence Pablo’s agent in the British organisation (The Group) and a known Stalinist agent. After a number of provocations Healy would lead the British section and work closely with Cannon and Lambert in France. For Cannon the split with Pablo was an empirical split based on the fact that Cannon wanted to protect his cadres. “Only when Pablo was clearly involved in disrupting the SWP did Cannon turn to the first principle –The Orthodox defence of doctrine” [13].
The split of 1953/4 lasted a very short time in spite of Cannon’s statement “That We are finished and done with Pablo and Pabloism for ever” [13].
It would not be long before Cannon and the SWP majority reunified with Pablo and his Tendency. In 1963 they reunified with the Fourth International, broke with the International Committee and formed the USFI. Cannon’s central weakness in this period is that he was unable to deal with ‘Pragmatism’ the American form of Empiricism and the ruling ideology of the American Ruling class.
Healy the other Leader in the 1953 split tried to develop a Marxist method and turned to a study of ‘Dialectical Materialism’ in attempting to uphold an orthodox Trotskyist tradition, but he turned ‘Dialectical Materialism’ into a rigid formal system which only Healy could understand. Dave Bruce has correctly identified this method as ‘Sensationalism’, another form of Empiricism. [14]
THE SWP TURNS AGAINST TROTSKYISTS 1954-1963
At this time there was a qualitative change for the SWP. Shahctman Leader of the Workers Party had decided to join the Socialist Party. A number of the youth in Shahctman’s organisation opposed this trend and fused with the youth section of the SWP. “About a quarter of the youth organisation of the Shahctmanites rebelled against this capitulation and conducted a struggle against Shahctman which ended in a spit and then a fusion with the youth of the SWP” [15].
In 1958 the leadership passed to Joseph Hansen (who was later identified by the International Committee as a GPU double agent). Cannon retired and started writing Histories of the American Trotskyist movement. Hansen wrote a series of articles demonstrating that the Political revolution in Hungary in 1956 were just a series of reforms. “The clearest theoretical expression of this trend can be found in an article by Joseph Hansen written in 1958. Now four years after the Pablo split and only two years after Hungary Hansen was to put an essentially reformist conception of political revolution almost identical with that held by Clarke in 1953”. [16]. Hansen’s methods as a GPU double agent and theoretician were used to attack orthodox Trotskyism and deliver the SWP hand and foot to Pablo. “Hansen’s theoretical role in the post war history of the SWP was not a personal matter. He reflected perhaps a bit more grotesquely than others the empiricist method of the SWP. Only a party deeply sick with the disease of empiricism would let such a person occupy a leading position in its Leadership” [17].
The Party’s groupings inside the SWP were floundering all over the place. The split of 1953 while a principled reaction to Pablo’s factional manoeuvre failed to identify the main methodological reasons for the split. “In 1954 the International Committee in a move to win over the LSSP initiated a unity move with a parity proposal from the pabloites. The go between was ST Peng from the Chinese section. Then in 1957 the SWP itself proposed unity with the Pabloites take place on the basis of parity between the IC and the IS.This time the International secretariat rejected the overture”. [18].
Wohlforth states “Neither the French nor the British had the strength at that time to give much leadership to the International Committee” [19]. Wohlforth who was a member of the Healy tendency during this period is not telling the whole truth. Both Healy and Lambert had been let off the hook; they should have struggled to overcome these difficulties and to do nothing until 1961 is not a satisfactory answer. From 1957-1961, the reason that there was no lead from Cannon and the SWP Leadership is that they were preparing for fusion with the Pabloites. The SLL and the PCI/OCI would be left on their own.
As Wohlforth states it is over the Cuban issue that the SWP finally finds common ground with the Pabloites.In 1960 with further threats from the Imperialists the SWP declares “That Cuba had become a Workers State” [20]. In my previous commentary on Wohlforth I have identified Wohlforth’s contributions on the character of a Workers State. [21]’
For a time this period led to an influx of members for the SWP but these forces were mainly of a petit bourgeois composition. Healy and the International Committee were the only Trotskyist Tendency able to show Cannon and Hansen where this regroupment would lead. It would be down the road to centrism and reformism. Healy wrote a letter to the SWP Leadership “It is time to draw to a close the period in which pabloite revisionism was regarded as a trend within Trotskyism”. [22]. The SLL was the only serious orthodox tendency able to reorient ate the SWP to the working class in the USA. Central in the SLL’s position was one of method. Sinclair’s (W Hunters) position in 1957 was one of method and this had started the development, but the methodology was on a much higher plane. “In this sense the SLL sought to raise the level of the International movement to the point Trotsky had developed in 1940”. [23].
