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“Peace Activists” with a Secret Agenda? Part Three:

Stealth Trot­sky­ism and the Mys­tery of the WWP

by Kevin Coogan

One of the many ironies of the IAC/WWP sto­ry is that a group now aligned with some of the most dog­mat­ic ele­ments in what’s left of the Left is itself most like­ly run by secret Trot­sky­ists. Giv­en the her­mit-like qual­i­ty of the WWP, it’s hard to know for sure. Even accu­rate esti­mates of the group’s mem­bers are hard to come by.

In the 1980s most con­ven­tion­al esti­mates were that it had some­where between three and four hun­dred fol­low­ers. Thanks to the IAC in par­tic­u­lar, the WWP’s recruit­ing efforts over the past decade have met with some suc­cess, espe­cial­ly in New York and San Fran­cis­co. If both actu­al WWP mem­bers and fel­low trav­el­ers are count­ed, the group may now deploy up to a thou­sand cadres, if not more.

Inso­far as the WWP has had dif­fi­cul­ty in recruit­ing, it may be due in part to the extreme­ly closed and clan­nish nature of its lead­er­ship. Nowhere is this fact more evi­dent then when it comes to dis­cussing the group’s ori­gin. For some rea­son the WWP exer­cis­es great cir­cum­spec­tion when it comes to acknowl­edg­ing its ori­gins as a fac­tion inside the Trot­sky­ist Social­ist Work­ers Par­ty (SWP).

The WWP’s lead­ers even obscure their back­ground to their own mem­bers. In the May 6th, 1986 WW, for exam­ple, the paper began a lengthy four-part series osten­si­bly ded­i­cat­ed to explain­ing the WWP’s his­to­ry. Not once in the entire series was it ever men­tioned that the WWP first emerged out of the Social­ist Work­ers Par­ty or that the group’s founders had spent over a decade as a fac­tion inside the SWP.

Yet the WWP’s analy­sis of the Sovi­et Union strong­ly sug­gests that the sect nev­er aban­doned the world­view that its found­ing lead­ers first acquired while still inside the SWP. This issue, how­ev­er, remains so sen­si­tive that fol­low­ing the death of WWP founder Sam Mar­cy on Feb­ru­ary 1st, 1998, not one WWP memo­r­i­al speech men­tioned that Mar­cy had ever been in the SWP, much less a for­mer mem­ber of the par­ty’s Nation­al Com­mit­tee.

The bizarre nature of the WWP’s attempt to con­ceal its ori­gins is only height­ened by the fact that vir­tu­al­ly every­thing writ­ten about the group by out­side com­men­ta­tors notes its begin­nings inside the SWP. One of the rare aca­d­e­m­ic dis­cus­sions of the WWP’s his­to­ry comes in a sur­vey book by Robert Alexan­der which is apt­ly titled Inter­na­tion­al Trot­sky­ism.

The mys­tery of the WWP begins with Sam Mar­cy, who dom­i­nat­ed the orga­ni­za­tion from its offi­cial incep­tion in 1959 until his death at age 86 in 1998. Born in 1911 in Rus­sia into an extreme­ly poor Jew­ish fam­i­ly, “Com­rade Sam” grew up in Brook­lyn. After spend­ing time in the CPUSA’s Young Com­mu­nist League (YCL), Mar­cy joined the SWP in either the late 1930s or 1940s.

Trained as a lawyer, he served as a legal coun­sel and orga­ni­za­tion­al sec­re­tary for a local Unit­ed Paper Work­ers Union. Dur­ing this time he met his wife Dorothy Bal­lan, who also came from an immi­grant Russ­ian-Jew­ish fam­i­ly. Although Bal­lan (who died in 1992) grad­u­at­ed from Hunter Col­lege with a degree in edu­ca­tion, she joined the Unit­ed Paper Work­ers to spread the Marx­ist gospel. Fol­low­ing tra­di­tion­al Left “indus­tri­al col­o­niza­tion” tac­tics, Mar­cy and Bal­lan next moved to Buf­fa­lo and began recruit­ing work­ers in indus­tri­al plants there into the SWP. By the late 1940s, how­ev­er, the anti-com­mu­nist back­lash that would cul­mi­nate in McCarthy­ism made their work inside the trade union move­ment vir­tu­al­ly impos­si­ble.

Despite these polit­i­cal set­backs, Mar­cy and his fel­low Buf­fa­lo SWP com­rades (most notably Vince Copeland) became increas­ing­ly con­vinced that the world had entered a new peri­od of rev­o­lu­tion­ary class strug­gle, par­tic­u­lar­ly fol­low­ing the Chi­nese Rev­o­lu­tion. The out­break of the Kore­an War in 1950 has­tened the emer­gence of what was known in the SWP as the Marcy/Copeland “Glob­al Class War” ten­den­cy. The Buf­fa­lo-based “glob­al class war­riors” called on the SWP to down­play its dif­fer­ences with Stal­in­ist regimes and forge a joint front against “U.S. Impe­ri­al­ism.”

