Crisis and Leadership by Clara Fraser and Richard Fraser

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Define the following: a polemic: Political Resolution; National Committee; National Convention.

These documents in Crisis and Leadership (C&L) were prepared for the 1965 National Convention of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP).

What was the general economic and political situation at that time, both internationally and in the U.S.?

The Kirk-Kaye tendency is described as a “loyal, hard-working internal opposition.” Why were they loyal to the SWP, which had so many political problems?

Who were Farrell Dobbs and Tom Kerry? Describe their political history and evolution.

Who were Clara Fraser and Richard Fraser? Describe each of their political histories and evolution.

What was the basic difference over Black liberation between the Kirk-Kaye tendency and the SWP leadership?

How did the SWP leadership react when the two position papers in C&L were offered for discussion at the 1965 convention? What did the Kirk-Kaye tendency decide to do as a result? This document predicted increased state repression. Were they right? Give examples. Is that trend continuing today?

What event has had the biggest effect on the socialist movement since these documents were written?

What are the major differences in the situations of Cuba and China that have taken place since these documents were written?

What forms have fascist organizing taken in the U.S.: in the 1950s; the 1960s and 70s; the 1990s?

There were many expulsions and splits from the SWP. What was unique about the departure of the group that became the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP)?

What two things are unique about the FSP today among the Left?

In 1969 David Dreiser said this book was an important answer to the main weaknesses experienced by the 1960s New Left. What were those weaknesses? Are there similar problems on the Left today?

Part 1: The Crisis

The International Dilemma
Factors of the crisis

What are the key signs of an impending international showdown between reaction and socialism and of a pre-revolutionary situation in the U.S.?

Political economy of the crisis

What factors led to the post-World War II economic upswing?

How do you think the economy of the ‘60s, as analyzed in C&L, compares with the ‘90s? What are the main changes as we enter the 21st century?

At the time C&L was written, how were economic factors affecting international relations?

C&L predicts that the postwar boom will lead to a crisis in realizing profits. What does this term mean?

Why would the very fact of a long period of capitalist boom increase the risk of such a crisis?

How do you think C&L’s prognosis for capitalism’s economic future applies to the ‘90s?

Explain why C&L predicts that the coming crisis may be on the scale of the Depression of the ‘30s, but will not assume the same form.

How had the role of the state on behalf of monopoly capital changed by the ‘60s?

How do you assess changes that have taken place since then?

Explain the statement that, “In a full realization crisis, [the corporate giants are able to shift costs onto other shoulders] only by means of direct action against the working class…”

Explain why capitalism has to smash “all independent expressions of opposition when faced by a major crisis.”

Why does the prospect of economic crisis impel capitalism toward fascism?

Why does C&L predict that state intervention will increase even in advance of a full-blown crisis?

Do you think this has been borne out?

The proletarian stage of the Permanent Revolution

What is your understanding of “the proletarian state of the Permanent Revolution”? (refer to note #7, p. 170)

Why is China characterized as “the motor force of the colonial revolution”?

Using the analysis of C&L as a foundation, what impact do you think the Cuban Revolution has had since this book was written?

Has the tendency noted in C&L of the U.S. to intervene directly to quell the colonial revolution continued?
What was the predicted impact of this policy, and has it proved true?

Decomposition of European reformism

Explain what is meant by “the decomposition of European reformism.”

Can you think of any examples of this phenomenon that are more recent or from other parts of the world?

The internationalism of the freedom struggle

What does “the internationalist proletarian character” of the Black liberation struggle mean?

Why does it have such an impact on the oppressed in other countries?

What critical feature is lacking that would enable the Black movement to reach its full revolutionary potential?

The National Dilemma
Bonapartism in the state and the growth of fascism

What is fascism?

Why would a capitalist state resort to fascism?

Why do you think, “the capitalist class does not resort to fascism lightmindedly”? (p. 38)

What is Bonapartism? Why is it inherently unstable?

