Bolshevism vs. Menshevism
in Workers’ Voice (U.S.)
How a cynical, demoralized opposition destroys Trotskyism
No. 1 — Spring 1998
On 10 January, the Detroit branch of Workers’ Voice voted to separate from the San Francisco Bay Area Branch of the organization and form a separate group. At the time the Detroit branch represented the majority of active members of WoVo, the entire active cadre, and comprised two-thirds of the National Committee, the Editorial Board of Workers’ Voice and the U.S. delegation to the International Executive Committee of the International Workers’ Committee (Trotskyist).
This split was the result of a year-long struggle against a cynical and demoralized minority that had attempted to obstruct the democratic decisions of the organization. Over and over again this grouping stymied the implementation of majority decisions, destroying, in practice, the internal democracy of the organization.
The impetus of this struggle was the enactment of a process of transformation of WoVo from a locally-based propaganda circle into a Bolshevik organization on a national level. The minority of the organization resisted the transformation, preferring a retreat into isolation and sterile propagandism.
During this initial struggle, several other disagreements developed. By the time of the split, it was clear that the minority was openly rejecting the political agreement expressed in the fusion declaration between Workers’ Voice and the Left Opposition, and beginning to revise basic Trotskyism.
By the time of the split, which occurred three weeks before the Fourth Congress of Workers’ Voice (U.S.), it had been made clear that the minority was going to sabotage any attempt at political discussion and theoretical development inside the organization. Further, the constant battles against the obstructionism of the minority were having a deeply demoralizing effect on some honest, but underdeveloped comrades. The Detroit branch was faced with three choices: 1) continue to struggle against the unprincipled actions of the minority and allow the honest comrades to become casualties of this battle, 2) stop struggling and allow democratic centralism in the organization to cease to exist altogether, or 3) leave the organization and move forward. For us, the correct choice was sad but obvious.
While we would prefer to simply move on and build a working-class, Bolshevik organization, we feel it is necessary to review the past period of Workers’ Voice — its development, contradictions and problems. We also feel it is important to cover the basic political differences that ultimately led to the split.
The dialectic of WoVo’s transformation
The process of transformation in Workers’ Voice brought forward many of the contradictions which were inherent in the organization since its inception as the Revolutionary Trotskyist Tendency (RTT). These included the effects of an extended period of working class retreat; the inexperience of an important layer of comrades and the historic tendency to rely on one comrade for the bulk of its theoretical work; an increasing tendency towards comfortable, conservative routinism on the part of the Bay branch; and the challenge of transforming into a national organization rather than a locally isolated sect. These contradictions led to a series of convulsions over the last period.
Ironically, WoVo, a group that emphasizes so strongly the need to apply dialectics to all of its analyses, failed completely to do this in regards to the process of its own transformation. Instead, at least initially, the entire organization (including the Detroit branch) seemed to be living under the delusion that this process would take place naturally, and relatively smoothly.
Then, when the transformation process turned out to be more bumpy than expected, some comrades began to slide into demoralization. It was only in the last few months that the Detroit branch finally recognized and began an attempt to correct this problem. Unfortunately, at that point, the demoralization and routinism was too deeply entrenched, and our efforts only produced more explosions.
In addition, WoVo suffered from an insufficient understanding of the current political situation. To a degree, the organization fell into the same trap as almost every other group on the left — repeating stock-phrases of a soon-to-come turnaround in the level of working class action without the needed in-depth analysis of concrete economic and political realities.
WoVo’s functioning did not sufficiently meet the demands of the present historic period, and as a result, it increasingly thought and acted like a small sect, rather than an organization that intended to be around for the long haul and to build a mass revolutionary party.
An organization that attempts to function in a way that does not reflect the reality of its situation is bound to explode. This explosion came for WoVo last summer, and presented the organization with a choice: transform, or become a hardened sect. It appears that the Bay Area comrades have chosen the later. This can be clearly seen in the arguments on the political issues in dispute, and in the collapse of any pretense to Bolshevik functioning.
Once again on the August 1991 coup in the USSR
The central issue in dispute at the time of the split in Workers’ Voice was over the question of the August 1991 coup in the USSR.