Glob­al Class War’s fun­da­men­tal point was that the geopo­lit­i­cal defense of “real­ly exist­ing social­ism” took pri­or­i­ty over the Trot­sky­ist argu­ment that put a pre­mi­um on pro­mot­ing class strug­gles inside the Sovi­et bloc against the dom­i­nant Stal­in­ist bureau­cra­cy. Mar­cy and Copeland’s posi­tion might be best described as “semi-entrist” because although they very much want­ed to court the Stal­in­ist states, they reject­ed any argu­ment that called on Trot­sky­ists to enter the CPUSA en masse.

What the Glob­al Class War argu­ment meant in prac­tice became clear dur­ing the 1956 Hun­gar­i­an Rev­o­lu­tion. The SWP major­i­ty sup­port­ed the upris­ing as a stu­dent and work­er-led revolt against Stal­in­ist oppres­sion. The Glob­al Class War fac­tion, how­ev­er, com­plete­ly dis­agreed. A Trot­sky­ist named Fred Mazelis recalled Mar­cy telling him in 1959 that “the Hun­gar­i­an work­ers were hope­less coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies and that we should sup­port the Stal­in­ists in their crush­ing of the Hun­gar­i­an work­ers coun­cils.”

Accord­ing to anoth­er for­mer SWP’er named Tim Wohlforth, “Mar­cy had decid­ed that the Hun­gar­i­an Rev­o­lu­tion was basi­cal­ly a Fas­cist upris­ing and that as defend­ers of the Sovi­et Union, Trot­sky­ists had a duty to sup­port Sovi­et inter­ven­tion.” The WWP’s 1959 found­ing state­ment (reprint­ed in a 1959 issue of WW under the head­ing “Pro­le­tar­i­an Left Wing of SWP Splits, Calls for Return to Road of Lenin and Trot­sky”) explained that while it was OK to sup­port demands for “pro­le­tar­i­an democ­ra­cy,” once the Hun­gar­i­ans began demand­ing “bour­geois polit­i­cal democ­ra­cy,” the cor­rect Trot­sky­ist pol­i­cy was to sup­port “the final inter­ven­tion of the Red Army which saved Hun­gary from the cap­i­tal­ist coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion.”

In oth­er words, if 99.9% of the Hun­gar­i­an peo­ple want­ed to over­throw Russ­ian dom­i­na­tion and pre­vent Hun­gary from being a satrapy of Moscow, intro­duce a demo­c­ra­t­ic par­lia­men­tary sys­tem, and adopt an eco­nom­ic sys­tem that worked, they were moral­ly wrong; in con­trast, the Sovi­et troops who shot down unarmed Hun­gar­i­an stu­dent and work­er pro­test­ers were moral­ly right.

In its found­ing state­ment, the WWP also denounced the SWP’s attempts to engage in coali­tion elec­toral cam­paigns with a group of for­mer CP“ers (known as the „Gates fac­tion“ after its leader, John Gates) who had bro­ken from the CPUSA after the 20th Sovi­et Par­ty Con­gress par­tial rev­e­la­tions about Stalin’s mas­sive crimes.

Accord­ing to WW, how­ev­er, the real “rightwing” trend inside the Sovi­et Union actu­al­ly began after Stalin’s death with the rise of Khrushchev! The WWP’s found­ing state­ment fur­ther not­ed that while Stal­in­ism “may be the­o­ret­i­cal­ly as wrong as social democ­ra­cy,” social democ­rats were “con­sid­ered friend­ly to Amer­i­can impe­ri­al­ism and the Stal­in­ists are con­sid­ered hos­tile.” Ergo, Stal­in­ism was bet­ter than social democ­ra­cy.

After break­ing with the SWP, the tiny WWP sought to ally itself with pro-Stal­in­ist and anti-Khrushchev ele­ments still inside the CPUSA who were angry about Amer­i­can CP leader William Foster’s refusal to open­ly crit­i­cize the Khrushchev “revi­sion­ists.” Around the time that the WWP was cre­at­ed, a splin­ter group called the Pro­vi­sion­al Orga­niz­ing Com­mit­tee to Recon­sti­tute a Marx­ist-Lenin­ist Par­ty in the Unit­ed States (POC) “bet­ter known as the “Van­guard” group” split from the CPUSA and embraced China’s anti-Khrushchev, “anti-revi­sion­ist” line. Although the WWP sup­port­ed the Chi­nese posi­tion, the Van­guard group refused all of its polit­i­cal over­tures because they viewed the WWP as trea­so­nous “Trot­skyites”! Not long there­after, the WWP began remov­ing Trotsky’s pic­ture along with any ref­er­ences to him in par­ty pub­li­ca­tions.