Why does C&L characterize the Johnson administration as Bonapartist? Give examples.

Explain the statement that, “The ‘simple’ democratic demand for representation [of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party] threatens to evolve into an instrument of dual power in the South.” (p. 39 and note #10, p. 170)

How was Bonapartism used to control U.S. class struggle in the ‘60s?

Why had there been no national fascist movement in the U.S. before the ‘60s? What factors favored it arising at that time?

What did the fascists gain from Goldwater’s campaign? What did the capitalist class gain?

What did the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) mean when it characterized the Goldwater campaign as “not classical fascism”? (see note #16) Relate this to your knowledge of today’s ultra-rightwing organizations.

How would you respond to someone who argued that Mayor Giuliani’s administration is fascist? (or use another example with which you’re familiar)

Revolution in the South

Uneven and combined development is a concept used by Marxists to explain that social change does not take place in a smooth, straight line that is uniformly repeated in society after society. Rather, the pace of development is constantly changing. Also, when one society is influenced technologically, economically, politically and/or culturally by others, these combinations can lead to great leaps with new, often contradictory results. How do the C&L authors apply the concept of uneven and combined development to the level of political struggle in the U.S. in the ‘60s?

Characterize the crisis of leadership that existed in the Black movement in the mid ‘60s.

Explain what the authors mean by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) developing a unique form of bureaucratic control.

Why does C&L call the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) “the most momentous political development of our time in this country”?

What, according to C&L, would the MFDP have had to do to survive and grow in its role as an independent revolutionary force?

Revolt in the ghetto

Note: This section uses the concept of transitional demands. Transitional demands link basic democratic issues, those raised in the birth of capitalist democracies (e.g. the right to vote, free speech, equality) to socialist demands—those that can only be solved by fundamental social change. For more on this concept, refer to The Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution, by Leon Trotsky.

Explain the statement that, “In the South, democratic demands are the motive force of the revolution.” Give an example.

Why were different slogans and tactics needed in the North than in the South?

In what sense was the SWP position that Malcolm X was “killed by capitalism” true? How was it inadequate? Why didn’t the SWP’s analysis go further?

How would it be possible for a fascist, white supremacist movement to use a rightwing Black separatist organization? What would be the consequence for the Black community?

Explain C&L’s conclusion that, “An objective analysis of the Muslims reveals that they possess all the qualifications . . . of a fascist movement.”
How were/are the Black Muslims different from classical European fascist movements?

Why does C&L argue that “All-Black Unity” cannot be the basis for a radical Black-led party?

Why is it a mistake to equate a labor party with an all-Black party and judge them by the same criteria?

Why did the Freedom Now Party fail to become a leading force for the left wing of the Black movement?

In what way(s) could the SWP’s position on the Black movement be characterized as racist and patronizing?

The emancipation of women

How did the social status of white women in the South link the struggle for women’s emancipation to Black liberation?

How was it that the post-reconstruction oppression of Southern Blacks “ironically conferred a real benefit upon the Black woman”?

What does it mean to say that both race and women’s oppression have a dual nature?

Explain the statement that, “Women’s ‘inferiority’ derives from the condition of the majority of women.”

What does it mean to say that “the family as the economic unit of society constitutes a permanent source of proletarian conservatism”?

What is “wage slavery”? How can it be a foundation for “equality” in capitalist society? How does this affect women?

How does C&L characterize the division between Black and white women in the civil rights movement?

The C&L authors wrote, “In order to endure and develop, the Black Liberation movement . . . is going to have to come to grips with the woman question.” What does this mean? To what extent do you think that has happened in ensuing decades?

Explain how “the woman question” is a key issue in each of the following:


  • organizing the unorganized
  • industrial unionism
  • the gap between skilled and unskilled labor
  • unemployment and marginal employment
  • determination of union policyC&L predicted that the drive for equality of the sexes would spread and lead to higher development of labor and political organizations. To what extent do you think that has taken place?

    The labor movement

    What are the key sources of conservatism in the labor movement?