Workers’ Voice at the time of the split was having political discussions with the Bolshevik Current for the Fourth International (BCFI). As part of these political discussions, the question of the August 1991 coup was central. At a meeting in October 1997, comrades from Workers’ Voice traveled to Toronto to continue discussions with the BCFI. It was at this meeting that the two tendencies debated the organizations’ different positions. While we believe that there are still important differences between ourselves and the BCFI on this question, the debate forced us to look more closely at WoVo’s historic positions. We found that, in fact, WoVo and its predecessor organizations held three different positions, each of which would have placed the organization on different sides of the barricades. In “The Death Agony of Stalinism” (International Trotskyist No. 1), WoVo characterized Yeltsin as “the biggest danger to the working class.” In addition, we said: “the victory of the Yeltsin faction in the Russian republic is not only very dangerous, but is the biggest threat to the workers’ state since 1917” (emphasis in original).
For us, this meant that, in a confrontation between the discredited remnants of Stalinism and Yeltsin, we would recognize Yeltsin’s forces as the greater danger and mobilize to smash his pro-imperialist designs. Furthermore, we would do this while recognizing that the top level of the Stalinist bureaucracy had placed their chips on capitalist restoration to maintain their privileges but, objectively speaking, could not succeed as long as imperialism supported the forces represented by Yeltsin.
But, when it came to the acid test of the August 1991 coup itself, the organization wavered as a result of the pressures of the League for a Revolutionary Communist International (LRCI), which had fraternal relations with it. In the initial resolution on the August 1991 coup, International Trotskyist wrote:
But no united front with Yeltsin and the restorationist leaders was permissible. That does not mean that a common struggle against the coup could not be waged alongside the workers, soldiers and other who had illusions in Yeltsin. (“Only Workers’ Revolution Can Stop Capitalist Restoration,” IT No. 4)
In short, the organization hopped barricades. The position moved from recognizing Yeltsin as “the biggest danger” to seeing the Stalinists as “the main danger” in the span of a year. A short time later, this position was changed again. Instead of blocking with the Yeltsinite forces, the RTT moved into a nominally “dual defeatist” position, without renouncing the original resolution. Instead, a one-paragraph “correction” was printed in a supplement changing “main danger” to “grave danger.” No mention was made about the bloc with the forces of the “imperialist/Yeltsinite axis.” In other words, our break with the LRCI on the question of the coup had remained empirical, without the through going methodological break that was necessary to develop a Marxist position.
The Detroit branch sought to correct this grave error in our program. We felt that the method put forward around the August coup ran counter to the method that led to many of our historic positions (e.g., Yugoslavia). The comrades drafted a resolution on the coup that extended the method behind our position on Yugoslavia, in the context of the August 1991 coup. This resolution passed in an aggregate meeting of the entire organization, with seven votes in favor and one abstention. (Please see “On the August 1991 Coup in the USSR” and “The August 1991 Coup and the Marxist Method” for a further explanation of the majority’s position and method.)
We saw our method in complete agreement with the historic positions of Bolshevism and Trotskyism, particularly the examples of the Bolsheviks during the Kornilov revolt in 1917 and the struggle for a united front against Hitler in the early 1930s.
However, the new resolution was unacceptable to Q, who had been on leave for five months. He refused to participate in the discussion on the resolution — in spite of the comrades’ insistence that he be present — opting to take a trip out of the country on the same weekend (without even bothering to inform the organization that he would be out of town). It was only after the resolution had been passed, and after it had been distributed to contacts and groups with whom we were discussing, that Q registered his objection to the resolution. This, in spite of the fact that Q had received every draft of the resolution, and had ample time to read, study and register his objection to it.
At this point Q, who had been factionalizing behind the scenes for some time, began to use the opportunity presented by the political discussion to spread mistrust and confusion among the less experienced members. He used another comrade, Mulder, who was also on leave but still attending some meetings, as his mouthpiece. This was ironic since Mulder, at the meeting where the resolution was passed, had voted in favor of the position and stated clearly that “I have no problem with this resolution.” Just one week later, having obviously been given a new position by Q, Mulder made the statement that he was “100 percent opposed” to the resolution.
Q’s letters to the organization were increasingly filled with distortions, slander and misrepresentation of the politics of the resolution. He continuously compared the position of WoVo to that of the International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT), which openly supported the August coup. He continued these falsifications even after the National Committee wrote a response showing how our position differed from them.
