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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

SWP National Committee vs Tendency for Party Growth

Included here is an excerpt from the report Defending Our Organization Principles, given at the Plenum, or National Committee Meeting of the Socialist Workers Party (US), August, 1982. I'm posting this, as with other posts, concerning the US SWP, not only for historical reasons, but also hopefully  to show a new generation of Socialist activists the importance of internal democracy within an organization. On a personnel note, I was a member of the tendency being castigated by the SWP National Committee. The Plenum report is in Italics.

Also within days after the convention, members of the Tendency for Party Growth—a rather inappropriate name—split from the party. This grouping had opposed the party's turn to industry on the grounds that it is based on an exaggerated view of the radicalization in the working class. They proposed as an alternative orienting toward radical petty-bourgeois layers, along the lines that supporters of Jack Lieberman had done at the 1979 convention. Their views were thoroughly aired in the preconvention discussion, and decisively repudiated by the convention. Their response was to quit the party immediately following the convention (as the Lieberman grouping had done two years before).

In splitting, the Tendency for Party Growth ascribed their lack of support in the party to the allegedly undemocratic internal life of the party. Gene Lantz, the leader of this grouping, stated in his letter of resignation:

"[T]he SWP leadership has chosen to avoid discussion with its rank and file members about its major political orientation for the past 3 1/2 years. During this period many of the comrades most able to lead the rank and file against this erroneous course have left the SWP in a thin but steady trickle, while the most subservient and unquestioning have ascended into leadership."

Now, here's what really happened. I was there, and I seen the whole thing. First off . this particular tendency was likened to a tendency led by Jack Lieberman, during the 1979 pre-convention discussion and the convention itself. If I remember correctly, Lieberman's document was titled Against the Workerist Turn.

In 1981, The Tendency for Party Growth, was not against the turn, but in the manner in which it was implemented.  Members of this tendency argued, that the policy of "talking socialism" shouldn't be counterposed to becoming involved in union and work place issues. At this time  the overwhelming majority of the membership. were unaware of the incident at a coal mine in Alabama in 1979 where two SWP members, both women, who worked in the mine, were instructed to leave their jobs, when the car of one was firebombed while she was underground working. That near tragic incident alone, should have suggested, that something was wrong with the SWP strategy in the unions of "talking socialism," prior to being accepted by one's co workers.

We were accused of advocating "orienting toward radical petty (sic)-bourgeois layers...." What we were actually suggesting was orienting toward actual existing social movements, such as those advocating gender and racial equality, in defense of those suffering economic deprivation, and opposing US interference in the affairs of other countries, most notably at the time, Iran, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.  Oh, it gets even better.

The report makes the claim, "their views were thoroughly aired in the preconvention discussion and decisively repudiated at the convention." Well, not quite. Yes, "our views were thoroughly aired in the preconvention discussion".  The only problem, was there was no repudiation because our views never made it to the convention. Prior to the convention we were told by the national leadership, that our disagreements "did not constitute the basis to form a tendency", and would  not be on the agenda at the convention.  So the message was, we had the right to form a tendency as long as we didn't form a tendency.  As my Southern Baptist relatives are prone to say, "there will no liars present, when the roll is called up yonder!"

At this point those of you reading this, and who were in the SWP in 1981, or knowledgeable of party history are probably thinking to yourselves: OK, I'm familiar with the tendencies around Nat Weinstein, and George Breitman, but Tendency for Party Growth?  Never heard of them. Hold that thought, and we'll come back to that.

The report continues, "their response was to immediately quit the party following the convention....." Finally, some accuracy. Gene drove back to Dallas from the convention, with the parting words, "it's your problem now," and submitted his resignation from the party, a few days later. Another member of our tendency, also in Dallas,  resigned  soon after. Your intrepid reporter (that would be me), who was a member of the Salt Lake City, UT branch held out for another month, before dropping out.  So within a month all THREE of us were gone.  Yep, just three of us. The size of the tendency, and the fact we were de-tendencyized (a word I created, as yet uncopyrighted), prior to the convention is most likely why hardly anyone has ever heard of us.

How accurate were the claims made by this small tendency, aka "the gang of three?" The Plenum report says our critique of the way the turn was implemented "was based on an exaggerated view of the radicalization of the working class." Kind of hard to argue with that one. Gene's resignation letter states, which I'm in agreement with, 
"......many of the comrades most able to lead the rank and file against this erroneous course have left the SWP in a thin but steady trickle, while the most subservient and  unquestioning have ascended into leadership." Yeah, that sounds about right.

To paraphrase the words of Fidel Castro at his trial, History has absolved the Tendency for Party Growth.

For the full Plenum report see:

Thanks to everyone at the Marxist Internet Archives, for making this document and many others available.-Ken M


  1. and yet the three of you were such a menace that you merited a report to the National Committee.

    1. That surprised me. The first I knew of this was when I found the report at Marxist Internet Archives. The National Committee report makes it sound like there were dozens of us, with representation in every branch. If only that were so.