This report was originally published in four parts in the Freedom Socialist newspaper, Volume 5, Nos. 1–4.
I. History and Backdrop
II. The Breakup of “Unity”
III. The Women Question Emerges
V. The Nature of the Split
VI. 1968: FSP Condition and Performance
VII. 1969: A New Conjuncture and A New Growth
A Victory for Socialist Feminism describes the birth-pangs of a political party. When, in 1967, the Seattle Branch of the Socialist Workers Party separated from the parent body and became the Freedom Socialist Party, one of the unresolvable differences that had precipitated the split was the Woman Question. And in the new party’s first two years of life, its feminist principles were tested even further in the crucible of experience, and all but the most determined champions of women’s equality ended up out of the party. Those comrades who stuck to their feminist battle stations emerged tempered enough to go on to build a unique kind of revolutionary party.
The issue that triggered the split in the young FSP was a divorce between two leading members, Clara and Richard Fraser. Washington State divorce law at that time put the wife at a terrible disadvantage, and when Richard Fraser forced the issue and contested Clara’s divorce and custody suit. the party had to face the then-disputed question of whether a political principle or a private matter was at stake. Fortunately for its survival. the party made the correct decision-an historic decision.
Clara Fraser, considerably ahead of her time, refused to be intimidated by male chauvinist “radicals” who scornfully accused her of confusing the personal and the political. Nor would she be shamed into secrecy and submission by any individualistic fear of public “disgrace” over the exposure of her domestic battles for equal rights. She saw clearly that the physical abuse, the husband’s alcoholism, her economic burdens, and the reactionary political and moral slander against her character, wielded as blackmail in the child custody dispute, were not just the center of her case but the heart of women’s oppression everywhere. And these outrages were no more to be tolerated in a radical party than anywhere else; on the contrary, in a Marxist organization energetically espousing the great principles of women’s emancipation, Richard Fraser’s conduct was particularly reprehensible.
The ensuing intra-party conflict categorically separated the socialist feminists from the hypocrites, and The Victory transpired when the conflict deepened into rift and the rift into outright split. Because the women and their few male defenders won out. this chapter of feminist history warrants close attention today, when the women’s movement is scrutinizing the Left in search of a basis for a principled alliance.
And the book speaks just as tellingly to male-dominated radical groups who are still wondering just what it is that women revolutionaries want!
In the two years since our last party conference, our organization has been through a rich and intense political experience, in the course of which we have clarified our basic political and organizational concepts and consolidated the core of a political cadre. This crystallization of our political identity has developed out of a conscious affirmation of Bolshevik principles in the face of a complex external situation and very serious internal problems.
This document is a review of the political and ideological developments of the radical movement in Seattle over the past two years, and an evaluation of our role and activities in the same period. This report will be the basis for collective discussion and analysis during the party conference, out of which will come our decisions on approach and priorities for the coming year.
“The strength and meaning of Bolshevism consists in the fact that it appeals to the oppressed masses and not to the upper strata of the working class …. They feel in their innermost hearts that it is a teaching for the oppressed and exploited, for hundreds of millions to whom it is the only possible salvation. That is why Leninism meets with a passionate response among working women, who are the most oppressed section of society.” — Leon Trotsky. Prospects and Tasks in the Far East
“Fortune favors the godly. If you live right and conduct yourself properly, you get a lucky break now and then. And when an accident comes your way-a good one-you should grab it and make the most of it.” — James P. Cannon, The History of American Trotskyism
I. History and Backdrop
By the time of the January, 1967 FSP Conference, the party had already passed its first major test: it had survived six months of independent political existence, no small accomplishment.
The nucleus of the Freedom Socialist Party was the former Seattle Branch of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), which had existed as a barely-tolerated minority tendency in the SWP for nearly a decade. The branch held fundamental differences with the SWP majority over Black Liberation, the Woman Question, Socialist Regroupment, anti-war policy, and internal democracy.
When the SWP adopted its Peoples-Frontist “single-issue” strategy in the anti-war movement, and brought spurious charges against Comrade Kirk (the tendency’s sole remaining representative on the National Committee) for circulating a document inside the party that was sharply critical of anti-war policy, the branch decided that the conservatism and bureaucratism of the SWP were intolerable, and proceeded to separate from the parent organization.
The official break took place in May, 1966. A few weeks later, all the former SWP members, together with others who shared their political outlook, met in convention and founded the Freedom Socialist Party.
The new party immediately faced a serious external threat. This first took the form of a series of organizational attacks and maneuvers by the SWP; the Spartacist League followed with an organizational raid within a few months.
Combined with the external pressures was a challenge to the party’s existence and integrity from within.
Some of the new members, who weren’t part of the old SWP cadre, had no solid grounding in the traditions of revolutionary Marxism and no conception of the political difficulties the new organization faced. Most of these people proved unable to withstand the pressures bearing down on the small, local revolutionary grouping. Some developed political differences and went over to the Spartacists; others simply dropped out of politics, as did a few of the former SWPers.
By January, 1967 this initial differentiation within the party’s ranks was substantially complete. The remaining cadre comprised the bulk of the former SWP members, plus a few of the newer recruits.
Despite organizational attrition, the FSP was in a stronger position at the time of the 1967 conference than at its founding the year before. The objective situation was very promising. The anti-war movement demonstrated considerable vigor and both the Black struggle and the student movement were showing signs of increasing militancy and radicalization. Our party commanded considerable respect in the radical movement, had connections with most of the developing groupings on the local scene, attracted a broad periphery, and was established On the political scene. The cadre had been tested in the struggle for political survival.
The very fact of survival was a tribute to our ideas, the main bulwark against pressures from without and within.
Rank-and File Revolt
The January, 1967 Conference was marked by a contradiction between the formal political unity visible on the surface, and the dissension fermenting beneath.
Apparently, everyone agreed on the basic definition of party program and character.
We considered ourselves a bolshevik vanguard party, based on the tradition of revolutionary Marxism developed by the world communist movement under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky and continued in the U.S. by the early SWP, led by James P. Cannon.
We agreed on the central importance, for the American scene, of the extensions of this tradition as set forth by the Kirk-Kaye tendency in the SWP, which was characterized by two main programmatic positions:
(1) Revolutionary Integration as the direction of motion of the Black liberation struggle. Blacks in the U.S. cannot end their special oppression by turning in a nationalist-separatist direction, and in the course of fighting for their rights will most likely take their rightful place as the vanguard detachment of a working-class socialist revolution.
(2) The first-rank importance of women’s rights, in both theory and practice, within the party, the mass movements, and on the general political scene.
Further, in accordance with its high political standards, the FSP was to maintain democratic centralism as its organizational principle, i.e., full freedom of discussion in arriving at decisions, and complete unity in action, based on the rule of the majority, in implementing policy.
There appeared to be agreement on current tasks and perspectives. The party’s main role in the coming period was to be propagandistic, hence the most immediate task was to complete the publication of the basic documents setting forth the party’s distinctive contributions to the Marxist tradition.
It was also generally recognized that the party’s internal functioning must be drastically improved. The executive committee had been paralyzed for months by intense disputes over strategy and tactics which the party ranks knew about vaguely, mostly through rumor.
Meanwhile, considerable frustration and puzzlement prevailed over the maneuvers of some party leaders in the mass movement.
Their actions took the form of a series of desperate plunges in different, sometimes antagonistic directions, with different elements of the party leadership involved at different times.
Thus, in the Independent Socialist Union — the party’s abortive attempt to initiate a youth organization — Comrade Kirk maneuvered with opponent elements, directly betraying his own party fraction. Comrade Frank Krasnowsky was the author of our nearly disastrous “deep-entry” tactic in the first Peace and Freedom Party. And Kirk, this time opposed by Frank, led the FSP into a “fraternal” association with the Spartacist League that set the party up for an organizational raid by the S.L.
All these sorties demonstrated the existence of an opportunist current in a section of the leadership that was always willing to make unprincipled political concessions and combinations in adaptation to the mass movement or opponent organizations.
At the same time, party organization and administration were degenerating.
The bulk of the rank-and-file was annoyed, critical and perplexed. Unsure of what was wrong, they knew that something was, that a section of the leadership could no longer be relied on for firm, principled political direction and organizational guidance. They demanded a change.
So a cleavage existed between a majority of the leadership and the ranks, but its precise nature was not yet clear to anyone. Since there was every appearance of political unanimity, differences were seen as purely tactical, and the solution proposed was accordingly of an organizational character. There was a general consensus among all sectors of the party that room must be made for new leadership that would represent a broader spectrum of experience, age, and reflexes. It was hoped that such a new leadership would be able to organize and direct the party’s activities more effectively than the old.
The Conference Elects New Leadership
The general agreement on the need for reorganization was codified in two unanimous decisions made at the conference:
(1) A new executive committee was elected, its members drawn from several generations and backgrounds. Most of the new members were also party officers with definite administrative responsibilities in the party apparatus. From the outgoing executive, only one member — Comrade Clara — was retained.
(2) A Literary and Correspondence Committee (LCC) was established to prepare basic documents for publication, maintain national correspondence, and produce position papers on pertinent issues for discussion. This committee contained all the members of the outgoing executive.
Comrade Frank, the outgoing organizer, presented these major proposals to the conference, including the slate of officers for the new executive. And despite the emergence of tactical differences in the conference discussions, general harmony seemed to prevail.
Still, these reorganization measures had arisen out of a defacto partial revolt in the party ranks against most of the old leadership.
The removal of all but one of the former executive members and the simultaneous creation of the Literary and Correspondence Committee were motivated in part by the urge to free some of the party’s most qualified writers and theoreticians to carry out necessary literary work. But there was also a very real desire to free the party from their organizational leadership, which was felt to be increasingly arbitrary and capricious. It was hoped that in their new role, the former leaders could accomplish something constructive, while a new organizer would help the party get down to business.
Events were to show that this hope was sadly doomed.
II. The Breakup of “Unity”
An apparently minor dispute at the conference concerned the division of labor between the executive and the Literary and Correspondence Committee.
Comrade Frank, in his reorganization proposals, had characterized the LCC as “a kind of Politburo” or “National Committee,” implying a role of primary leadership and direction, while the executive was a lower-level administrative and service apparatus.
His formulation was decisively repudiated by the conference. It was made clear that while the LCC was to produce literary and theoretical work of a high order and act as an advisory council on programmatic issues, the executive was to be the political directorate of the party.
With this clarification of structural roles, the new executive committee tried to settle down to business, but it was soon evident that the conference had not, in fact, solved the basic problems of authority. No sooner was the new leadership installed than it faced a direct challenge to its hegemony by the Literary and Correspondence Committee.
The Priorities Crisis
The executive’s first assignment to the LCC was to immediately prepare basic party documents for publication. This was not accepted. Instead, the LCC chairman, Comrade Frank, backed by Comrade Kirk, insisted on initiating a new discussion on China, with a view toward intervening on the left with a call for the defense of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, currently at its height.
Comrade Clara, an LCC member and the liaison with the executive committee, pointed out that this would completely disrupt the priorities laid down for the LCC, and that despite the great importance of the Chinese events, it remained the basic task of the party to publish its already-developed positions on key questions of the American Revolution. A finished position on China would simply have to wait.
This dispute over priorities paralyzed the LCC for several weeks, and no literary work was done.
Finally, the executive brought a policy motion to the party membership, instructing the LCC to give exclusive priority to publishing our basic documents. Comrade Frank contested this, moving an amendment to delete the word “exclusive” and substitute “first priority,” with the qualification that the LCC continue to carry out its “normal” functioning.
This was confusing; what it gave away with one hand, it took back with the other. Nevertheless, it was apparent that by “normal” functioning, Comrade Frank meant the right of himself or anybody else on the LCC to introduce new questions on its agenda, regardless of assigned priorities. Frank’s amendment passed by one vote.
The LCC had successfully challenged the executive’s authority to set the priorities for literary work, and had established its own autonomy, with the sanction of the general membership. The executive saw this vote as a repudiation of the perspective endorsed by the conference. Finding itself in the untenable position of lacking the “confidence” of the party, and no longer allowed to represent the program it was mandated to serve, the executive resigned. Four out of the five executive members offered their resignations and demanded that the real majority, led by the LCC, take over the leadership and carry out its own perspective.
This did not happen. Despite the confusion over the nature of the differences in orientation and organizational principles, the party membership was not prepared to deliver itself back to the leadership of Comrades Frank and Kirk, who were themselves unwilling to take responsibility for administration of a party that had adopted contradictory perspectives out of sheer confusion.
The outcome of the dispute was a membership decision to reject the resignations of the executive and re-establish the policies of the party conference. A qualified victory for the new executive committee had been won.
In Search of Differences
Throughout the debate over priorities, Frank, Kirk, and their supporters had constantly intimated that the new executive represented a grouping with views contrary to the basic line of the party, views which were being intentionally “concealed.” The puzzled executive denied this, but nevertheless agreed to an extensive internal discussion designed to analyze the party’s basic positions in order to determine what differences, if any, might exist.
This discussion in search of “differences” occupied a good deal of the party’s time throughout the spring of 1967, but failed to disclose any major differences whatever in principle on the “main political questions” of China, the Black Struggle, Regroupment, Youth work, Women, etc. Nevertheless, sharp and acrimonious disputes erupted on tactics, style of work, past events and how they were handled, and the relative emphasis to be placed on each question — again, priorities.
It was not the ‘big political questions,’ but the character of the party that emerged as central to the dispute. Clearly, two different concepts coexisted of the party’s nature, and the correct methods of operation deriving from it.