This method of argument was described by Lenin in The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky:
…to ascribe to an opponent an obviously stupid idea and then to refute it is a trick that is practised by none too clever people.
In addition, Q’s letters began to reflect a shift in his method. He was more an more expressing a defeatist and cynical attitude toward Bolshevism. In one letter after another, Q expressed his belief that it was “impossible” to build a revolutionary organization; not only that, but this impossibility had existed for over 60 years!
Further, Q and Mulder also began to express positions that revised the basic Marxist positions of Workers’ Voice. In the meeting where the resolution was passed, Mulder had initially expressed support for the Third Period Stalinist position of the united front from below. We had explained to him then that this was an opportunist position that Trotsky had fought against, he admitted that he needed to go back and study the question. (We must note here that this is not a new comrade, but an experienced, founding member of the RTT, who is considered a top leader in the Bay, second only to Q!) Q, in his letters and statements, also argued for the united front from below.
In addition, Q and Mulder attempted to avoid a theoretical discussion on the Trotskyist conception of the united front, saying that we had no differences on this question and that, in any case, the nature of the united front was a tactical question, whereas how the theory is applied is the principled issue.
Lenin continues from the above pamphlet:
By substituting the petty question about an error which the Bolshevik revolutionaries might have made, but did not, for the important question of the foundations of revolutionary tactics in general, Kautsky adroitly adjures all revolutionary tactics!
A renegade in politics, he is unable even to present the question of the objective prerequisites of revolutionary tactics theoretically. (ibid.)
We explained that we did have real differences on the theory and that support for the united front from below, popular fronts, etc., was a principled question (If Q’s position is correct, then Trotsky was a criminal because he split the Communist International over a tactical question!).
At the same time, Q had one more bombshell. He denied the importance of Yeltsin’s backing by imperialism. For him, it was “irrelevant” if the conflict came down to a battle between imperialism and Stalinism. This is in complete contradiction to the method outlined in WoVo’s document on Yugoslavia, The War in Bosnia and the Marxist Method, in which we wrote:
From the Leninist point of view, a nation cannot fight for self- determination if it is linked to imperialism and, as a price for its independence, serves imperialist interests in the area. U.S. and German domination means the oppression of all people in the Balkans, including the working masses in Bosnia. Thus, just in terms of basic revolutionary democratic principles, the fight against imperialism predominates over support for the right of a country to secede as a “democratic” country. If such a country is bound hand and foot to imperialism and serves its interests, it cannot be an oppressed nation. Rather it becomes part of the oppressor nations, i.e., the imperialist alliances. (The War in Bosnia and the Marxist Method, p. 28-29, emphasis added.)
As in Russia, slower-road restorationists like Milosovic [sic], combined with an unstable working class who had anti-imperialist instincts, were not acceptable to imperialism. Fundamentally the imperialists did not trust Milosovic for the same reasons that they refused to trust the Gang of Eight in August 1991. The Gang of Eight did not have a different capitalist program that Milosovic’s. They stood for a slower road to capitalism and typical restorationist nationalism. In Russia the imperialists demanded a “Yeltsin” to overthrow the Gang of Eight. In Serbia as well, they insisted on a “Yeltsin” to overthrow the restorationists, whose position was “more capitalist pie for us even if we will be in conflict with imperialism.” (ibid., p.35.)
WoVo’s position of Serb defensism in the Yugoslav conflict was based on the role of imperialism and proxy armies of imperialism in the war. For us, we saw the Croat and Bosnian Muslim forces in Yugoslavia as cat’s paws of U.S. and German imperialism in the Balkans. The majority felt that our position on the August 1991 coup was completely in line with WoVo’s method on Yugoslavia. After all, the Stalinists in Belgrade were very similar to the Stalinists in the GKChP and CPSU. The Yugoslav Stalinists were also committed to the process of capitalist restoration and had attempted to strike their own deals with the imperialists. But it was the action of imperialism that was the decisive issue in the war.
Q’s positions would have a wider effect on other historical position of WoVo as well. Using Q’s method, WoVo would have to change its positions on key questions of war and revolution. In Congo/Zaire, it would lead to support to the AFDL of Laurent Kabila. After all, if imperialism was not an issue (i.e., if Kabila’s ties to imperialism didn’t matter), then we should have sided militarily with him in his fight against the brutal, reactionary dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko.