    How did the union bureaucracy come to be so closely tied to the government by the mid ‘60s?

    Give an example of how the union bureaucrats orient to higher-paid workers with seniority rather than new or unorganized workers.

    If white male, skilled, high-seniority workers benefit from the current system, why do they still mistrust the union bureaucracy?

    Increased productivity due to technological advances has cost may people their jobs. What would it take to turn this into a gain for the working class?

    What did C&L predict would lead to a revival of the labor movement? Can you think of an example of this taking place since the mid ‘60s?

    Explain the statement that, “A realistic approach to the class struggle in the U.S. today provides little ground for syndicalist illusions.”

    Radicals in the ‘30s thought the union movement would take the lead in changing society and “save” Blacks and other oppressed groups. How have the lessons of subsequent decades shown this formula needed changing?

    The coming pre-revolutionary situation

    How did C&L predict that a pre-revolutionary situation would arise in the U.S.? What stopped this from happening in the late ‘60s to ‘70s?

    Applying what you’d learned from Crisis and Leadership, what do you think are the prospects and necessary conditions for the emergence of a pre-revolutionary situation now?

    Part 2: Leadership

    Character of the present leadership

    What was the political nature of the SWP’s fight with the Cochranites?

    Characterize the “achievements” of the Dobbs-Kerry group during its leadership of the SWP.

    Explain C&L’s characterization of the Dobbs-Kerry regime as radical laborite.

    How did the radical laborite character of the SWP leadership lead to non-interventionism in the mass movements?

    Why did the non-interventionism also dominate their orientation to the labor movement?

    Why did the Dobbs-Kerry group become anti-theoretical?

    Explain how the Dobbs-Kerry leadership was “neo-economist.” How was it influenced by the particular unions of which many SWP leaders had been members?

    How did the Dobbs-Kerry regime deviate politically from revolutionary criteria?

    What is centrism? Did the C&L writers consider the SWP leadership centrist? Is this a critical question?

    Strategy of the holding operation

    In what way was the SWP “a holding operation”?

    Why was this strategy a mistake and out of step with the times?

    Non-democratic centralism

    Why is it important for the party to have authority over its members working in mass movements?

    What is your understanding of “the polar unity of organizational flexibility and programmatic firmness”?

    What are clique politics and organizational combinationism, and why are they deadly for a revolutionary party?

    How was the Nominating Commission turned into its opposite?

    How was the Control Commission used in an undemocratic fashion by the leadership?

    How did the Dobbs-Kerry regime change the way the majority dealt with political minorities?

    Characterize the new local branch leadership that emerged under the Dobbs-Kerry regime.

    Explain how these new branch leaders “introduce[d] a class friction into party relations.

    Unprincipled politics

    In what key way was the SWP’s Organizational Resolution a sham?

    Explain how the initial relationship between the Cochranites and the Dobbs-Kerry leadership constituted an “unprincipled combination.” What should Dobbs and Kerry have done instead?

    In what way was the organizational alliance of Dobbs and Kerry with Tim Wohlforth unprincipled? (see also note #65) What lasting effect(s) on the party came out of the way Wohlforth’s faction was handled by the leadership?

    How did the early Bolshevik party handle political disputes among its members?

    Why did the Weiss group fall apart under the persistent harassment by the leadership?

    What are the key qualities needed by a revolutionary party but lacking in the Dobbs/Kerry-led SWP?

    The Organizational Question

    What basic law of the relationships between organizational and political differences did Trotsky and Cannon exemplify in the fight against the petty bourgeois opposition in 1940? (for more information on this, see note #53)

    Explain the statement that, “The Organization Question is not just and not always a reflection of and a link to programmatic issues.”

    Explain the concept of leadership accountability advocated by the C&L authors.

    What was the Dobbs-Kerry regime’s stance on factions within the party?

    Why is it important for leadership to be self-critical?

    Name one lesson from C&L and describe how you find it useful for today’s challenges in building a revolutionary party.


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