One concept, put forward most clearly by Comrade Clara, regarded the FSP as a vanguard party with enumerated and specific goals, priorities, and standards of conduct. The first goal was to establish the party as an integral entity in the radical arena, with its politics succinctly defined and differentiated, and its organizational structure, based on consistent internal discipline, candidly described.
The contrary view, espoused emphatically by Comrades Frank and Lee, called for a broader, looser, more “flexible” organization without fixed priorities, ready to take up anything and everything at once in response to developments in the mass movement or opportunities for entries, collaborations, and hopefully, quick “unifications.” Some proponents of this view, particularly Lee, claimed that the FSP should see itself as a temporary, purely transitory formation that anticipated imminent dissolution into a broader formation.
To this group, “mass work” was everything and party integrity was a triviality.
The gut-level nature and depth of the emerging differences between the two groupings crystallizing in the party became revealed with the onset of vitriolic attacks by the Frank-Kirk contingent against other leading members. Comrade Bob, the organizer, was particularly singled out for sharp criticism for regarding the FSP as “The party,” rather than just “a party,” while Clara’s “inflexibility” on matters of consistent standards and shared organizational responsibility was labeled as a “bureaucratic Stalinist” trend, supposedly inflicted on her by Comrades Bob and Gus, who had spent long years in the Communist Party.
In sum, the opposition had begun to politically characterize the executive leadership group as Stalinist, bureaucratic, sectarian, and hostile to regroupment.
By way of reply, the executive summed up the opposition’s political tendencies in two words — liquidationist and menshevik, i.e., adulterating and defaming the very concept of the revolutionary vanguard party.
At the conclusion of the internal discussion in June, 1967 it was clear that there were fundamental organizational differences dividing the party. What was not yet clear was the political basis of these differences, and in the absence of any visible, definite difference in programmatic line, neither of the two groupings was ready to organize itself along definite factional lines and press a determined struggle for hegemony within the party.
Nothing was resolved. Rising dissension, often over what seemed to be petty matters, continued to disrupt the life of the party. In this charged atmosphere, the party could neither orient itself toward effective intervention in the mass movement, nor carry out its basic and uncompleted internal tasks. The publication schedule had become inoperative; six months after the conference, only one document — Introducing the FSP — had found its way to press, and this was the document that Comrade Clara had been assigned to edit and prepare for publication.
Election Campaign Frenzy
In the summer of 1967, big-city Black ghettoes across the country erupted in a series of spontaneous, massive explosions. This marked a qualitative leap forward of millions of people in an arena of the class struggle which our tendency has always regarded as the key to the American revolution and thereby to the international revolution.
The entire party recognized the exceptional opportunity for intervention in the Black struggle with our own politics. After a long discussion, the party decided that despite previous priorities and serious internal problems, it would intervene in the situation by running a Black candidate — Comrade Skip Ware — in the upcoming City Council elections.
The party had high hopes for the election campaign. Here, if anywhere, appeared to be an opportunity to unify the party around its basic political line. Also, here was a great chance to make solid contact with rebellious, revolutionary-minded Blacks in the Central Area. Healthy contact with a mass upsurge, it was hoped, would revitalize the party cadres and heal the growing rupture in the ranks.
The political content of the campaign was carefully worked out beforehand. Its main thrust was to be an articulation of the political logic implicit in the rebellion of the ghetto, to be implemented through the raising of transitional demands explicitly linking the struggle of the ghetto masses with the class struggle for socialism.
The election campaign was to be a crash program, claiming virtually exclusive priority over all other work and mobilizing the energies of the entire party. It was to be a solid, professionally-organized effort, requiring full-time personnel and a competent director to take responsibility for day-to-day activities and administrative decisions. This responsibility, and the authority that went with it, was to rest with three different campaign directors for three consecutive two-week periods, since no one comrade could work full time for free for the duration of the campaign. Each director was to oversee the operation during his or her two-week term. The director’s administrative decisions were to be, within the framework of the campaign committee, authoritative, and could be challenged or over-ridden only by the party executive.
Definite procedure, definite responsibilities, a definite line of authority-good, businesslike, bolshevik procedures-were to be the rule of campaign organization.
This perspective was agreed to by all. Comrade Clara was assigned the decisive post of initial campaign manager and was to spend her two-week vacation working full-time in the headquarters to get the campaign rolling. She was to be succeeded by Comrades Lee and Frank respectively, but she was to retain final authority over all news releases.
In the beginning, our high hopes for the campaign appeared to be justified. The campaign program and the excellent quality of the campaign literature met a highly favorable response from Black and white radicals alike. There was no great difficulty in securing endorsement of our candidate from several organizations and prominent individuals, including Black militants. We managed to break through the wall of silence initially imposed by the bourgeois press, and received the best and most frequent publicity mileage of our long history in Seattle.
But, in the end, the campaign ran aground on two political snags.
One was the growing opportunism of the candidate himself. Instead of addressing himself forthrightly and directly to the Black revolt and the ghetto, Comrade Skip oriented toward gaining the sympathy and intellectual admiration of the white liberals (whose aim was to end the ghetto revolt by offering token concessions). His political over-adaptation to this milieu was strikingly evident in his last TV broadcast, where he soulfully “begged” (his words) the white community to do something for the Black minority by electing him.
Instead of using the campaign to mobilize white support for Blacks and Black support for socialism, he strained desperately to get elected.
Coupled with this irregularity was the opposition’s deliberate disruption and characteristic disorganization of the campaign. Despite formal agreement with the procedural rules adopted, they could not live by these rules in practice. Throughout the campaign, unanimous organizational decisions were unilaterally and frivolously challenged, sabotaged and overturned by members of the opposition. Their desperate assertion of autonomy and their capriciousness dislocated the campaign workers and exacerbated the inner-party feud.
In the atmosphere of organizational anarchy and personal bitterness that surrounded the campaign, the party was unable to unify itself sufficiently to correct the opportunist course taken by the candidate, or to direct its attention outward and take advantage of the tremendous opportunities presented by the situation. The great propaganda gains made during the campaign were balanced, on the negative side, by the growing hysteria of the opposition and the general demoralization following in its wake.
The campaign ended as a public success, but an intra-organizational disaster. The two wings of the party were polarized to the point of virtual stasis; for the first time, there was an atmosphere of split in the party.
III. The Woman Question Emerges
What does a party do when its most prominent spokesman and ideologist falls apart politically and personally, and is transformed into a detriment to the party and a danger to its integrity?
This difficult question was thrust upon the FSP less than a year after its formation, and the struggle for an answer occupied a great portion of the party’s time and energies during 1967.
In the course of this turmoil, all the internal differences were greatly sharpened and relations grew increasingly embittered. Furthermore, a new issue was added to the list of disputed questions that symptomized the deepening internal crisis.
It was this issue, and the differences that emerged over how to deal with it, that gave decisive impetus to the clarification of the internecine conflict. The leader in question was Comrade Dick Kirk. The new and fundamental issue raised, in a highly peculiar fashion, was the Woman Question.
The Crisis of a Leader
As the principal architect of our tendency’s position on the Black question, Comrade Kirk was for years our most prominent political representative and spokesman within the milieus of radical politics and the ghetto. Nevertheless, long before the January, 1967 conference, he was experiencing a singular political and personal degeneration, which accelerated with time.
His theoretical work was reduced to zero, and he showed an increasing propensity toward opportunistic maneuvering in the mass movement and the national political arena. His behavior inside the party was increasingly factious, arrogant and disruptive. His characteristic response to criticism was sullen withdrawal, punctuated by outbursts of violent rage.
His irrational and outrageous behavior was rendered virtually uncontrollable by his growing alcoholism, an advanced condition which he alternately denied or used as an excuse for his actions.
By the January conference, Comrade Kirk’s irresponsibility was so flagrant that he had been relieved of most of his duties. Only national correspondence, which he worked at sporadically, remained. The decision to place him on the Literary and Correspondence Committee was largely motivated by the desire of the entire party, including the coalescing opposition, to be free of his disruptive scenes. It was hoped that by confinement to literary work he could still be induced to make a positive contribution to the party. But he couldn’t.
The new executive was hardly installed in office before Kirk unleashed a virulent campaign of innuendo and slander against it, which paralleled the attacks of the minority. In the following months, his antics became more and more intolerable. Explosive, undisciplined behavior in party meetings, veiled organizational charges and vitriolic personal attacks against comrades, drunken and violent scenes at internal meetings and public functions — all became part of his regular modus operandi.
Rampant Male Supremacy
Finally, his political degeneration and rapid personal disintegration became linked to an increasingly overt and vicious male chauvinism.
Our tendency has always been characterized by its advanced position on the Woman Question. Kirk had never voiced any political disagreement on this position; in fact, he fancied himself one of its foremost proponents. In practice, however, his actions belied his political pretensions.
His male supremacist attitude expressed itself most openly and clearly in his intense personal vendetta against Comrade Clara, to whom he was legally married, although they had been separated for more than a year. He made repeated demands on her for money. She was the target of his continual, personal harassment to the point of public physical violence. In effect, he denied her right to a life of her own. He unilaterally assumed custody of their son and possession of their jointly-owned house, and refused to discuss either child custody or a financial-property agreement with her.
Thus he condemned the child to an upbringing by a raging drunk, despite the danger to the child. And he blackmailed Clara into continuing to give him money by threatening to provoke a legal-political scandal if she refused.
In her struggle to free herself and her child from this unrelieved oppression, Comrade Clara was completely alone. The party maintained an Olympian detachment from such a “personal” matter, and Clara never raised it, not wishing to burden the party with the problem.
Given the party’s indulgence of his organizational disturbances and rampant chauvinism, Kirk made no effort to curb his behavior. Instead, he repeatedly raised the charge that he was being slandered and maligned and demanded an investigation of “corridor gossip” against him — a demand which he conveniently refused to put in the form of a motion requiring action.
Kirk Is Finally Challenged
In May, 1967 the executive decided that something had to be done about Kirk’s repeated charges. They named a sub-committee to investigate these vague charges, but Kirk refused to meet with it, claiming he hadn’t requested it! A second subcommittee was named, and Kirk’s shabby performance was repeated. The matter dragged into July, with Kirk still demanding “vindication” of something or other.
The second sub-committee submitted a report to the executive detailing its lack of success, and charging Kirk with a serious violation of party discipline for his refusal to meet with an authoritative body mandated to investigate the charges he was flinging. The sub-committee recommended that since he was incapable of functioning in a rational manner, he be either suspended or expelled from the party.
The executive substantially agreed with the report and formed a Control Commission with powers to investigate, bring charges, conduct a trial and decide on the necessity and nature of any disciplinary action.
Also, at the request of Clara, the executive directed the Control Commission to assign an arbiter to mediate an out-of-court divorce and custody settlement between herself and Kirk, adjudicating the disputed issues in the light of the party’s principles rather than those of the bourgeois court. Kirk was constantly threatening legal action and Clara had come to believe that the party had to take steps now to avoid an unprecedented and scandalous confrontation between two leading party members in a public divorce court.
Kirk’s provocations were of the sort that no serious organization can afford to tolerate. His disruptiveness and chronic, uncontrollable violations of the basic rules of comradely behavior, along with his chauvinistic persecution of Comrade Clara, posed a threat to the political and organizational integrity of the party. His growing tendency to create public uproars threatened the party with imminent scandal.
Virtually every comrade felt that Kirk represented at least a serious problem that should be dealt with in some fashion. At this time (before the election campaign had generated any serious frictions), there still appeared to be grounds for believing that the Kirk problem could be separated from other internal problems, and that the party could unite to bring him into line.
With this view in mind, the Control Commission was set up. To make sure it would not be an instrument of any faction or grouping, the Commission was made large enough (five members) to accommodate representatives of every current of opinion in the party. It included Comrade Lee, even though she (and Comrade Frank) had bitterly opposed the formation of a Control Commission. It was hoped that this broadly-based body, backed by the overwhelming majority of the party, could resolve the “Kirk problem” without resorting to expulsion.
Debacle of the Control Commission
The Control Commission, unfortunately, did not live up to expectations, partly because its proceedings were interrupted for several weeks in the late summer by the election campaign, but more fundamentally because of its own internal paralysis.
From its inception, the Control Commission was bogged down with legalistic pettifogging over its “proper jurisdiction,” and endless disputes over procedural questions — usually raised and pushed to the limit by Comrade Lee. These were countered by the “hards” on the commission (Comrades Melba Windoffer and John Severn) who were able to convince the wavering “center” (Al and Skip) of the need for decisive action, pulling them along step by step.
Finding her efforts at procedural obstruction and obfuscation frustrated, Lee adopted another strategy. She raised a barrage of counter-charges against Comrade Clara, to the effect that:
(1) Clara was responsible for Kirk’s misbehavior, since she had failed in her proper domestic role of keeping him happy, productive and under control.
(2) By insisting that the Control Commission use its authority to force Kirk into an equitable divorce settlement, Clara was lending unwarranted political weight to what was essentially a ”personal” dispute, outside the jurisdiction of party disciplinary bodies.
(3) Clara was using the divorce and custody dispute issue as a cover-up maneuver to conceal her attempt, along with the “Stalinist” organizer, Comrade Bob, to wrest control of the party from the “established leadership.” The Control Commission was part of a devious conspiracy, Lee warned, to “get Kirk,” and Clara had even gone so far as to “maneuver Kirk into acting badly” so he could be dealt with as a disciplinary problem, rather than in political debate.