Also, it would have meant taking a “dual defeatist” position on the Gulf War. Saddam Hussein was an evil, brutal, reactionary dictator who was murdering Kurds. And, if imperialist aggression wasn’t important, then why bother supporting either of these two oh-so-evil sides?
Finally, it would also mean changing our position on the Arab/Israeli wars. If it didn’t matter that the Israeli army was a proxy force for imperialism, why would you call for military support to the evil, backwards, reactionary, semifeudal regimes of the Arabic Middle East?
Q’s method became a revision of some of the most basic components of the Marxist program. It manifested itself as an opportunist and social-pacifist program, cloaked in “ultraleft” phraseology. This change in method come about as a result of demoralization and cynicism on the part of some comrades in the Bay Branch. It was unearthed as part of WoVo’s process of transformation into a Bolshevik organization.
A Bolshevik party or a Menshevik sect?
Within the context of the debate on the transformation of Workers’ Voice, several other problems of method and functioning surfaced which further called into question the development of WoVo as a Bolshevik organization.
A short time after the discussion on the press was completed, there was a series of resignations and requests for leaves of absence by some of the senior members of WoVo, including Q. In various ways all of these reflected the pressures of capitalist society.
James Cannon, a pioneer of Trotskyism in the United States, wrote about the pressures that weigh on a revolutionary organization in times of relative “class peace.”
[I]n revolting against their social environment and striving to change it, revolutionists nevertheless still remain a part of the environment and subject to its influences and pressures. It has happened more than once in history that unfavorable turns on the conjuncture and postponement of the expected revolution, combined with tiredness and loss of vision in the dull routine of living day to day, have tended to make conservative even the cadres of the revolutionary party and prepare their degeneration.
On the basis of long historical experience, it can be written down as a law that revolutionary cadres, who revolt against their social environment and organize parties to lead a revolution, can — if the revolution is too long delayed — themselves degenerate under the continuing influences and pressures of the same environment.
This was the case with the pre-war German Social Democracy whose original leaders had been the immediate disciples of Marx. The same thing occurred in the Communist Party of Russia, whose leaders had been taught by Lenin. It happened again — with a big push and pull from the Russians — in the Communist Party of the United States, whose leaders lacked the benefit of systematic theoretical instruction and who had, in addition, to work in the most unfavorable social environment in the richest and most conservative country in the world. (Cannon, “Introduction,” The First Ten Years of American Communism [Pathfinder, 1962].)
For the leading cadres of Workers’ Voice, years of hard work in one of the most unfavorable social environments within the United States — the San Francisco Bay Area — had taken its toll. Years of routine and the pressures of being in a small revolutionary organization in the U.S. during a period of working-class retreat eroded the optimism and healthy objectivity these comrades presented in previous years.
For a working-class organization, carrying out consistent political work in regions like the SF Bay Area, or metropolitan New York City, brings with it pressures that compound the pressures of a generally conservative social environment. In these areas, the pressures from alien class forces — particularly the petty bourgeoisie — takes its toll on the proletarian organization. This petty-bourgeois pressure comes not only from the conservatism and hostility of the petty bourgeoisie to the working class. This petty-bourgeois hostility also comes from the so-called “revolutionary,” “communist” and “Trotskyist” left in these cities.
In these areas, the petty-bourgeois left influences the actions and dynamic of working-class organizations. The left lives in a world all its own — a leftist ghetto populated by declassed and nonproletarian “Marxists” with little, if any, connection to the working class or its struggles. In addition, these so-called “revolutionists” tend to construct structures parallel to capitalist class society within their organizations. These structures — which stratify the petty-bourgeoisie from the working class, the “theoreticians” from the “organizers” — reflect the class pressures of society and result in conservatism, bureaucratism and demoralization sweeping through the cadres of the revolutionary organization.
Workers’ Voice, due to the nature of the organization and its cadres, was able to resist the most open aspects of this conservatism. However, some of the more subtle elements were able to influence the direction and development of the organization. This became doubly true during the process of transformation, which brought these tendencies to the forefront.
