Workers Vanguard No. 928

16 January 2009


A Clarification on Sam Marcy and Henry Wallace


11 January 2009

To WV:

Our article, “Why Marxists Oppose Capitalist McKinney/Green Party Campaign” (WV No. 919, 29 August 2008), stated: “It’s not surprising that the tendency within the then-Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in 1948 that wanted to support Wallace was grouped around Sam Marcy, who later went on to form the Workers World Party [WWP].” A letter by comrade Reuben Samuels in the same issue characterized debate on Wallace at the SWP’s February Plenum as “the 1948 fight with the Marcyites.” Actually, while Marcy later wrote a document stating that he advocated support to Wallace at the 1948 Plenum, the available documentary record shows that he did not play a leading role at the time. But there were groups of other leading SWPers who wanted to either give critical support to or work within the capitalist Wallace “third party movement” (for a fuller discussion of our opposition to capitalist “third parties,” see “From the Archives of Spartacist: On Bourgeois ‘Third Parties’ and the 1948 Henry Wallace Campaign,” WV No. 918, 1 August 2008).

The predominant pro-Wallace movement grouping inside the SWP in 1948 was “the Chicago N.C. [National Committee] Members,” whose 21 January 1948 resolution on “The Wallace Third Party Movement” by Arne Swabeck and two cothinkers in Chicago was printed in the SWP’s “Pre-Convention Discussion Material” Internal Bulletin (Vol. X, No. 2, April 1948). As the bitterly repressive winds of the first Cold War were blowing, Swabeck and his supporters cited the “reactionary onslaught” against labor, claiming that “the Wallace Third Party the first concrete, although distorted, manifestation of contradictions engendered by the American imperialist aims.” The Chicago N.C. members claimed, wrongly, that “in its classic sense a third capitalist party could be conceived of only in the emergence of the pro-fascist or fascist party,” and since the Wallace movement obviously wasn’t fascist, therefore “leftward moving workers” would become the base, forcing it into becoming a labor party. While conceding Wallace was “a capitalist, and he admits it,” they wrote: “The movement rallying around his candidacy is something else. Either it is predominantly working class in character or it will disappear.” They concluded: “These are the important considerations upon which our party should base its decision to give critical support to the Wallace candidacy for the purpose of entering into active participation in this new movement.”

Another document in the bulletin, “Statement on Wallace Movement” by C. Charles, M. Weiss and M. Tanner (Charles Curtis, Murry Weiss and Myra Tanner Weiss) correctly stated: “The Wallace movement is a capitalist political tendency, at present resting nearly exclusively on Stalinist dominated unions and their political organs and Stalinist organizations.” Noting that the Wallace campaign “represents another obstacle to the independent labor party,” they nonetheless argued: “Our problem, and the central question for the next period, is how to struggle against the capitalist and Stalinist influence in these formations. Can we do it from outside the Wallace organization? To a degree, but more effectively from within.” They argued for no support to Wallace himself, but stated: “There will be candidates from the labor movement and from the Negro and other oppressed peoples whom we should critically support.” A document by “Burton” argued similarly for participation in the Wallace movement without supporting Wallace. The February 1948 Plenum of the SWP upheld SWP leader James P. Cannon’s majority line of no support to Wallace, and the Chicago N.C. members withdrew their resolution.

As for Sam Marcy, five years after the 1948 debate, he wrote in “The Global Class War and the Destiny of American Labor” (SWP Internal Bulletin Vol. XV, No. 15, May 1953): “The Wallace movement was a progressive-radical movement in spite of Wallace.… It would not have been ‘crossing class lines’ to give critical support to Wallace. It would only have been supporting Wallace as Lenin said ‘a rope supports a hanged man.’ It would have been reaching out our hand toward elements of our own class we could not reach in any other way except through critical support of Wallace. (This, as everybody on the NC knows, was my position, and it flowed from the international orientation I also elaborated at that Plenum).”

Understanding the breadth of SWP internal opposition on this issue, Cannon’s majority response, which we’ve often quoted (“Election Policy in 1948,” February 1948), is even more impressive and well worth repeating—it is another of those defining fights whose successful outcome helped to ensure our existence as revolutionary Marxists today:

“The class character of the party is determined first by its program; secondly by its actual policy in practice; and thirdly by its composition and control. The Wallace party is bourgeois on all these counts; by its program, its policy and practice, its composition and control....Wallace is the, as yet, unacknowledged, candidate for the role of diverting the workers’ movement for independent political action into the channel of bourgeois politics dressed up with radical demagogy which costs nothing. That is what we have to say, and that’s what we have to fight—vigorously and openly, and with no qualifications at all. We have to be 100% anti-Wallaceites. We have to stir up the workers against this imposter, and explain to them that they will never get a party of their own by accepting substitutes.”

Part of Cannon’s response to the internal opposition on Wallace was to propose that the SWP run its own candidates in the 1948 presidential elections, in order to counterpose the SWP’s revolutionary proletarian program to the pro-Democratic Party class collaborationism of the Stalinists. This was consistent with the previous practice of U.S. Marxists at the time. However, upon further historical examination, debate and discussion, we in the International Communist League have decided that we will not run for executive offices of the bourgeois state as a matter of principle. This is a corollary to Lenin’s works, The State and Revolution and The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, and a continuation of the work of the first four Congresses of the Communist International (see “Down With Executive Offices of the Capitalist State!” in the April 2008 ICL pamphlet, The Development and Extension of Leon Trotsky’s Theory of Permanent Revolution).

The documentary record available to us is thin on whether the Marcyites had become an established “tendency” by 1948. Speaking at a memorial for WWP cofounder Vince Copeland on 20 June 1993, Marcy did say: “I want to talk about the struggles that took place beginning with 1948. Our tendency had just been formed politically on the basis of strong conviction and commitment to preserve the revolutionary essence of the struggle, in particular as it began to develop around the global class struggle.” Much later, Lou Paulsen, a frequent contributor to Workers World, wrote a January 2003 Internet “Open letter to Dave McReynolds” that stated: “WWP was founded at the beginning of 1959…. If, however, you mean to refer to the point at which the Marcy-Copeland-Ballan tendency began to coalesce and express differences with the leadership of the SWP-US (whom you refer to as ‘the Trotskyists’) it would have to be 1948, when our future founders recommended participation in the presidential campaign of Henry Wallace.”

Claiming such an origin would naturally be more appealing to liberals than what we know as the definitive formation of Sam Marcy’s pro-Stalinist faction in the SWP: their response to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, when a document by V. Grey (Vince Copeland) characterized the unfolding workers political revolution there as a “full-scale, nation-wide counterrevolution,” thus providing an apology for its suppression. The Marcyites’ condemnation of the Hungarian uprising—which posed the possibility of the democratic rule of workers soviets and the establishment of a workers government committed to the international extension of the gains of the Hungarian workers state—was part of their evolving Stalinoid class collaborationism. In 1989, WWP supported the suppression of the Tiananmen uprising in China, which was also an incipient workers political revolution.

Historically for Stalinists there’s no contradiction between sucking up to bourgeois liberals in the heartland of imperialism and sycophantic support to Stalinist regimes and their policies of “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism and anti-working-class repression. Both are ultimately based on their rejection of the need for the working class, led by a revolutionary vanguard party, to fight for international socialist revolution.