This reactionary, soap opera attribution of Kirk’s weaknesses to Clara’s lack of wifely devotion had long been Kirk’s main line of defense, and now it was being accorded political sanction.
Lee’s new strategy was effective. After months of wavering and reluctant assent to the arguments of the “hards,” the male center (Al and Skip) collapsed and stumbled gracelessly into the opposition camp. A new theory was proclaimed: Comrade Clara was now and had always been a WITCH.
By October, the original case against Kirk had been completely submerged and replaced by an inquisition against Clara and every other comrade who had demanded enforcement of women’s rights and equal standards of party discipline. The oppositional nucleus (Frank and Lee) had gained effective control of the Control Commission by dint of discovering the one issue around which they could regroup all the vague and disparate oppositional currents into a single faction.
This faction, which never openly admitted its own factional character, had one “principle” and one rallying cry: “Stop Clara and her clique!”
So there now existed a faction in the party that viewed women, and the nature of the party, in mystical, stereotyped and subjective terms. And there could be no resolution of the inner-party conflict until the basic issues could be brought before the membership in a programmatic and materialist manner.
At Comrade Clara’s initiative, a counter-faction was formed, openly organized to defend our official position and historical tradition of women’s emancipation and the Leninist nature of the party. Comrade Clara simply announced at a party meeting that she was calling for the formation of a counter-faction and invited the membership to join it. Characterizing her faction as bolshevik, and the opposition as menshevik, she candidly declared a political contest for leadership of the party.
This faction made clear from the beginning that it aimed to fight for translating abstract ideological norms into practical standards of comradely, non-chauvinist conduct to be used as firm guidelines in real-life situations. The pro-woman, pro-party faction aimed to win a majority and gain the authority to enforce these standards, and end the previous pattern of arbitrary, capricious, eclectic and male chauvinist practices.
Now, at last, ideological lines were drawn and issues defined. The field was clear for a decisive contest. The party was geared to fight out and settle the political issues, including the question of leadership.
The contest was to take place at the forthcoming party convention, scheduled for December, 1967. For a short time, it appeared that the FSP would settle its internal crisis by a principled confrontation of opposing views, in accordance with the Leninist tradition.
But Clara’s flat and unambiguous declaration of program and purpose completely unnerved the opposition. Their pandemonium telegraphed split, and split did occur, determined, however, not by the results of a convention, but by the desperation of Kirk and his faction.
Since the Control Commission, now exalted by fear and morbid hysteria, proved powerless to render justice and enforce sanity, Clara had appealed to the party membership directly. The non-controlling Control Commission was finished. Virtually the last official act of the Control Commission chairman, Comrade AI, was to confess once again the commission’s complete inability to control or modify Kirk’s actions.
Kirk had refused to meet with a party-assigned mediator to discuss terms of divorce and child custody, declaring his intention to carry the contest into court. And even though he was employed, he informed Clara that he was filing bankruptcy, a malicious action which, under Washington State’s community property laws, would result in garnishment of Clara’s pay check to pay his personal debts — and in loss of her job.
Under these circumstances, Comrade Al announced, Clara should “just go to court” to protect herself, because “there is nothing the Control Commission can do with Kirk.”
Given this ultimatum from the Control Commission chairman, representing the Control Commission majority, Clara had no option but to proceed with filing for divorce in order to protect herself from garnishment.
Kirk responded immediately with a counter-suit!
Now the party was confronted with the actuality of an impending court fight between two of its leading members. It had two choices: it could abstain from the situation, letting the principals slug it out in court, or it could intervene directly, using its authority to bring about a settlement out of court and an uncontested divorce, precisely what Clara had asked it to do.
In order to implement the latter course, the FSP would have to do something it had never done before — enforce party tradition and discipline in a case it had always preferred to treat as a purely personal matter. But this abstentionist course created grave dangers for the party.
In the first place, the very fact of a bitter legal contest between two leading comrades over a woman’s right to a divorce, and over child custody, threatened a very damaging political scandal. Even more important was the nature of the contest.
In any divorce case, the issues upheld by a bolshevik party, particularly one noted for its strong stance on women, are different and often opposite to the capitalist marriage norms of the bourgeois courts.
In this particular case, these ideological issues would appear in an especially explosive form. Kirk was obviously out for blood, and was using any and all bourgeois weapons at hand to gain victory.
Scarlet Letter Stuff
He clearly revealed his political treachery in the content of his counter-divorce suit. He accused Clara, among other crimes, of being an “unfit mother” because of “frequent absences from the home,” “staying out all night,” failure “to make a real home” for him, “insistence on working outside the home,” and conversely “refusing” to work during certain periods because she “preferred doing other things,” i.e., a very few full-time party assignments.
The incredibly medieval essence of these charges should be apparent to any socialist or feminist. Kirk was standing four-square on the ground of the injured male done wrong by his little woman, who, rejecting all the proper duties of wifery, had frustrated his efforts to build a conventional home. And implicit in his charges was the accusation of adultery. The FSP oppositionists pretended not to see this implication, but it was clearly understood by the lawyers on both sides, and Kirk’s lawyer soon made it explicit in the courtroom by naming the party organizer as the other man!
This scandal-mongering, from the standpoint of FSP policy on women’s rights, not to mention simple decency, constituted an absolutely impermissible act of Babbitry and open scabbery — an outright denial of the fundamental right of sexual freedom of choice, which socialist and humanist tradition have always regarded as a fundamental liberty.
Even more important, the whole thrust of Kirk’s legal case was designed to deny Comrade Clara her right to live as a professional revolutionary devoting her life to the movement rather than to his care and feeding. By flinging Clara’s intensely political lifestyle (how else could she explain her “frequent absences from the home”) into court for public scrutiny and evaluation by a bourgeois judge, Kirk was endangering the party, feminism, and socialist humanism.
Kirk was publicly finking on the Woman Question and on the party. That was the reality of the matter. The question before the party was very simple: did it in fact take its own politics — its own position on women’s equality — seriously enough to intervene and stop overt scabbing? Yes or no?
It was this “yes or no” that determined the final polarization within the party and provoked a split.
The executive finally said yes. Kirk’s legal line was politically and ethically impermissible. Recognizing the grave danger for the party’s integrity and morale posed by Kirk’s counter-suit, the executive resolved to take the matter directly to the party ranks.
Control or Expel
There were two executive proposals:
(1) That the Control Commission be dissolved as an utterly ineffective body.
(2) That Kirk either withdraw his lawsuit against Clara immediately and submit the issues to arbitration within the party, or be expelled as an open fink.
The first proposal was agreed to by all.
The second precipitated a division along majority-minority lines, though there was still some hesitancy about taking decisive action within the majority (bolshevik) faction. The point of the second proposal, however, was not to press for an immediate vote for expulsion, but to present the alternatives posed by Kirk’s actions squarely before the party ranks: he must be either controlled or expelled.
Two long meetings were devoted to a discussion of the proposal, long enough for the full implications of Kirk’s legal strategy to become clear to the party majority. Finally, the alternatives were embodied in the following motion:
(1) That Kirk be enjoined from pursuing a contested divorce in a public courtroom;
(2) That a mediator, mandated to determine the actual terms of a divorce settlement on the basis of socialist ethical norms, be appointed;
(3) That if Kirk failed to comply with these conditions, he be summarily expelled.
The measure passed by one vote, over the strenuous objections of the opposition to the effect that the party was exceeding its authority by intervening in such a “personal” matter, that it was a maneuver to get rid of Kirk, etc. “You can’t DO that!” was the outcry from the ranks of the minority.
Nevertheless, the decision held. Two days after the measure was passed, Kirk walked into a meeting with Clara and the mediator, and two minutes later he walked out, bellowing, “I’ll see you in court.” He was expelled at the next party meeting.
At the following membership meeting, the opposition raised a barrage of procedural objections to the expulsion, declaring that the decision was based on an “artificial majority” that didn’t reflect the real relationship of forces in the party.
The entire meeting (which included all party members in Seattle) was devoted to a discussion of the expulsion, and the expulsion decision was ratified — again by one vote.
And now the opposition took an unprecedented step. Rather than stay and fight for a political decision at the party convention scheduled for a few weeks away, they walked out — over a procedural question on which, if their claims to represent a majority were to be taken seriously, they could have won an easy victory.
“I resign! I’ve had enough!” Frank roared dramatically, and with this rallying cry, he stalked from the hall, his troops stumbling after him, out of the headquarters and out of the party.
This desertion took place toward the end of November, 1967. The behavior of these former members in the succeeding months showed the split to be permanent and indelible.
At first, the deserters tried to open phony “unity” negotiations, proposing a “parity” conference in which they would represent not only themselves but the proxies of some of the party’s national supporters they had won over to their side after they left the party.
Moreover, Kirk, as one of their leaders, was to be involved in the proposed negotiations. In reply, the FSP invited them to reapply individually for membership. Kirk was informed that as an expelled member, he had the right to appeal his expulsion at a party convention, but no right to “parity.”
The party also demanded the return of its Publication Fund, hundreds of dollars with which the deserters had absconded.
This ended negotiations.
But the former oppositionists suddenly discovered that instead of being a group that had quit the party, they were the party.
Again claiming the “majority,” they demanded that we recognize their right to the name of Freedom Socialist Party, the headquarters, Freeway Hall, and the assets of the organization.
We said no, don’t be absurd. And the split was complete.
V. The Nature of the Split
The split in the FSP did not happen cleanly and neatly.
There was no clear counter-position of opposing views, no intensive internal discussion bringing out the political character of the disputes, no final confrontation and decision at the party convention.
Had all this taken place, the nature of the split would have been crystal clear. Since it didn’t happen, the split had to be subjected to an ex post facto analysis.
The immediate occasion of the split was an organizational dispute over an expulsion. In one sense, then, the split can be seen as the culmination of a long series of clashes over organizational norms, priorities and procedures. If our analysis went no further than this, we would have to say that the split in the FSP derived from organizational differences, with the majority asserting organizational standards that the minority was simply unable to live up to.
Finding the party’s internal discipline unbearably constricting, they walked out and established a club of their own in which they could operate more comfortably.
This is part of the truth, but it does not go far enough.
It is an axiom of Leninism that any serious, long-term organizational conflict, especially one culminating in a split along factional lines, generally expresses a deep, underlying political polarization. It is the task of analysis to identify and reveal this basis.
The Character of the Opposition
The oppositionists in the FSP, even at the point of split, never admitted the factional nature of their grouping, because they were unable to explain the political basis of their factional cohesion. They had never thought through the implications of their politics. They remained to the end an unprincipled combination, unable to find any basis for their bloc other than a reflexive hostility to the standards, methods and personnel of the party majority.
What lay behind this hostility?
Obviously, most (but not all) of the oppositionists felt an instinctive repugnance to the practice of bolshevik organization. This in itself reflects a certain political attitude.
At the basis of Leninist organizational norms lies the concept of the vanguard party, standing in an advanced position, ahead of the mass movement, constantly striving to bring the movement up to its level while maintaining its own principles and program intact.
An attack on organizational norms and procedures, therefore, is generally an implicit attack on the concept of the vanguard party and a drawing away from the clear and sharp definition of program that characterizes such a party.
It is important to realize that an assault on the party’s program need not take the form of an open, direct ideological assault. It can express itself through an attempt to interpret the program in an opportunistic fashion by softening its distinctive features to make it more palatable to more backward elements, and even to opponent tendencies within the movement.
Party members who display such opportunistic leanings will also manifest dissatisfaction with the “undiplomatic” behavior of comrades who are too “pushy,” too “intolerant,”—who insist on a precise and uncompromising political differentiation of the party from its opponents and also from the lower political levels of the mass movements in which the party intervenes.
The oppositionists in the FSP instinctively shied away from any attempt of the majority to push the party’s program as its determining feature, and to insist on principle as the guideline to tactics in the mass movement.
Seen in this light, the major clashes that preceded the split reveal a definite pattern.
The February priorities crisis involved something more than a publication schedule. The real priority involved was the priority of the party program as defined in the basic documents containing our distinctive positions on the Black Question and the Woman Question.
These programs should have been the key to determining the party’s public image and its course of intervention in the mass movement.
The minority’s sudden preoccupation with China, their tortuous attempt to make it a central point of dispute with the majority, and their urging the party to enter the regroupment arena before clearly and publicly presenting its own program, were aspects of their general tendency to push the FSP’s own distinctive contributions to revolutionary tradition into the background.
The same trend was evident in the internal discussion that occupied the party for some months in the spring and summer.
1. In citing the China question as the “key to the international situation” and to the regroupment process in the U.S., Frank pushed the FSP program on the decisive American questions—the liberation of Blacks and women—into the background, thereby minimizing our differences with the Workers World Party, with whom he was then carrying on a flirtation.
2. The entire dispute over regroupment and the nature of the party (“a party” vs. “the party”) revealed an oppositional current that only became fully explicit much later, after our former comrades had launched out on their own.
They were looking for a “regroupment” in which they could find a comfortable home as a left wing of a larger, broader organization; we saw the whole regroupment process as a more protracted and complex one.
For us, the FSP would necessarily be the party for some time, and would cede that claim only to a new, nationwide, Leninist party that could rightfully assume the task of leading the American Revolution.
3. In the election campaign disputes, the differences that emerged between the majority comrades and the candidate concerned the latter’s unwillingness to stress the program that had been agreed upon, while the opposition, unconcerned with this major political problem, concentrated their efforts on fomenting organizational impediments to effective prosecution of the campaign.