One of the first things we discovered during the process of transformation was the source of the consistent financial crises that gripped WoVo. During the discussion on the press, Q was adamant that the organization did not have the financial ability to put out Workers’ Voice and International Trotskyist with more frequency. He used this political position to try to drive a wedge between the Bay and Detroit branches, charging Detroit with “financial irresponsibility,” etc. In fact, this discussion became so explosive that it caused a severe crisis within the organization. However, we discovered later that Q himself, who at the time had the highest income of all comrades in WoVo, had not paid dues at all during 1997. At the time of the split, Q and the person with whom he shared finances (one of the comrades who quit in the earlier rounds of discussion) owed the organization over $4,000 in dues. Because of this, Q would have been denied a vote at the upcoming Congress.
Furthermore, not only had he not been taking his financial responsibilities seriously, he also blamed the Detroit comrades for not being realistic about money matters. Considering that these comrades, who were the poorest in WoVo, had overpaid their dues by thousands of dollars apiece over the course of 1997 to make up for what Q was not paying, such an accusation was, to say the least, adding insult to injury.
But more than this, between September 1996 and September 1997, none of the Bay Area comrades paid dues. And they were in no hurry to correct this situation. In fact, last summer, it took a resolution proposing that the organization be dissolved unless this situation was dealt with immediately to wake these comrades up.
Unfortunately, they apparently didn’t stay awake for long. At the last meeting held of Workers’ Voice as a single organization, one comrade asked who was able to vote — only members in good standing (those who paid dues within the last three months), or everyone in the room. The comrades in the Bay asked why this was “suddenly an issue.” After all, as one comrade in the Bay put it “technically, none of us have” and “it had never been an issue before.”
Such an irresponsible attitude towards the financial duties of members in a Bolshevik organization shows a complete lack of understanding of democratic centralism. The privileges of membership in a democratic centralized group (such as the right to vote) are based on political development, and consistent work to build the organization, including the regular paying of dues. To not take such a relationship between the rights and responsibilities of membership seriously, can only lead to building a tiny leftist talk ship without the spirit of self sacrifice that is needed to build a revolutionary party, let alone, achieve socialism.
This was a confirmation for the comrades in Detroit, who had by far the lowest incomes in the organization but had been financially supporting the group for the last year, of the collapse of the Bay Branch and its slide into Menshevism. The Bay Branch had been paralyzed for almost a year, failing to engage in consistent political work of an internal or external nature. The comrades in the Bay Area neglected to carry out activity that was necessary for the continued health of the Branch and the organization. Even though there were some exceptions to this — particularly the comrades’ work around the UPS and BART strikes — overall, the comrades had retreated into a sterile circle, refusing to do anything.
Finally, the Bay branch’s almost total dependence on comrade Q gave a greater weight to the problems that this comrade developed. At the time he went on leave, Q had been WoVo’s full timer for almost the entire existence of the organization. As a result, he had severed his direct connection to the working class. For a time, he was able to compensate for this through his own strong working class background and consistent interaction with the class struggle. However, when Q decided to go on leave, he had already stopped doing work among the working class, and had begun to express his own doubts about the possibilities of building a party. In fact, Q had been granted his leave to “answer some vital questions” he had about this. Unfortunately, up until the time of the split, he had not even begun to engage in solid theoretical work, or to attempt to develop as a Marxist.
At the time of the split Q was not the same politically as he had been even a year before. His new political method was best summed up in the statement “What’s the point?!” And he was transferring this cynical and demoralized method to the other comrades of the Bay Branch. At the same time, he was manipulating the lesser developed comrades and using them as ping pong balls and pawns in his tête-à-tête with the comrades in Detroit.
Sexism — the sledgehammer that broke the camel’s back
As a part of Q’s search for political differences with Detroit, he found it was opportune to return to the issue of the press. The organization’s transformation represented a threat to his comfortable routinism. And the press, as the outward expression of WoVo’s transformation, became a prime target.
In WoVo No. 14 (15 November 1997), we published an article titled “State-sponsored child abuse in NY.” In it, we defended a young, Black working-class woman, Shanta Clark, against state prosecution. We pointed out that it was capitalism, not Clark, who was the real child abuser. We raised the program of women’s liberation through fighting for a workers’ government.