But the SWP Leadership of Cannon and Hansen were not listening to their old comrades in the SLL. They were now determined to go full ahead with reunification with the pabloites completely forgetting the issues and principles of Marxism which they had argued in the 1953 open letter. The factionalism of Cochran, Clarke, Pablo and Lawrence was all forgotten.
At the SWP Convention of 1961 Wohlforth analyses the changes in the method and the role that the SWP leadership played again in their journey into the pabloite swamp of revisionism and counter revolution. The Pabloites themselves were quite surprised by the turnaround of the SWP Leadership “The pabloites themselves clearly admitted that the reunification moves of the SWP were based on the SWP’s reversal of political positions and not any change in the political outlook of the pabloites”. [24]
The move of reunification by the SWP did not save it from disintegration. In fact leaders like Murray Weiss helped to promote this liquidationist line for a Long period and would eventually reduce the SWP into a reformist sect. Weiss and his supporters were soon to leave the SWP with Weiss commenting “He simply pulled out of all party work and informed anyone who had bothered to ask that he no had come to the conclusion that the Cochranites in 1953 had been basically right” [25].
The formation left inside the SWP around Farrell Dobbs with the developing struggle amongst black and Afro Caribbean workers. Dobbs and his supporters again capitulated to pabloism. Wohlforth correctly analyses the social composition of Dobbs and his supporters “The Dobbs group like the Cochran group was a more aristocratic section of the working class and never did reach the young workers and Negroes.Now this aristocratic section had receded into the party itself thus isolating itself from the class” ]26]. Wohlforth’s most telling contribution is on the nature of the SWP and its approach to History which marks out revisionists and petty bourgeoisie elements from serious revolutionaries working to turn the working class to Marxism. “Any group incapable of studying its own History and of explaining its own evolution has broken totally with the method of Marxism” [27].
Wohlforth finishes this analysis by stating what American Marxists must face up to. “The American Marxists of the future must begin their work with an understanding of the History of this 40 year struggle for Marxism in the United states, any formation which continues to neglect this task will simply be bypassed by the Revolutionary developments in the United States regardless of size” [28].
In this History of the SWP I have tried to detail the History of the IC of the Fourth International where some of the leading comrades of Socialist Fight and LCFI emerged from. On our blog http://www.socialistfight.com we have begun to grapple with the history of Trotskyism and how eventually the SLL/WRP and the IC presently represented by North has failed to understand that history or begin to understand the nature of the working class. North took the most negative aspects of the SWP history with its adaption to Aristocratic sections in the working class and used it to argue for complete abstention in the class Struggle. Healy who died in 1989 followed the same trajectory of Pablo and was responsible for the liquidation of Trotskyism with his adaption to Bourgeoisie Nationalism and Stalinism and an adulation of leaders like Gadaffi, Hussein, Khomeini and Gorbachov.
The Trotskyist movement is paying for that betrayal and we must learn afresh the importance of constructing Trotskyist parties worldwide, not through adaption to petty bourgeoisie currents but to take a class position and remember how Trotsky fought to forge and construct a Fourth International that was important then as it must become now. Wohlforth’s contribution must not be negated because in later years he adapted to revisionism. Many Trotskyists including Cannon, Hansen, Barnes, Healy Tony and Mike Banda, Dobbs, Weiss Pirani, and Pilling would follow Wohlforth on the same path.

NOTES
1) Fourth International Magazine August 1966 Volume 3 Number 3
2) Ditto
3) Ditto
4) Ditto
5) Ditto
6) Ditto
7) Ditto
8) Ditto
9) Ditto
10) Ditto
11) Ditto
12) Ditto
13) Ditto
14) A Charlatan Exposed Reply by D Bruce to G Healy Studies in Dialectical Materialism.
15) Fourth International Magazine August 1966 Volume 3 No 3
16) Ditto
17) Ditto
18) Ditto
19) Ditto
20) Ditto
21) Humphries L The Degenerate Fragments a Reply to Workers Power 1983 http://www.socialistfight.com
22) Fourth International Magazine August 1966 Volume 3 No 3
23) Ditto
24) Ditto
25) Ditto
26) Ditto
27) Ditto
28) Ditto

 

 

WRP Explosion