The Decisive Woman Question
These examples of behavior were symptomatic of a general tendency in the opposition, whose members were drawing away from a sharp definition of the party program and from bolshevik political and organizational concepts.
Nevertheless, up to the final crisis, the opposition was never fully unified.
There was always some wavering and some crossing of lines, and a few comrades tried to remain aloof from both of the crystallizing tendencies.
The decisive question that finally drove all the disparate elements together was—the Woman Question.
And here again, the opposition’s attitude toward the party program was expressed not in open ideological confrontation, but in personal and organizational conflicts.
The opposition would not recognize a Woman Question inside the party—only a “Clara Question.” It was Clara, the leading spokesperson of the party majority, who became the figure upon whom all the various elements that comprised the opposition eventually focused their hostility.
There had always been male chauvinism within the party, which Clara had usually successfully overridden with the cooperation of the rest of the old party leadership.
But now she was appearing as the leader of the party majority against her former male colleagues. This independent and decisive leadership from a woman was too much for some comrades to take.
This explained the fantastic success of the anti-Clara campaign among some of the male comrades who tended to stand with the bolshevik majority on almost every other question.
What had been a latent, half-expressed tendency was transformed into a raging disease, and the final crisis in the dispute between Clara and Kirk was enough to bring it out into the open.
When disciplinary action was finally taken against Kirk, the entire party faced a decisive test.
Principle required solidarity with Clara in the face of Kirk’s open scabbery on the Woman Question. The majority passed the test. Kirk was expelled, and his expulsion ratified. Thus the party reaffirmed in practice its theoretical position on the Woman Question, and made clear to all concerned that the FSP regarded it as a fundamental, first class political issue.
The minority could not pass the test.
Not only were they unwilling to stand by their principles on this question, they were unable to live a minute longer inside a party that would. In walking out, they made clear that for them the Woman Question was at best a second-class question, and that they would not tolerate its elevation into a guide to living practice.
The opposition’s hypocrisy on the Woman Question—a real backwardness, which they attempted to conceal with demagogic rhetoric—was the decisive factor impelling them into hurried flight from the party ranks.
This was their first definite, organized break with the party program; it was not to be their last. From the moment they deserted the party, the oppositionists followed a political course that led them further and further from Marxism.
A Historic Parallel
The Woman Question was not the sum and substance of the differences in the party, but it was the barometer of the opposition’s political degeneration, the weather vane pointing out the direction of their political drift. In exposing their incapacity to deal honestly with this fundamental issue, the deserters signaled their growing inability to deal with any question in the bolshevik manner—clearly, incisively, and forthrightly, on the grounds of principle.
The split in the FSP was unusual in form, but not without parallel in the history of the Marxist movement.
A similar stuffle, the famous bolshevik-menshevik split in which Lenin first emerged as the leader of the revolutionary movement in Russia, was fought out in the Russian Social-Democratic Party in 1903.
Although the Russian party was a great, mass organization and ours is a small revolutionary nucleus, the parallels between the problems faced in both cases are too striking to be ignored, and the struggle in the FSP appears in some respects as a microcosm of the vast earlier struggle.
The Russian Social-Democracy was a party still in its formative phase, struggling to unify itself around a program and defend its political integrity as a vanguard detachment of a much broader radical movement. And the Russian revolutionists, like ourselves, very soon faced an organizational crisis over what appeared to be trivial, secondary matters.
The crisis came to a head at the 1903 Congress of the party over (1) the composition of the editorial board of Iskra (the central party organ) and (2) a minor difference of wording in two drafts of the statutes defining membership requirements.
On the first issue, Lenin had simply proposed a reduction in the size of Iskra’s editorial board to weed out the less effective and productive members of the original team in the interests of efficiency.
But, to quote Deutscher (The Prophet Armed), “considerations of efficiency clashed, as the often do, with acquired rights and sentiment.” The future mensheviks sensed in Lenin’s simple proposal a deep, dark conspiracy to wrest the hegemony in the Russian revolutionary movement away from its traditional leadership.
This dispute immediately threw into relief the “minor” differences in the drafts of the membership statutes. It became clear that the difference between the two drafts was hardly trivial, for it concerned two basically different definitions of the party.
Lenin had proposed that the primary requirement of party membership be activity as a member of a local organization of the party, while Martov, future leader of the mensheviks, proposed that it be activity under the direction of a local party organization. Lenin was looking toward a tight, disciplined formation in which each member would be bound to the revolutionary collective by a close, integral connection with its local organization. Martov, on the other hand, envisaged a looser association, with the individual member’s responsibilities very vaguely defined, leaving each member free from regular control and supervision by the local organization.
The question of priorities—efficiency in carrying out the party line versus sentimental considerations, and the nature of the party—these were the split issues that divided bolshevik from menshevik.
As we now know, the differences that lay behind these disputes over technical questions were anything but superficial. They set in motion a long process of political dispute, and the Russian Social Democracy broke up into two camps: the bolsheviks, who stood at the head of the 1917 revolution, and the mensheviks, who were obstacles in its way.
Lessons of the FSP Split
Our party also faced its first crisis very early in its existence, and the problem was similar.
Once a party has declared its independence and come out into the open, it is forced to define itself, and this means first and foremost defining its attitude toward its own politics.
Even the best politics, so long as they remain on paper or are confined to discussions within closed circles, have no definitive existence. They must be carried out into the real world and put to work as operating principles of a living organization.
This is the final test of the seriousness with which an organization regards its politics. This determines what its real program is.
Such was the test our party faced during 1967. In withstanding the test—a split not with old enemies, but with those who had been longtime friends and comrades—we ended the formative process set in motion a year and a half earlier, when the FSP came into being.
Only after the split did the FSP finally stand by itself, firmly rooted in its own dynamic principles.
VI. 1968: FSP Condition and Performance
The party’s salient accomplishment of 1967 was to maintain its integrity in the face of a menshevik challenge from within its own ranks.
In so doing, it saved itself from an opportunistic drift into centrism, reformism and eventual liquidation.
Still, the lifesaving struggle exacted heavy costs. The bitter and protracted internecine conflict seriously drained the energies of the party cadres and prevented significant party growth during the fight. The year ended with some major tasks uncompleted, only one basic document published, and new sources of growth, opened up by the election campaign, unexploited.
With the new year, the party had new tasks, and the first was political and organizational survival.
With the membership at virtual half strength, substantial scaling down and alteration of perspective were required. The deserters not only absconded with party correspondence and documents, but stole the $300.00 Publication Fund.
We had to settle the ideological account of the split, clarifying our position and tracing out the inner logic of our opponents’ evolution.
We had to maintain public functioning and momentum, as well as continued contact with and intervention in the mass movement.
We had to prevent the usurpation of the name of the FSP by the mensheviks.
And we had to strengthen the party, tempering and toughening the small cadre for the great responsibilities it now had to shoulder alone, while augmenting our slender forces through intensified contact and recruitment work.
The 1968 record is characterized by some successes, some unfinished tasks, some projects that never got off the ground, much exploratory activity in probing the possibilities of alliances and united efforts with other groupings, and the eventual strengthening of our identity, mode of operation, and course.
1. Our first job was to explain the split to our friends and periphery.
We accomplished this slowly and painstakingly, but effectively, in that we made our position succinct and programmatic. We refused to borrow a leaf from the book of our opponents’ style and label the dispute as “the Frank question” or “the Kirk question,” etc. Instead, in a series of detailed open letters to our former comrades in response to their demands and charges, we opened a political debate on issues of principle and program.
We hoped thereby to engage them in open ideological debate, but this they fled from, preferring to circulate their version of events privately.
It was difficult for us to convince many people, in that period, of the validity of our course, given the general hostility toward our conception of the Woman Question as a major political issue that required independent mass organization.
Also, there prevailed great resistance in the student movement to any organizational forms geared toward serious revolutionary action and pointing in the direction of a vanguard party.
Nevertheless, we forced every local radical grouping into an examination of these issues and a general consideration of their role and import, thereby definitively establishing ourselves as the hard-core proletarian tendency and the rightful inheritors of the party’s name.
2. We were highly successful in keeping the party publicly visible through forums and socials.
A forum series on Afro-American History in February and March 1968 featured an impressive roster of speakers and was widely publicized. The series built up to a very good attendance.
A long summer series on the history of women’s emancipation, jointly sponsored with Radical Women, was so successful that it contributed to this very history. It was a major breakthrough in bringing the woman question as a serious, first-rank political subject before a new generation of radicals. The speakers roster, presentations, and planning and implementing were all excellent. The series was an important learning experience for a substantial sector of the local movement.
Our winter series, which evaluated the politics of the New Left, was less popular from the standpoint of attendance, due to the sharpening of political differences between ourselves and the mass of student militants in the wake of the national elections. But the programmatic differentiations that we explored and clarified in the course of the series were political accomplishments of the first order, in terms of sharpening the theory and character of the party.
3. Our headquarters, Freeway Hall, was an invaluable resource, and our utilization of it guaranteed our right to the party’s name once and for all in the eyes of the general radical public. It was also an important financial resource, as income from increasing rentals provided the decisive margin of solvency.
We did not however use the hall as a political resource to the extent that we could have, being particularly deficient in keeping the bookstore open regularly and publicizing it. We thereby deprived ourselves of an important arena for political contact and dissemination of literature.
4. Our work in the mass movement engendered very mixed results, as a consequence of the relation between the objective thrust of the movement as a whole and the internal condition of the party.
The dominant feature of the movement over the past several years has been the increasing radicalism of Black and white youth.
During 1967, this process accelerated suddenly and qualitatively.
Early in the year, the student movement, with SDS in the lead, proclaimed a shift from “protest to resistance.” Coincident with this was a piecemeal eruption of local draft resistance groups around the country, initiated by Black youth but soon taken up by white students. Explosions in the Black ghetto over the summer were followed by a massive influx of Black Student Unions across the country, and the first thrust of the Black Panther Party toward national prominence.
The opening months of 1968 saw a continued deepening of the process of radicalization.
SDS mushroomed on campuses across the country. A new third-party movement, initiated with the formation of the Peace and Freedom Party of California, began to attract young people seeking an independent political outlet for their radicalism. The draft resistance movement began to manifest signs of outgrowing its initial formlessness and developing a broader political and social consciousness. A nascent women’s movement appeared from out of the student milieu. The Black Panthers proclaimed their intention to form a Black revolutionary vanguard with a socialist ideology.
These national developments were reflected locally. From a position as an isolated backwater on the national scene, Seattle was being drawn into the maelstrom of a reviving radical movement.
New Left Convulsions
At the beginning of the year, the FSp was apparently in a very good position with respect to the new radical movement. We had broad connections in SDS, good relations with young Black militant leaders, and a fraction of two exerting considerable influence in Draft Resistance.
When a group of young women from SDS became interested in forming a radical women’s organization, they turned immediately to our comrades for assistance in public speeches, programmatic guidance and organizational collaboration.
This era of good relations did not last long. In a very short time, our friendly and cooperative relations with the New Left on various fronts gave way to increasing divergences and friction.
Seeing our own program as the most advanced expression of the anti-war movement, we cast ourselves in the role of leadership of a potential revolutionary left wing in Draft Resistance, devoting much of our energies to this enterprise.
When the moment of decision for the left wing arrived—a choice between principled politics or endless clique maneuvering as the pathway for decision-making—the left wing promptly collapsed, crystallizing into a conscious counter-left wing.
This is an old story in politics, but one which newer comrades seem to have to learn through personal experiences. We made no opportunistic adaptations to the situation, and the party fraction emerged from the battlefront with an enhanced understanding of the interrelations of mass movement building and party building, and the need to integrate the two processes. This was a tribute to their growing maturity and ability to profit from experience and party guidance.
The fraction learned it had been overly sanguine and optimistic; it should have seen its role more clearly as one of swimming against the stream consciously and energetically, paying more attention to the needs of the party and utilizing the party as a center for pulling together the best individuals in the mass movement.
The chief lesson derived was to relearn once again that the party needs to retain its own separate existence outside the mass movement, in opposition to it when necessary, and always available to the most advanced elements for advice, assistance and the opportunity for membership.
By late summer, both DR and SDS were driving in an anarchistic direction, characterized by deliberate organizational formlessness, irresponsible adventurism and unbridled subjectivism. Concurrent with this was an increasing hostility to “Old Left”—that is, Marxist—concepts of class line, program, organizational structure and procedures, and methods of delineating strategy and tactics.
In this atmosphere, we were forced into increasing isolation, and finally decided to withdraw from active organizational participation in the student arena in order to concentrate on educational work with individuals not cemented into the politics of prolonged adolescence and the cult of spontaneity.
The Women’s Movement
Our sojourn with the New Left in Radical Women had similar results, although in a different form.
From its inception, we were very favorably disposed toward this fledgling organization we had helped to initiate. Its very formation was historic and dramatic, an exciting validation of our long proclaimed but lonely stance on the woman question.
Here seemed to be the best field for close cooperation with a key sector of the New Left—its young women.
Even before it was really off the ground, Radical Women acquired a name for itself through its forums and actions. Nevertheless, it was not able to clearly define itself in matters of program, organization or tactics.
Our attempts to orient the organization in a pro-socialist, working-class direction based on a serious organizational foundation were met with discomfort, outrage, clandestine maneuvering, chronic attempts to ignore or violate decisions, growing hostility, the withdrawal of some members and finally division in three directions.
Our comrades, together with a few sympathizers, were left in possession of the organization, while the New Left and single-issue tropes formed two new groups.
One of these, the “Women’s Majority union,” oriented blatantly toward middle-class suburban housewives who “want to kill their husbands” (“the real battlefield!”).