This didn’t sit well with Q. He fired off a letter to the organization, attacking the paper and the article. He wrote:
The article “State-sponsored child abuse in NY” is in my opinion has some aspects which are similar to a bad article written by the RWL. It tends to cheerlead working class youth instead of looking at things critically. It is completely correct to defend the 17 year-old Shanta Clark against state repression and the state attempt to take her child away from her. But we need to do it critically. The article suggests that what she has done for 2 and a half weeks with her new born child was perfectly fine. But keeping a new born baby alone in the house for most of the day while she was attending school had ruinous terrible affects on the baby. Such behavior that leave a new born baby alone can screw up the child life for ever. Normally no mother would leaves her new born baby alone in a house for hours every day.
Such problems cannot be dealt with by the police and the courts. Shanta Clark was very oppressed and afraid that the baby would have been taken away from her. But in an article like this criticism of her actions are necessary in the context of defending her. We can certainly point out what kind of racist and social oppression bring a young person to leaving her new-born baby alone. But without criticism serious workers perceive us as unserious cheerleaders of youth regardless of their actions.
Shanta Clark was a victim of a system that gave her no options. She wanted to keep her baby and had no way of getting childcare or any kind of support. She took care of the baby in the best way she could under the circumstances. And she attempted to make up for her absence during the day when she took care of her child in non-school hours. And even the medical personnel who cared for the baby after he was found thought she did a pretty good job.
Q, however, thought that WoVo should condemn her.
We had to ask, what “serious workers,” who won’t take us seriously with this article, is Q talking about? Certainly not women workers, many of whom have to leave their children alone while they go to work. In fact, the working class people in Shanta Clark’s neighborhood understood very well that the situation was not her fault. They were very clear in their condemnation of anyone who said anything against her on this issue and, correctly, saw her as a victim of state repression. Only the most backward, privileged elements within the working class would say otherwise. And they could only do so on the basis of a complete lack of understanding of the real conditions faced by working class (and especially poor working class) women in this country. It is really pathetic that even the sheriff took a position that is to the left of Q’s. He said that Shanta Clark needed help, not condemnation.
The entire point of the article is that the capitalists, in spite of all their moral hypocrisy, are the real criminals and child abusers. And Shanta Clark and her baby are both victims of this abuse. Of course it is terrible for a newborn baby to be left alone, but this is not Shanta Clark’s fault, but that of the capitalist state.
Marxists do not take a “blame the victim” stance on this issue. To do so would be no different than to say, for example, “It’s too bad that woman got raped, but she shouldn’t have been walking home from work after dark,” “It’s too bad those people are homeless, but it is their fault. After all, they’re all lazy bums,” or “It’s too bad the cops beat Rodney King, but he shouldn’t have been driving through a rich neighborhood.”
In terms of what a mother (or father for that matter) would “normally” do, that depends on specific material conditions. Many working-class parents “normally” leave their children alone from the ages of three in some cases, and five in very many cases, in order to go to work. We know or have heard of many people who have been arrested for child abuse in these situations. We also know people who couldn’t feed their kids for days due to financial circumstances. What’s “normal” to one person isn’t always “normal” for another.
And what solutions would Q present to people in these situations? Should they, or Shanta Clark, be encouraged to give up their children? Should they be told they shouldn’t have children? Or should they just be browbeaten for being “bad” parents who for some strange reason can’t get it together to care “properly” for their kids?
Unfortunately capitalist society browbeats women like this every day. Women are taught to live in a state of constant guilt for anything that does not involve taking care of their families. And an article that would condemn Shanta Clark for her actions would not just be taken at face value (though even that would be bad enough), in most cases it would be internalized on one level or another, especially for the poorest readers since they have the greatest ability to identify with the situation.
Upon receiving this letter, our comrades hit the ceiling. For us, Q’s letter represented a grossly arrogant and sexist position. It reflected the viewpoint of a declassed element that has no understanding of the problems working-class women face. Also, we saw it as an explicit rejection of the method and program presented in the pamphlet, The Struggle Against Women’s Oppression in the 1990s: A Working-Class Approach, the document that, more than any other, represented the fusion of the Left Opposition and Workers’ Voice.
We began to test out, through discussions with comrades in the Bay, whether this issue would lead anyone to stand up to Q’s obviously arrogant and sexist position. Instead, the Bay Area comrades either supported Q’s position or, at best, refused to argue against it in any meaningful way.