They announced their devotion to an ongoing mystical soul-search for their true natures and a quest for a fully “liberated” lifestyle in this society—liberated basically from wage-labor, children, and the responsibilities of life.
They renounced connection with the ghetto movement, the labor movement, and the general movement for social revolution, preferring to work for women’s rights in an exclusively reformist and sensationalist fashion.
In their urgency to build a mass movement, they resorted to red-baiting, personal attacks and unrestrained malice, so fearful were they of being branded a “red front” as a result of guilt-by-association with revolutionaries.
The other split-off tendency from Radical Women formed itself into a “Women’s Liberation committee” of the SDS and the Peace and Freedom Party, and later of SDS alone, after the demise of the PFP.
This group spun off in the opposite direction, opposing the need for the businesslike organization of an independent women’s movement and adopting an ultra-left course, resulting from an erroneous belief that the answer to reformism is a sectarian contempt for the struggle for limited and partial objectives. They, too, hysterically resisted a structured organization.
Our attempts at close collaboration with some sections of the New Left resulted in a polarization of ideologies and methods. Discussion within the movement was thereby raised to a much higher level than previously, which is always the case with clear-cut splits, as every Leninist knows! Issues were clarified and positions taken, and the in-fighting amound the women radicals in particular had a significant impact upon the student movement as a whole, which was struggling on a national plane to resolve these very differences.
PFP and Black Panthers
The Peace and Freedom Party displayed some initial promise, but it soon became apparent that it was unable and unwilling to advance programmatically past its first burst of enthusiasm and beyond its socially narrom and classless student base.
A large outpouring of radical sentiment of various hues coalesced into a loose association in this party, but no concise program of clear political direction emerged, and the party took shape in shapelessness—as an indeterminate, all-inclusive, People’s Front type of action-apparatus, composed of equal parts of radicalism, reformism, revolution, progressive capitalism, and socialism.
Our unwillingness to enter the party and “help shape its course” flowed from the impermissibility, in principle, of supporting a United Liberals, Radicals, and Socialists type of political stew.
We could not have altered its course, given its basic composition and direction, and we could not have operated as a minority within it without compromising that very principled approach to electoral coalitions which we had upheld for so long against the opportunism of the former comrades who had defected from our party.
We did give critical support to the two Black candidates of the PFP—Eldridge Cleaver and Flo Ware; nevertheless, our persistent refusal to enter or endorse the PFP organization created considerable friction between us and most of our younger friends who had rushed into the “new” and supposedly non-Stalinistic PFP as soon as it was launched.
They failed to see that only the faces had changed; despite definite and welcome improvements in the planks of the Black struggle, the labor movement, women’s rights, and independent political action, the fundamental and overriding character of the program was its appeal for multi-class support on supra-class issues—i.e., the Peoples Front against war, fascism, poverty, etc.
PFP was an anti-monopoly, anti-military/industrial coalition—anti-establishment, not anti-capitalist. This type of program topping a middle-class/student base spells precisely that kind of mish-mash electoral coalition which Leninists deplore, despite its apparent radicalism and super-militancy.
The PFP was a Stalinist type of party, even though few of its adherents realize it to this day, and are furious at the allegation!
But friendship is friendship, and politics is politics, and a political party like FSP must choose.
Friction between us and PFP increased with our active support of the Black Panther Party electoral campaign.
The local Panthers were trying to free themselves from the injunction to effect an electoral coalition which the PFP imposed on them by Cleaver’s candidacy on the PFP ticket. This questionable move by CLeaver deprived his own party of the drama, momentum and influence it needed to build its own ranks through electoral activity. The local BPP had only one candidate in the field, and it was incumbent upon us to help assure his ballot status and mobilize electoral support on his behalf.
This campaign was the decisive action in Seattle, crucial for the Black freedom movement and therefore crucial for the entire movement—yet Socialist Workers Party was running a counter-candidate to Cleaver, PFP had Cleaver on its slate, and both parties were straining mightily on behalf of their own campaigns.
Only FSP took upon itself as a primary responsibility the task of assisting the local BPP campaign, providing publicity, Nominating Petition signers, technical assistance, etc.
The non-self-seeking on our part was recognized by the Panthers, who included our spokeswoman on their roster of Nominating Convention speakers, and we were generously afforded the opportunity to engage in a meaningful and innovative dialogue on feminism with them and the audience at that event.
The highlight of our supportive activities was the mass rally called on their behalf and in their defense by an ad hoc unity committee initiated by our comrades in Radical Women and composed of virtually every radical grouping in town.
To achieve this hugely impressive and effective united front against police harassment in the ghetto was not only a herculean task, in which we succeeded, but a politically expensive one. By virtue of our pressure on Radical Women, PFP, SDS and others to support the mass meeting, we incurred resentment and annoyance.
Nevertheless, we would be happy to do it again for the Black freedom movement, which would otherwise be ignored by white radicals string in their own organizational juices and self-concerns.
By the end of 1968, the FSP stood out as a distinctly independent, unique and determined tendency amid the myriad of local and national factions and groupings within the radical movement.
We ended up organizationally alone and politically together, a rather remarkable achievement for our small cadre of hardheads attacked consistently and sometimes hysterically from all sides because of our intransigeance combined with flexibility—a dialectical approach to strategy still unabsorbed by old and new left alike.
By refusing to sacrifice principle in exchange for popularity, we had earned some outright hatred from those who demanded our participation and collaboration in their projects on their terms.
But the lifespan of our alliances was dictated by the limits of our capability for compromise and concession. Our capability was very broad, but limits we did insist on. This earned us general, if infuriated respect.
We failed to write enough, publish enough, hold enough public meetings, complete all of our documents and projects in time, and follow through consistently on administrative responsibilities. But we significantly improved our functioning in some areas, and, most important, we emerged from this year of difficulty, contradictions and challenges with a vastly expanded self-knowledge and a new capacity for realistic judgements and decisions.
VII. 1969: A New Conjuncture and A New Growth
As the new year rolled in, the FSP was left with its name, its integrity, an excellent and popular headquarters, and a lot of experience.
But the party was detached from the white student movement and lacked a substantial periphery.
The Tide Turns
1. The New Left
The intense, highly personal student rebellion against the constrictions, brutality, and inequities of capitalist society grew into the “new” Left, and through all of its twists and turns, it reflects a basically middle-class character.
Its programmatic vagueness, organizational incoherence and lack of solidarity, wild leaps from one end of the political spectrum to the other, and ideological glorification of emotionalism and subjectivism all arise from the fundamental capriciousness of a movement with no solid attachment to any productive class.
Any “program” this movement espouses is a momentary choice resulting from a mood, rather than a stable and long-term commitment to the needs and interests of the working class. Continual search and experiment become the substitute for serious program, and the movement feels an instinctive hostility to settling down to serious theoretical discussion, to chart a rational course for itself, and to stick by its decisions.
This inherent instability is accentuated by the class struggle vacuum in the U.S. In the absence of a strong working-class or socialist movement off campus exerting a commanding influence upon students, few objective forces exist to lend programmatic substance and social weight to the college rebellion.
This lack of a solid social base to connect it with reality is the New Left’s gravest constitutional problem, and the one weakness that the movement truly agonizes over. Its “go-it-alone” hysteria is balanced by a desperate longing for an authoritative voice — for an infallible pope — to lay down the law from on high. Hence, the movement turns frantically from one saviour to another — the Peace and Freedom Party, the “Third World,” Chairman Mao, the Black Panthers, and lately resurrected in all his glory, Comrade Stalin and his terror tactics.
The New Left, which claims to have arisen out of the purest existential freedom, is in fact at the mercy of its own whims, dictated by whatever looks biggest or most attractive at any given moment.
But none of the twists, turns, and about-faces of student radicalism, from participatory democracy through Stalinism, has alleviated its crisis of program and leadership. On the contrary, this crisis now assumes graver proportions with every passing week as the movement splits and fragments in a dozen different directions.
2. The Black Movement
The protracted crisis of leadership continues. Locally, there are two main contenders for the loyalty and support of the ghetto masses.
On one side are the reactionary cultural nationalists, represented in Seattle by the Afro-American Journal gang. This group has a real neo-fascist character; behind a mask of super-militancy and super-Blackness, they employ terrorist tactics to intimidate opponents, especially radicals, and to try to line their own pockets. Their aim is not to overthrow the white capitalist power structure, but to reach an accommodation with it that allows them to rule and exploit the ghetto.
Terrorism and extortion do not make for instant popularity. But the steady appeal to the Black mystique finds some response, and given the virtual leadership vacuum, the Afro-American crew can win adherents, especially among the declassed and demoralized street youth.
An effective challenge to the fascistic elements can only come from the left, and the only substantial group on this end of the political spectrum is the Black Panther Party.
This organization is still experiencing a very contradictory development. The BPP has proclaimed itself as the revolutionary socialist vanguard party of the ghetto. In asserting the working-class character of the coming revolution, and their right as Black revolutionists to play a vanguard role in the total revolution, the Panthers exemplify our theory of revolutionary integration.
Another step in the right direction was their recent attempt to come to grips with the Woman Question; for the first time they took a public position against male chauvinism in the BPP and in the Black community.
Still, despite this willingness to pose and confront key issues of the American Revolution, their organization suffers increasingly from serious internal illnesses.
Lacking a base among Black workers, the BPP is essentially a party of youth. Its leaders come out of the student movement; its mass base is among high school students and young street Blacks. And while this type of composition displays great militancy and combativeness, it is also highly volatile and unstable. Lacking the necessary conservatism of a workers’ organization, the Panthers are given to mercurial shifts in line.
Much like the white student movement, the Panthers leap from one end of the spectrum to the other. Putschist and desperate nationalist moods, aggravated by continual police repression and white racism, continually erupt within the ranks, and the leadership responds to this recklessness with purges of the “undesirables.” Then, in a frantic search for allies, the party jumps from ultra-left adventurism into People’s Front alliances with white liberals, whom they try to control with threats and bluster.
This class-collaborationist People’s Front trend was already evident last year in the national Panther alliance with the Peace and Freedom Party. It has lately surfaced again in the form of a “United Front Against Fascism,” Stalinist-style, that rests on a close alliance with CP hacks.
This recent turn spells danger for the Panthers, and, because of their strategic position on the left, endangers the radical movement as a whole — especially the student movement, whose instability and irrationality are heightened and reinforced by the Panther example.
The Panthers are the only organized radical force of any consequence in the Seattle Central Area, but they by no means represent the total of its radical potential. There exists a considerable body of young, militant, male and female, Black workers and intellectuals who display a singular level of political sophistication and willingness to act. Repelled by the ravings and goon-squad terror of the cultural nationalists, and by the militarism and arbitrariness of the Panthers, they are left without leadership to represent them and give them a viable program.
Many of these militants are concentrated in the government anti-poverty agencies, as both staff members and trainees. And so great is the Black leadership-vacuum that many of these workers and professionals, ordinarily very suspicious of whites, cooperate and collaborate with white FSP members who have daily on-the-job contact with them.
The persistent work of our comrades in this milieu has not only provided the party with invaluable growth, experience and associations, but has helped to spur the formation of a militant left-wing within a vital stratum of the Black working class.
The most promising development has been the emergence of a union of anti-poverty workers (PAPS). This organization was initiated with the purpose of improving the salaries and working conditions of non-professional anti-poverty workers, giving leverage to curb the arbitrariness of agency rulings, and providing a nucleus for the organization of super-exploited, unorganized and unrepresented workers throughout the city.
PAPS is very young and far from completing its task of organizing anti-poverty workers. Yet it has already won significant concessions from the OEO bureaucrats, and has weathered its first red-baiting attack. Its prestige and impact are considerable.
Comrade Gloria, who is president of the local, has exercised decisive leadership in organizing and maintaining PAPS, and bringing it through a difficult formative period while maintaining a thoroughly principled political stance.
The work of our comrades Gloria and Clara in the poverty program resulted in the dramatic contingent of Central Area women who sparked the mass lobby for abortion reform organized in March. The abortion-reform bill was forced out of the Senate Rules Committee in the wake of the mass action led by Radical Women. Hundreds of poor and minority race women participated and learned valuable political lessons. The State Legislature, of course, was rocked to its foundations.
Currently, the most important contribution of the party in the anti-poverty arena has been the initiation of a mass-protest campaign against the terrorism and extortion tactics of the Afro-American super-nationalists. This campaign has assumed an independent momentum of its own, and is sweeping the Central Area.
It would not do to paint a one-sided, rosy picture of the possibilities for radical action, particularly white radical action, in the anti-poverty agencies. The situation remains contradictory, fraught with difficulties as well as opportunities. Nevertheless, the work of our comrades serves as a model for what can be accomplished by even one comrade in daily contact with Black, Indian, Asian, Chicano and poor white people who want to struggle.
Moreover, it should lay to rest the myth that it is impossible for whites to intervene in the Black community. What is needed to qualify for this work is commitment, integrity, modesty, the tactical sense to gauge opportunities, the caution and tact required in acting to meet them — and, above all, a correct theory and historical knowledge.
It is not accidental that the effective party activity in the ghetto is being carried out by revolutionary white women.
Because of their acute awareness of the nature of their own social oppression, they characteristically display a far greater sensitivity to and rapport with the needs and problems of Blacks than do white men, even revolutionists. In the eyes of Blacks of both sexes at this juncture, white women represent the oppressor far less than do white men, LeRoi Jones’ nationalist sexism notwithstanding.
3. The GI Movement
Similar to the student movement in the shifting and vacillating character of its social base, the status of GI is no more permanent than that of student. And since GI’s are continually subject to transfer at the command of the brass, their opportunities to establish permanent ties and stable nuclei around which to form a movement are distinctly limited. Still, army life is markedly different from life on a campus, and imparts a qualitatively different character to the soldiers’ movement.
GI’s resemble workers in some important respects: they are disciplined and collectively oppressed by the ruling class, often in a very brutal and crushing manner. Playing at radicalism and acting in an irresponsible and adventurist way is obviously not only impractical but extremely dangerous.
This affects the nature of the movement. The soldier-militant who wants to fight the system is typically more cautious than his student counterpart, and, once radicalized, tends to take political ideas very seriously, since they represent a much graver commitment.
For these reasons, the GI movement hasn’t suffered from the most typical sicknesses of the New Left. But it has problems of its own.
Fort Lewis, the largest military base in the Western U.S., has for the past year been the scene of considerable radical activity arising out of the attempts of local radicals to build a viable GI movement.
The most promising endeavor in this field was the GI-Civilian Alliance for Peace (GI-CAP), in which the SWP-YSA exercised predominant influence. This organization has suffered several vicissitudes. It reached its high point last February when several hundred GI’s participated in a mass march against the war in Vietnam. Since that time, it has gradually petered out, under the able guidance of the YSA, whose main policy orientation was to try to build a soldier-contingent of the mass, single-issue, anti-war movement. SWP still hopes to accomplish this in cooperation with the pacifists, liberals, and Stalinists. but locally the prospects are dim, because when GI-CAP became imprisoned within the SWP formula, it stagnated and lost its attraction for GI’s.
Nevertheless, the GI movement has been a fruitful arena of work for the FSP. Persistent educational propaganda within GI-CAP provided the party with a milieu for some months, out of which we gained an excellent recruit who is a leader of GI’s.
Despite the decline of GI-CAP, the ferment at the Fort continues, and our comrade has built a nucleus of GI’s interested in organizing a movement able to challenge the repressive apparatus of the officers. The potential for building a movement, and the party, in this area, remains very good.
4. The Trade-Unions
Unionism has not occupied us a great deal in recent years, for a very good reason: most of the action has been elsewhere. Nevertheless, an important sector of the local working class has come into motion recently, and, again, an FSPer has been in the middle of it.
For several months, the Service Employees Union has been carrying out an organizing drive among nursing-home employees in Seattle, who are predominantly women and Blacks; one of our women comrades is organizing it.
This kind of work proceeds slowly, and an organizer is continually hampered by the bureaucratic procedures imposed by the law and the conservatism of the labor bureaucracy. Nevertheless, our comrade has been able to exercise considerable latitude in her organizing strategy, and has quite successfully appealed to the workers as both super-exploited Blacks and women.
This nascent awakening of one of the most intensely exploited categories of workers is still tentative but is a portent of the future, forecasting a general upsurge of a new layer of the working class that is only now beginning to gather self-confidence.
A decisive success in this drive can catalyze activity among broader sections of the class and redound greatly to the benefit of our party.
5. The Women’s Movement
This is the one sector of the mass movement in which no evaluation of the present conjuncture can be made without referring to the FSP, for here our party’s influence has been decisive in shaping the period.
At the same time, it is difficult to separate party activity in this field from mass work in the Central Area and the union movement, for our work in these milieus, performed almost entirely by women comrades, has contributed to building the general women’s movement and has, in turn, benefited from this movement.
An independent women’s movement has emerged in the Seattle area, and its history in recent months provided swift and striking vindication of our insistence on the top-level political importance of the Woman Question and our perspective of building an independent, working-class, women’s organization with a basic socialist character.
Last winter, things didn’t look so good. After the breakaway of both the “Women’s Liberation” and “Majority Union” contingents from Radical Women, the parent organization was hardly more than an FSP women’s caucus. But the subsequent evolution of all three groups soon showed who had the correct line, the staying power, and the organizing knowhow — and who would grow.
The single-issue, anti-political stance of the Women’s Majority Union, and the infantile ultra-leftism of the Women’s Liberation Committee, soon revealed themselves as two sides of the coin of petty bourgeois frivolousness and political ignorance.
Isolated in a campus milieu, these organizations had in common a basic lack of gut-level understanding of the needs of working women, Black women, and working class housewives, and their theoretical grasp was utterly inadequate to orient them consistently toward these sectors which are the indispensable base of any serious, fighting, mass movement of women.
Unable to link up with any exploited and triply oppressed women, both the Union and the Committee turned inward to feed on themselves. The Majority Union seems to have slowly starved to death on such a diet, while the Women’s Liberation Committee has maintained a discussion-club and guerrilla-theatre role, unable to orient itself in any direction.
By contrast, Radical Women, beginning once again with only principles and a small nucleus of comrades, quickly revived and rebuilt itself. Working women and minority race women were attracted by precisely those features that repelled petty-bourgeois student types — clearly defined program and a taking-care-of-business structure appropriate to a serious organization.
Indeed, the first major gain for the party was made in the very course of the factional struggles that led to fragmentation into three factions. The single non-FSP, working-class-radical member of Radical Women elected not only to stay with the organization but to join the FSP, soon proving to be one of the party’s most valuable activists.
The decisive turn came when Radical Women spurred the eruption of a tremendous agitation for abortion reform.
Thousands of women were mobilized in a mass rally at the capitol early this spring, and by virtue of its immediate and distinctive propaganda approach, and the energy and political solidity of its mass workers, Radical Women found itself transformed from an isolated cadre organization into the main pole of attraction for the radical wing of the women’s movement.
This transformation of Radical Women was made possible by the work of party activists in the anti-poverty agencies. Through energetic day-to-day contact work, they were able to recruit some of the best militant women workers into the abortion action and then into the ranks of Radical Women.
Radical Women was now strong enough to initiate an action solely on its own responsibility. When the Strike Committee chairman of the local photo finisher’s union appealed to some of our comrades in Radical Women for aid to their strike of beleaguered women, Radical Women decided to throw its energies into a demonstration to build support and win publicity for the strike.
Radical Women called for a mass picket line, persuaded others in the radical movement into supporting it, and on very short notice built an effective sympathy demonstration at the Perfect Photo plant.
The demonstration was an outstanding success in focusing attention on the strike, helping the Photo Finishers gain a victory settlement, and enhancing the prestige of Radical Women.
It also resulted in a mass arrest of picketers, including several Radical Women members. At the subsequent trials (on charges ranging from “obscenity” to “resisting arrest”), once again it was Radical Women who distinguished themselves in court by their forthright defense of their actions and their insistence on constitutional rights, while Women’s Liberation and New Left males showed themselves incapable of pursuing a unified and principled defense.
As a result of its intransigence in theory and practice, Radical Women now exercises ideological and organizational hegemony in the Seattle women’s movement. Not loved by its opponents but granted a grudging respect as the authentic bearer of principle, it points out the roads for women’s liberation, and the women’s movement, grudgingly or otherwise, follows in those directions.
Because it is objectively far in advance of the whole national women’s movement, Radical Women has a surprising number of contacts across the country and finds itself in a position to exercise national influence.
Needless to say, the success of Radical Women not only puts the FSP in immediate contact with a healthy and growing movement of young feminist radicals, but also reflects credit on the party as a shining vindication of our unique position on the Woman Question.
Our party has entered as a component, often a major one, into many mass movements since the beginning of 1969. Nevertheless. it is an independent entity. It develops in interaction with the entire movement, but has a separate character and distinctive objectives of its own.
A few months ago, we regarded survivalas our major objective, and we have managed this rather well. In fact, this is one of the things we do best. In the past three years, we have witnessed a whole raft of radical organizations come into being, and we have outlived several and will outlast many more.
But we have not just survived. We have managed to grow. In contrast to the Menshevik splitters, who, despite all their tail-wagging and deep-entry tactics in frantic search of a home, are today more orphaned than ever. We have demonstrated a capacity to intervene in the mass movement, to build a movement, and to win respect. We have been able to do this precisely because we stuck by our principles, even, and especially when the going was rough.
The FSP has become the party of women’s emancipation in Seattle and the only such party in the U.S. This is as it should be. We have followed the logic of our political development; it was only natural that our party, the only consistent and persistent exponent of the Woman Question on the entire left, should attract the best elements of the rising women’s movement. And now that every other radical organization is jumping onto the bandwagon, we should be very conscious of the historic significance of our pioneering and the urgent necessity to continue defending and expanding our theory.
1. The Women’s Movement
This milieu, the most fertile area of mass work, should be the party’s primary mass orientation in the coming period.
Our responsibilities are both ideological and organizational, and demand a contribution from the entire party, including the men comrades. And particular attention must be given to maintaining a high quality of performance.
Party activity in this and all related areas (the ghetto and anti-poverty arena, trade-union organizing, etc.) must be organized and coordinated much more systematically. This could be handled through the establishment of a women’s fraction, under a responsible, experienced coordinator, so that activists in this area could consult on a regular basis and receive practical guidance and advice on policy and technical questions.
2. The Black Movement
Despite the good quality of our work in the Central Area, whites cannot solve the leadership-crisis of the Black movement. The problem, as before, is the necessity of a Black revolutionary socialist vanguard. With all their contradictions, the Panthers remain the only force in the ghetto striving in this direction, and if they go under, the movement will not improvise a new vanguard formation on short notice.
At a moment like this, with the Panthers beset not only by the police and a nascent fascist cadre inside the ghetto, but by the virus of Stalinism as well, they need ideological clarity and practical support more than ever.
The Black Student Union is more complex, both better and worse than the Panthers. It is more ideologically developed and theoretically oriented, but less homogeneous and disciplined.
As a broad organization (actually a loose federation of separate clubs on several local high school and college campuses), the BSU is more flexible, lacking the rigidity and paramilitary psychology of the Panthers. The leadership, who are radical intellectuals and longtime students, is generally on a higher political level than the Panthers and has the potential for much greater political maturity. It could evolve into a vanguard nucleus.
On the other hand, the BSU’s lack of program, loose structure and lack of internal discipline encourage opportunistic adaptations to external pressures from “respectable” society, and give free rein to the wild capriciousness of the young and politically inexperienced Blacks who have recently surged into the ranks.
Our responsibility to our own program and to the brave young radicals of the BPP and BSU is to find ways of assisting them with ideas and expertise. Any failure to do so amounts to an abdication of basic responsibility and must be remedied. Knowledgeable and capable comrades should be selected to work intensively with them.
This work is difficult, demanding not only ‘a good grasp of theory and tactics, but perseverance and an ability to roll with the punches. Further, comrades involved in this work must have thoroughly absorbed the significance of the strategic role of Blacks in the vanguard of the American revolution; since Black radicals recognize or sense this reality, disputes over theory and tactics are made easier when pursued within this theoretical context.
3. The GI Movement
Only one comrade is presently active in this field, and this should be sufficient, along with occasional intervention and assistance by others. However, the party should give this comrade all the political-ideological support he needs in bringing soldier contacts closer. A definite strategy should be worked out through discussions in the party, and regular consultations arranged between our mass-worker and the organizer.
4. The Student Movement
Our main responsibility in this arena is ideological. The party must make itself more available to individual contacts to discuss basic politics, avoiding embroilment in organizational campaigns and factional conflicts that serve no political purpose for us. We should be much better prepared for this, and much more cognizant of the necessity of orienting student work closely around the party, after our experiences with the new leftist Draft Resistance organization and the SDS women.
Our immediate aim with students should be recruitment and building of a fraction able to com bat the characteristic diseases of the New Left and the newly-acquired Stalinist goon-squadism prevalent in SDS. Some comrades will find themselves on familiar ground here, and only the FSP can effectively counter the baleful influences in the student movement of Third Period CP Ultra-leftism and SWP conservatism.
Fulltime Organizer. If the FSP is to meet its political responsibilities, a way must be found to maintain a fulltime organizer, able to direct and coordinate all departments of party activity and utilize the talents of every comrade to the best advantage of our organization.
This will require considerable political and administrative skill, and the party should select the best possible comrade to fill this key post.
Finances. The need for an organizer immediately places on the agenda the question of financial solvency. Given the current cost of living, we can’t expect an organizer to be maintained on less than $100 a week. If we are to meet this expense, we will have to rack our brains to come up with new sources of money, and the membership will need to pay their fair share by increasing pledges and donations.
We cannot expect to reach this degree of solvency without a new dynamic and efficiency in the financial department, which has been administratively neglected for some time.
Headquarters and Education. To effectively discharge our ideological responsibilities, we must utilize our headquarters much more extensively than heretofore. While political crises break all around us, we have not had a forum for months! We must institute more regular and frequent forums, classes and socials to aid us in political analysis, solving our financial problems, and bringing more people around the party.
Publishing. To facilitate expansion of our general educational work, it is recommended that the agitprop director post be revived, not only to organize forums and classes, but to supervise the writing, production and distribution of documents and propaganda leaflets.
Bookstore Emphasis. The work of the Literature Committee in the area of bookstore renovation and better publicizing of our literature must be expedited. Literature sales have picked up considerably, but could be enlarged even more with attractive displays and more attention paid to selling.
It is fitting, in closing, to underscore the dramatic fact that it was work among women that furnished us the key to the working class and the Black movement, just as our theory predicted.
We empirically followed the line that our principles indicated, and struck pay dirt. And in recognition of this fact, we must more consciously shape our strategy and perspectives in accordance with the proven correctness of our special ideology.