This was a clear principled difference, and the refusal of comrades in the Bay to stand up to Q’s arrogance and sexism proved to us that they would also refuse to stand up to him on any other issue. It was for these reasons that the majority voted unanimously to separate itself from the Bay Branch and complete the transformation on our own.
Time to move forward
In the end, our actions must be based on what will best serve to move the construction of a revolutionary working-class party forward. This can mean different organizational decisions in different circumstances.
The comrades in Detroit have historically been strong adherents to the idea that a factional struggle must achieve clarification of political differences before a principled split can happen. Trotsky and Cannon both emphasized this during the fight with Shachtman and Burnham in 1939-1940. Cannon re-emphasized this in his document “Factional Struggle and Party Leadership.”
Our move to split with the Bay Branch did not follow this classical approach, and we have had to reexamine the positions outlined by Cannon in this document. While we still agree with the method behind these positions, we do not think that the positions themselves can be applied mechanically at all times.
The fact is, we are living in a much different period than that in which Cannon’s document was written. The organizations with which we are dealing are not the thousands-strong SWP and CP of Cannon’s time, but tiny grouplets with memberships numbering in the single digits in many cases, and in most of the rest, fewer than 30.
The struggle with the Bay Branch was becoming ever more self-destructive. If we were to blindly follow the conception of inner-party struggle as written by Trotsky and Cannon, that would have meant the loss of valuable comrades for future development.
Because of the consistent obstructionism, the misrepresentation and the slander by some of the comrades in the Bay, a principled political struggle was virtually impossible. Because of the open revisionism by Q, which swallowed whole by the rest of the Branch, political debate had become superfluous. Educationals about the Marxist conception of the united front were deemed “irrelevant” by the Bay Branch.
For us, the minority represented a brake on the development of Workers’ Voice into a strong, national organization of Bolsheviks. The decision to separate was based in part on our hope that in the future the comrades in the majority and the comrades in the minority might again find it possible to be part of a common Bolshevik organization.
Had we continued to function according to what had become the norm in the past year, this would have been impossible. The debates would have continued to occur in an unhealthy way, the mistrust between the branches would have grown even worse, and valuable, honest comrades would have been driven out of activity.
We do not view the comrades in the Bay Branch in the same light as the rest of the so-called “Trotskyist” left. Due to our common history, and the class composition of the Bay Branch, we hold out hope that these comrades will be able to correct any mistakes that may have occurred over the last year. However, as long as the organization in the Bay is under the sway of the cynical and demoralized method adopted by Q and Mulder over the past year, this hope dwindles by the day.
We are able to recognize the contradictions in the Bay — the differences between the leadership and the membership. It is because of these contradictions that we do not wash our hands of our former comrades in the Bay Branch. On the contrary, we will hold them to a higher standard than the rest of the left; we will expect better things from them. Furthermore, we have not given up on Q and Mulder. Given their histories in the working class, and our common political history, they may still be able to someday reverse course and pull out of their current method.
But if they do not, it will require a break from them in order to preserve WoVo as a potential revolutionary force. Either way, the comrades in the Bay will have to wage a struggle against Q and Mulder’s current methods — either a struggle to win them back, or to defeat them.
In the meantime, we will be moving forward. We have not even stumbled as a result of the split. In fact, within the first two weeks of our existence, we have begun recruiting, building and strengthening our organization. And we intend to continue moving forward, building a strong organization of worker-Bolsheviks.
We encourage the comrades of Workers’ Voice (Bay Branch) to reconsider their support for the cynical and demoralized method of Q and Mulder. We encourage you to carefully study the documents written, without the fetter of factional vitriol and personal tête-à-tête. Finally, we encourage you to make a comprehensive, independent study of the “historical method of Workers’ Voice,” especially the development of our positions on Yugoslavia, the October 1993 Yeltsinite assault on the Russian parliament, and the majority’s position on the August 1991 coup. See for yourselves whose method is really the “historical method” — Q’s or ours.
We also encourage all working-class subjective communists to study our materials, discuss with our comrades and work with us. The task of emancipating the working class is the job of the workers themselves. To get there, we need to build to build a strong cadre of working-class Bolsheviks to win political leadership. This is the primary task of the Marxist Workers’ Group. We have nothing to lose, and a world to win.