As the first revolutionary Trotskyist party to fuse Marxism and feminism on its bannerhead, we have stoutly defended our doctrine throughout the movement, against a vicious attack by male chauvinist-menshevik types inside the party, and in a public courtroom battle. We have thereby helped to define the new feminist era and have enriched the class struggle with a new dimension.
This confers upon us a mantle of grave responsibility, which our vast confidence in the socialist future of humankind will help us to wear proudly and well.
(Note: The following article was published in the April, 1968 issue of The Forge, a local radical newsletter.)
Concerning the Schism in the FSP
An organization of former members of the Freedom Socialist Party who quixotically call themselves the FSP has been circulating a document entitled Statement on the Split in the FSP. (See Forge, Vol. 1, No. 1, Feb. 1968). We of the Freedom Socialist Party believe it necessary for the record, and in the interests of the truth, for us to publicly state our attitude toward the Statement and its authors.
We do not question the right of this organization to exist and disseminate its ideas. We do deny its right to our party’s name, standing and assets. The Freedom Socialist Party has always proclaimed its identity as a vanguard-type revolutionary organization in the tradition of the Bolshevik party of Lenin and Trotsky; this has always been the standard to which we aspired and we have done our best to maintain the high norms of objectivity, responsibility, self-discipline and accuracy necessary to the integrity and effectiveness of a party seriously involved in the class struggle. Unfortunately, the Statement authors have fallen tragically short in their fidelity to political principle and organizational maturity.
Most of the Statement supporters were at one time associated with the FSP, some of them quite prominently. They constituted a definite minority faction within the party. They are no longer associated with the party; one of their number was expelled from the organization some months ago and the remainder resigned immediately thereafter, voluntarily cutting themselves off from all rights of membership.
This occurred while the FSP was in the process of planning a convention where the differences in the party would be fully discussed and debated, and resolved by a vote – the Bolshevik process by which a party overcomes an internal crisis and charts a definitive course for itself.
But the minority chose a Menshevik course and stalked out of the party. They began to undergo a series of bewildering identity changes that culminated in an assertion of full rights to the FSP’s name, headquarters, funds and other assets. Meanwhile, they had appropriated and spent $300.00 of FSP money in their possession at the time of their walkout.
Such behavior has little in common with simple rationality, let alone Leninist organizational norms. If these people seriously wished to represent the FSP, they were obligated to stay inside the party and put up a fight for their ideas, with the purpose of gaining a majority support for their convention resolutions. They rejected this course and thereby negated any and all subsequent claims to represent the FSP in any capacity whatsoever.
It is highly unfortunate that these desertions occurred and that they occurred in such a sudden and hysterical way as to permit no extended pre-convention debate and the formal documents usually entailed. This has permitted the splitters to play fast and loose with the facts, concealing the deep going differences over political and organizational principles that were decisive in bringing on the split, and inventing post hoc and spurious “explanations” of their peculiar behavior.
The immediate precipitant of our former comrades’ walkout was an attempt by the party to restrain the excesses of a prominent party member who provoked a divorce case involving another equally prominent party member. Far from representing a purely personal contest between two individuals, or a minor incident deserving only of sneers and snobbish contempt, this unprecedented violation of socialist practice and principle on the part of a male party spokesman brought to a head differences within our party that had been smoldering for months.
A Bolshevik party always assumes the right and responsibility of preventing public legal contests between comrades, particularly in divorce cases where questions of property, custody and the rights of women are always at issue – questions on which socialist equalitarianism differs sharply from the oppressive laws and mores of capitalist society. For a real revolutionist , party norms of human relations represent a higher lay than the decisions of the bourgeois court, and the party’s decision is binding on the public actions of its members.
In this case, the long-established norms were grossly violated by a leading male comrade who was directed to accept party intervention and arbitration of the disputed issues. He refused to recognize this directive and proceeded with a court case that embodies every reactionary tenet and prejudice of bourgeois male chauvinism. This was a contemptuous challenge to the party’s obligation to enforce its own programmatic standards as binding on the public behavior of its members. And it was an especially obnoxious flaunting of discipline for an FSP member precisely because of the great importance our party has always attached to the political issue of women’s rights.
The party could have retreated before the challenge, thereby renouncing its integrity, or it could back up its program by insisting on organizational consistency. The party made the right decision; after months of entreating, cajoling and warning the comrade, he was finally expelled, thereby serving notice that the FSP will tolerate open scabbery on the Woman Question no more than it will accommodate a practicing racist or a strikebreaker.
It was this decision that our former comrades could not stand, for it appeared to them as an intolerable and non-political restriction on their freedom! They could not live in an organization that demanded accordance with the rules, respect for decisions, adherence to program in life as well as in sophisticated literary commentary, and, finally, real equality between the sexes in the party, with no special supremacist privileges for “acknowledged leaders.” Especially not for leaders!
The internal factional situation in the FSP erupted over the Woman Question and the question of the Nature of the Party. But the differences were hardly posed before the minority, which was predominantly male, exploded in rage and stormed out. Such tremendous heat is seen in politics only in relation to “gut” issues like Black liberation and woman’s emancipation, and those radicals who find the FSP split-off incomprehensible are invited to analyze the division in the context of this highly-charged social question of women’s rights.
–Submitted by Gus Carlson and John Severn, for the Freedom Socialist Party, Freeway Hall, 3815 Fifth Ave. N.E., Seattle 98105. Me2-7449
(Two detailed documentary accounts of the split are available to interested radicals. Please write or phone FSP headquarters.)
April 8. 1968
Statement by the Freedom Socialist Party
Lessons of the November, 1968 Elections
I. The Rise and Fall of the Peace and Freedom Party
A New Version of the PFP Emerges in Washington
The Freedom Socialist Party was very interested in the Peace and Freedom Party in the course of its reorganization last summer. The old guard Stalinist pacifist leadership was out, and in its place was a section of the student New Left, seeking to utilize the party machinery to overstep the limits of single-issue movements and campus politics, and find a fuller expression of their radicalism and a link with the outside world through the medium of a political party.
This in itself was a step forward, or at least an attempt at a step forward. We saw it as such, but were not prepared to give this new formation our political endorsement until the basic questions concerning its program, class nature and composition, direction, and organizational solidity became clarified.
We knew the basic weaknesses of the student movement: its political and organizational formlessness, its tendency to leap wildly from one course to another, its basic resistance to the concept of class politics. It seemed unlikely that these fundamental weaknesses had been overcome through the organizational conquest of PFP. It seemed much more likely that the new organization would retain the weaknesses of the movement that gave it birth. A principled, consistent, working-class oriented party was not a likely product of the New Left.
Revolutionary socialist principle demands that support may be given to a mass party composed of middle-class elements only if the party’s program is anti-capitalist and its candidates responsible to the program. The PFP, from the outset, was led by New Leftists who decisively repudiated both programmatic clarity and organizational discipline, and sought in PFP a political party extension of SDS: an all-inclusive coalition of liberals, independents, radicals and reformers coagulated around a vague minimum program entitling each spokesman to go his own route and do his own political thing. The PFP was a clear example of new-breed reformism, despite the efforts of a small leftwing to inject working class radicalism into this SDS-hippy-old left opportunist political stew.
As revolutionary socialists, we clearly had no role in such a party. At the outset, we gave critical support to Flo Ware’s campaign, because she was a Black working class candidate whose political history as an active supporter of previous FSP projects and political campaigns and as a community organizer and militant liberation fighter, indicated to us that her campaign would be distinctive among the general PFP menagerie of political tendencies. Ironically, her campaign turned out to be the most reformist and least militant of them all. She, as an independent within the PFP, with no grounding in any political organization, fell prey to the worst tendencies of the PFP. Her increasingly conservative political trend since the election campaign has reflected the degenerative effect of being swallowed up in the swamp of reformist multi-class, experimental politics.
Politics, New Left Style
Our original prognosis for the PFP quickly proved to be very accurate indeed. This was evident in the platform adopted at the Primary Day convention. It became even more clear during the election campaign, and it remained clear in the PFP press and in PFP’s general political orientation.
The State platform contained much that was good, even a few planks that could be classed as socialist (workers’ control of automation, democratic control of productive forces, etc.). But the main line was not that of a basically socialist party advocating a proletarian struggle for power. Instead, the PFP presented itself as a radical “peoples’” party, aiming to unite a broad, classless movement of those willing to “resist the current direction of American life”, who would announce their “opposition to oppression and…determination to revitalize democracy”.
During the campaign, even this ambiguous platform was shoved into the background, indicating that it was not to be taken seriously. Rather than a party, there appeared a number of individual campaigns whose character was determined by the politics and personality of the individual candidate rather than the party platform.
The various candidates stressed a vague, all-inclusive kind of radicalism, claiming no definite class character. In fact, it was taken as a virtue that the PFP was as yet politically unformed and that its character would be determined by those willing to join it in its unfinished state. “Come join us and we will find a program together” was the real “program” of the PFP as the campaign unfolded. In the place of answers and analysis, the discontented and disenchanted were offered an experimental search for a perspective. Serious radical politics were eschewed in favor of OEO-style “creativity and innovations”; political education was ignored and “let’s take the building” mass actions became the modus operandi of the campaigns.
After the Election
Following election day, the PFP still made no progress in its search. Indeed, the process was endless, for the party gave every evidence of having petrified into an unprincipled combination of opportunists; a melange of inveterate impressionists and super-rebels. The prolonged search became an end in itself, and any fixed program was looked upon with aversion, and labeled sectarian and/or dogmatic.
Multi-class, multi-tendency politics raised to the level of a principle – that was the “new politics” of PFP, exposed in its call for “real reform”. The results were confusion, demoralization, frustration, and drift toward various brands of escapism and reformism. All-inclusiveness presumed at least a tacit agreement between all the various political tendencies and groupings that none would carry through a determined struggle for ideological hegemony over the party.
In the face of this gentleman’s agreement, no one dared fight to gain programmatic hegemony and make his line predominate. The result was that nothing could be firmly decided, no project involving the party as a whole could be carried through consistently and the program remained an eclectic hodgepodge of fundamentally different political lines. In practice, and finally in theory as well, the party was reduced to its lowest common denominator, which turned out to be the very liberal reformism it set out to escape.
The internal life of the party centered less and less around the fundamental political questions that threatened to divide it. Instead, the organization became an ingrown social milieu, held together by personal contacts and friendships. Bitter factional conflicts erupted, but these took the form of behind-the-scenes battles between personal cliques rather than open political confrontations. PFP had the choice of either breaking with its multi-class, all-inclusiveness and setting itself on the road to a clear, principled, working class opposition to capitalist politics, or of being inevitably drawn back into the swamp of petty political maneuvering, class collaboration, reformist politics and eventual demoralization and degeneration. The latter course prevailed, soon mercifully ending and death and dissolution of the PFP.
Could Our Intervention Have Made a Difference?
Our intervention in PFP would not and could not have “saved” PFP from becoming what it was. The entrenched purpose and direction of PFP were contrary – not just divergent but contrary – to the basic thrust of principled radical politics.
PFP could only be another failure for the radical movement, because it ignored the most fundamental precepts and all the historical experience of a world revolutionary movement which has seen the rise and fall of precisely this type of ineffectual formation over and over and over again, and found it not only useless to the building of a real revolutionary struggle oriented to taking state power, but the eventual cause of counter-revolution and disastrous defeat. The Peoples’ Front is as treacherous in politics as in the anti-war movement; it directly brings on the victory of the far right and the fascists.
Events have shown our analysis of the PFP to be correct, and that is not because we were lucky or because we have ESP. Our predictions were true to life because they were based on political theories that were tested in life, through the accumulated experience of Trotskyism.
The disappearance of PFP would be a tragedy only if its errors are not exposed and if nothing is learned from them. The task before those who participated in the PFP “experiment” is to have the courage to draw the political lessons of the experience and to educate the rest of the movement so that this kind of expensive sport with multi-class politics will not be repeated.
II. Black Panthers and White Radicals
Race, Class and Revolution
The Freedom Socialist Party has always upheld the principle of independent working-class political action. To us, the only kind of mass party worth encouraging, supporting and building is one that clearly represents the independent interests of the exploited, the oppressed, and the minorities, for only this kind of party can connect with the class struggle and move the working class in the direction of an open contest for state power.
Such a party need not be composed primarily of workers, but it must, in its thrust and its program, reflect the primary need of the working class for an independent political organ to serve as a rallying point for the unification of all the oppressed in the struggle against capitalism.
This principle is not grounded in thin air. It derives from the experience of the revolutionary movement, it is implicit in the dialectic of class struggle, and in its essential features it is just as applicable to the capitalist United States as it is to the rest of the capitalist world.
Furthermore, some unique features of American society, arising from the special character of racial oppression in this country, dictate a special form for the emergence of an independent working class movement.
Blacks constitute the largest and most dynamic specially-oppressed minority in the U.S. Their oppression is integral to the whole system of economic and political power relations that comprise American capitalism. For the mass of Blacks, no accomodation with capitalism is possible. Their relegation to the bottom of the social scale, with the whole weight of white society pressing down upon them, keeps them in the lower levels of the working class and a disproportionate force in the ranks of the unemployed. Doubly oppressed – as Blacks and as workers – they have no way to break free from their bondage except through revolution.
But the working class remains divided along racial lines. The white workers are permeated with the general racism, which grants them certain privileges, and Black people react accordingly with hostility to the white labor movement. This polarization within the working class creates a terrible obstacle to the development of full class consciousness AMONG BLACK AND WHITE WORKERS ALIKE.
This division must be overcome, but it is extremely unlikely that the initiative will come from within the relatively privileged white sector of the working class, and even less likely that it will come from the student movement, which antagonizes workers by its adventurism and irresponsible compulsion to confrontation. We must look instead to the increasingly radicalized Black movement to provide the political leadership capable of linking the struggle for racial freedom with the struggle of the entire working class for the overthrow of capitalism.
The current mood of suspicion of whites in the ghetto decrees the tactical reality that only a Black revolutionary party can develop the Black cadres needed to form the core of a revitalized American revolutionary movement, serving as a vital transition toward the formation of a mass party of revolution that will unite Black and white on the basis of true equality and mutual power, and move the general struggle to a higher level of revolutionary consciousness and determination.
The emergence of the Black Panther Party was a confirmation of analysis. Here was a political party arising out of the struggle for Black freedom, anti-capitalist in its ideology, committed to a conception of politics as the guide to revolutionary combat. The Panthers have moved away from simplistic, dead-end nationalism, were beginning to come to grips with the Woman Question, and had articulated as their goal the formation of a Black socialist vanguard party to lead the Black masses who would comprise the advance detachments of the American revolution.
At the time of the election campaign, the Seattle Panthers were relatively inexperienced, unsophisticated, and ideologically untrained. Nevertheless, and despite strong political counter-pressure, they were seriously attempting to develop in the direction marked out by their national leadership, establish themselves politically and organizationally, as the independent, Black, revolutionary vanguard political party. They saw in the local elections an opportunity to appear publicly, in their own name, as a political party with its own line and its own claims to leadership.
Thus they were determined to field their own electoral ticket, with Eldridge Cleaver as their own presidential candidate. They needed this, they were prepared to fight for it, and they had the right to expect the support of their own national organization and the rest of the radical movement.
At the same time, the Panthers were literally fighting for their lives against vicious and unrelenting police repression, which they faced largely by themselves, with only token solidarity from the majority of the radical movement.
PFP Prefers to Compete with the Panthers
But the New Left, and particularly the PFP, ignored the urgent necessity of unequivocal support and defense of the Panthers. Rather, they insisted on running their own show and attempting to incorporate the Panthers into their scenario. The PFP treated the Panthers’ demand for their own ticket with scorn, labeling it as Black arrogance and separatism, and, united with the Panther national office, represented by none other than Eldridge Cleaver, they maneuvered the Seattle Panthers into a coalition with the Washington State PFP. Cleaver and the Panther national office played into the PFP maneuver by agreeing to “loan” PFP their presidential candidate, thus diluting their own electoral identity and impact, and creating an internal dispute in the Party over this question. The leading spokesmen of the Black Panther Party appeared as the candidate of another party – the PFP – but the local Panthers ran candidates for local offices in their own name.
The result, on Primary Day, was a three-way contest among the PFP, the Panthers, and the SWP for the necessary signatures to get on the ballot.
And with all the PFP’s rhetoric of support to the Black struggle, when Primary Day came they couldn’t so much as put their names on the line for the Panthers, because they were busy across town having their own convention.
Meanwhile, Back at the SWP…
The SWP, with its super-nationalist, separatist approach to the “black nation”, was willing to endorse and defend the Panthers but they could not see the Panthers as the potential core of a new revolutionary vanguard that could be instrumental in raising the consciousness of the entire working class, both black and white. So the SWP’s support, too, was equivocal. Seeing the Panthers as an exclusively ghetto organization, the SWP felt justified in running its own white man for vice president! This was designed to appeal to the white movement. And on primary day, they, too, were out mustering bodies to sign their own petition, at their own separate convention. The SWP thus exposed itself and its “support” to the PAnthers as separatist, hypocritical, and regressive in nature.
The concept of revolutionary politics as a three ring circus – with various political formations cavorting as ringmasters for various sectors – has never been a part of Leninist tradition. Nor is the notion that the way to support the black vanguard is to build a separate and competitive political party for white folks a bolshevik concept. Support to the vanguard must be direct support to the vanguard, ideologically and organizationally. It is ironic that the SWP, which opposes all-inclusive coalition politics, advocates federated revolution minus the direction of a unified and centralized general staff.
SWP policy deepened the separatist tendencies within the Panther movement, and reinforced the existing obstacles in the path of unity between Black and white revolutionists.
The FSP Offers All-Out Support
As against the opportunism and cynicism of the SWP, the FSP stood alone in the local radical movement in unequivocal support of the Panthers’ campaign. We recognized in practice as well as in theory the first-priority importance of supporting the developing vanguard – not just the leadership of the “Black revolution”, but the key sector of the leadership of the entire revolution.
At the time of the election campaign, the Panthers needed all-out support. They needed technical assistance from honest and experienced revolutionaries in sharpening their campaign program and operation.
For the FSP to have done anything other than support them would have been to betray our own commitment to class politics, our theory of revolutionary integration, i.e., human solidarity within the revolution, and our conception of the decisive nature of the Black liberation struggle and its impact on the overall American revolution.
III. The View From Today
Weighed in the balance, the campaigns of PFP and SWP did not result in greater solidarity between Black and white radicals, but in the exact opposite – mutual hostility and suspicion. The majority of white radicals learned little or nothing from the experience. SDS was split between Stalinism, three versions of Maoism, and a welter of other tendencies and independents. Political isolation in the wake of police terror and the desperate new alliance with discredited Stalinism have taken their toll on the Panthers and their periphery. The search-and-destroy security and absolute bureaucratic control imposed on the United Front Against Fascism “conference” in Oakland disoriented Black and white revolutionaries alike, and severely damaged Panther prestige and influence, especially among the most dynamic sector of the movement today – the women. Demoralization, adventurist moods, and an absence of political perspective are in evidence in the movement as a whole.
The entire radical movement is the loser in the wake of the ‘68 elections, for an exceptional opportunity to catapult the entire movement to a higher level of programmatic grasp and solidarity was utterly botched. The foundations of a meaningful revolutionary regroupment might have been created through solidarity on the electoral arena that focused on the black power issue, but PFP’s empty rhetoric and SWP’s self-determination to separate itself out from the paramount issue of Cleaver and the Panthers, reduced the campaign on the left to the same old competitive jockeying for position among different parties.
In retrospect, the 1968 elections proved that experimentalism and going where the action is, no matter what, is a shabby and dangerous substitute for principled politics. Similarly, SWP traditionalism and refusal to come to grips with the central role of the Black and white radicals. SDS-style blind support to the black vanguard and PL style blind dismissal of the independent aspect of the black struggle are two more avenues of descent into oblivion for everybody.
The current status of the movement only reinforces the long overdue necessity to implement what we in the FSP have long advocated and proclaimed as the only viable road to revolution in the U.S. – the consolidation of the movement around a Black Marxist cadre which will emerge out of the intersection of “The Negro Question” and “The Woman Question”, i.e., the coming together of the two most oppressed sectors in this country.
Events have already clearly demonstrated that black women, the occupants of the lowest rung on the socio-economic ladder, project a special dynamic into the struggle that forces the movement to examine its own dangerous internal contradictions caused by the pressure of the alien capitalist culture bearing down upon the liberation movement. The solidarity of black and white women, recognizing their common misery and common enemy – capitalist racism and capitalist male supremacy – is engendering the stresses and strains of debates within the overall movement which will result in the building of a Black vanguard that is acutely aware of the needs of all the oppressed and brilliantly prepared to be their spokesmen, organizers and leaders.
Women and Blacks together can impart to the movement the urgency of the need for revolutionary change and the stringent self-discipline and “cool” basic to the assembling of a revolutionary army capable of taking the power.
FSP Letter on Abortion Legalization
Freedom Socialist Party
3815 Fifth Avenue N.E.
Seattle, Washington 98105
February 4, 1969
We urge you to support the passage of the proposed legislation to legalize abortion.
The right to abortion is of special importance to poor women, both black and white. To these women, an unwanted child is a virtual guarantee of continuing poverty and despair, whereas the availability of safe abortion frees them from the demoralizing existence of ADC motherhood, and allows them to enter the mainstream of American life as socially productive, economically independent and self-respecting people.
The bill would likewise be a boon to working mothers, who would be enabled to better plan their families and thereby increase their stability and value on the job, a condition that would result in higher pay and more meaningful job opportunities for women in general.
This bill is of no less importance to all children and to all educational institutions. The economic, cultural and emotional deprivation so often the lot of underprivileged children produces a crying and unsolved need for remedial education and special counseling in the schools, and the right of all children to good, integrated education is compromised by the inability to meet these special needs. The legalization of abortion will be a decisive step in equalizing opportunities among children.
Legal and safe abortion is an elementary prerequisite for the liberation of an entire sex; only when women can regulate and control her production of children will she be freed to help solve the urgent social, political and human problems of this age. But so long as she is fettered and trapped by a purely domestic and breeding function, she remains an infantilized second-class citizen, doomed to dependency, discrimination, and oppression.
This bill reflects the tradition of advanced social thinking in the Pacific Northwest which caused the state of Washington to pioneer in granting women the vote. This bill offers Washington a new historic opportunity to serve again as a model for other states; the passage of this bill will bring prestige and gratitude to its supporters.
Very truly yours,
Robert Patrick, Organizer
Freedom Socialist Party
The Revolutionary Approach to the United Front
(Statement issued by the Freedom Socialist Party to National Conference for a United Front Against Fascism, July 18, 1969, in Oakland Calif.)
“Victory cannot be won with the vanguard alone. To throw the vanguard alone into the decisive battle, before the whole class, before the broad masses have taken up a position, either of direct support of the vanguard, or at least of benevolent neutrality towards it and one in which they cannot possibly support the enemy, would be not merely folly but a crime.” – V.I. Lenin, Left-Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder
“It is necessary to help the masses in the process of daily struggle to find the bridge between present demands and the socialist program of the revolution. This bridge should include a system of transitional demands, stemming from today’s conditions and today’s consciousness of wide layers of the working class and unalterably leading to one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat.” – Leon Trotsky, The Death Agony of Capitalism
The Black Panther Party deserves the commendation of the entire left for calling this conference. Solidarity in the face of repression is the most urgent need of the movement today, and only the BPP, which is generally recognized as the socialist vanguard of the black liberation struggle, can command the moral authority needed to initiate it.
It would be a grave error to underestimate the dangers inherent in the present attack on the democratic rights of the movement, despite the relative scarcity of openly fascist street gangs. The police have acted in an increasingly fascist-like manner, mounting a wave of brutal assaults on key sectors of the movement, aided and abetted by other governmental bodies with repressive legislation and court injunctions.
Nevertheless, this is not yet fascism. The decisive contest between fascists and revolutionists has not yet occurred. If it had, and fascism were here, this conference could not take place openly and publicly.
The degree of political freedom available at any given time is a resultant of the relationship of political forces, and will grow or diminish in proportion to the intensity of the struggle for democratic rights. There have been no great victories in this area recently, not because of overwhelming pressure from reactionary forces, but because the movement has not yet closed ranks to fight for its rights, while it has mobilized only a fraction of its potential allies.
The United Front should be geared toward forming a broad, mass movement to maintain and extend democracy. There is a base for such a movement in broad layers of the population, especially the super-oppressed – Blacks, women, young people, GI’s – who feel an instinctive solidarity with rebels against the system. To make this potential movement a reality, radicals must initiate it, putting themselves forward as the foremost proponents of constitutional rights for the oppressed.
The contempt which many radicals, especially student types, have for such legal methods of struggle is undeserved. Substantial concessions can be won by mass pressure for limited objectives. There is nothing opportunist in this. The needs of the movement correspond to the needs of the oppressed to secure the fullest possible exercise of democratic rights in order to openly organize themselves to fight the system.
The fight to expand democracy, while monopoly capitalism continually strives to restrict it, is part and parcel of the revolutionary struggle. Any victory raises the fighting spirit of the people who have won it, and provides a lever for moving more to the side of the revolution.
There can, however, be no political concessions to the enemy or to liberal and reformist allies that are drawn into the United Front. Revolutionaries must fight clear of entangling alliances that blur lines of political demarcation. They must continually press for uncompromising opposition to governmental repressions, and must be prepared to carry out the struggle independently beyond the point where the liberals are willing to go.
Full internal democracy should be the rule of any United Front. This is necessary to make room for full ideological confrontation between all tendencies, aiming at the elaboration of a minimal program for the American Revolution and the eventual formation of a party that will unify the scattered detachments of the vanguard in one disciplined organization.
Unity must begin somewhere. The primary objective announced in the call for this conference was community control of the police. In our opinion, too, this is the right place to start.
If there is any place in the U.S. where real fascist terror is a clear and present danger, it is in the Black community. The danger is two-sided. Coming from the outside are the police, while within the community there are various cultural-nationalist, proto-fascist formations which use demagogic appeals for black unity to mask their efforts to smash the socialist vanguard and substitute themselves as rulers of the ghetto in profitable accommodation with the white-capitalist power structure.
To win free of this dual threat, the black community must win the right to police itself; to select its own police and to control them through its own democratically-elected bodies. The struggle for this right can mobilize a key sector of the forces of the American Revolution, building the whole revolutionary movement in the process. Victory would be a decisive step in rolling back fascism and establishing an outpost of power for the oppressed. Such a fundamental change in political power relations in this country could provide a vital link in the transition from capitalism to a workers’ power and socialist society.
Freedom Socialist Party
Robert Patrick, Organizer
3815 Fifth Avenue N.E.
Seattle, Washington 98105
(206) ME 2-7449 PA 5-1224