Now thor­ough­ly iso­lat­ed from the rest of the Left, Mar­cy led his lit­tle group with a strong hand. Tim Wohlforth met Mar­cy in 1959 at an SWP con­ven­tion held at a New Jer­sey sum­mer camp short­ly before the Glob­al Class War clique broke with the SWP.
As Wohlforth lat­er recalled in his mem­oir, The Prophet’s Chil­dren, while at the camp he had come upon a small mass of peo­ple “mov­ing like a swarm of bees” and deeply engaged in con­ver­sa­tion. In the mid­dle of the mass “was a lit­tle ani­mat­ed man talk­ing non­stop” who had a “high-pitched voice” and “spoke in a com­plete­ly hys­ter­i­cal man­ner.” Yet Marcy’s devot­ed fol­low­ers seemed “enthralled by his per­for­mance. . .It was my first expe­ri­ence with true polit­i­cal cult fol­low­ers.”

From its incep­tion, the WWP attacked any and all lib­er­al­iza­tion ten­den­cies in Com­mu­nist Bloc nations and scram­bled to be first in line to applaud crack­downs on dis­si­dent move­ments. The April 1959 issue of WW even ran an edi­to­r­i­al prais­ing the bru­tal Chi­nese sup­pres­sion of Tibet’s inde­pen­dence move­ment. As for the Sovi­et Union, the WWP reg­u­lar­ly attacked the entire spec­trum of dis­si­dent thinkers from Solzhen­it­syn to Sakharov. The WWP line was that the dis­si­dents real­ly reflect­ed broad­er „rightwing forces“ per­co­lat­ing inside the Sovi­et CP itself. In a Feb­ru­ary 22nd, 1974 essay, Mar­cy not­ed that Khrushchev’s ‘so called democ­ra­ti­za­tion“ had „opened up a Pandora’s box of bour­geois reac­tion, not only in the Sovi­et Union but even more vir­u­lent­ly in East­ern Europe.“

The WWP ful­ly sup­port­ed the 1968 Sovi­et inva­sion of Czecho­slo­va­kia, when Russ­ian tanks crushed the Dubcek Regime and with it „Prague Spring.“ Need­less to say, it also fierce­ly opposed the Pol­ish Sol­i­dar­i­ty move­ment in the 1980s. The WWP’s true love through­out the 1960s was Maoist Chi­na, with North Korea a close sec­ond. The WWP even opposed the sign­ing of the 1963 U.S.-Soviet Test Ban Treaty because it would bar Chi­na from acquir­ing nuclear weapons!

When the Chi­nese explod­ed their first H‑bomb in 1967, WW declared it to be „a major vic­to­ry for social­ism.“ The par­ty was par­tic­u­lar­ly enthu­si­as­tic about China’s dis­as­trous „Cul­tur­al Rev­o­lu­tion,“ so much so that as late as the WWP’s 1986 par­ty con­fer­ence, Mao’s wife Chang Ching (a Cul­tur­al Rev­o­lu­tion enthu­si­ast and „Gang of Four“ leader) was sin­gled out for spe­cial praise.

As much as the WWP admired Chi­na, it despised Israel. WWP cadre proud­ly car­ried signs in sup­port of al-Fath that read “Israel = Tool of Wall Street Rule” and “Hitler-Dayan, Both the Same.” A June 24th, 1967 WW edi­to­r­i­al fol­low­ing the Six Day War stat­ed that Israel “is not the state of the Jew­ish nation,” but a state “that oppress­es Jew­ish work­ers as well as Arabs.”

The fact that Israel was large­ly cre­at­ed by Social­ist Zion­ists and in 1967 was led by Labor Par­ty Pre­mier Gol­da Meir (a woman some­thing unthink­able in the Arab world), whose polit­i­cal base was the Social Demo­c­ra­t­ic Israeli trade union move­ment, did not mat­ter. Nor did it mat­ter that every Arab state that opposed Israel had sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly crushed all inde­pen­dent labor unions or that “pro­gres­sive” Arab gov­ern­ments like Jamal ‘Abd al-Nasr’s Egypt had a long record of employ­ing Nazis both to train its mil­i­tary and secu­ri­ty forces and to spread anti-Semit­ic hate pro­pa­gan­da through­out the Mid­dle East.

As the WW edi­to­r­i­al explained, “The fact that many of the Arab states are still ruled by con­ser­v­a­tive or even reac­tionary regimes does not mate­ri­al­ly affect this posi­tion” of sup­port, because the Arabs “are strug­gling against impe­ri­al­ism, which is the main ene­my of human progress,” where­as Israel “is on the side of the oppres­sors.”

This same edi­to­r­i­al went on to assert that “When the boss­es on a world scale” i.e., the impe­ri­al­ists “ go to war with the oppressed colo­nial and semi-colo­nial nations, it makes lit­tle dif­fer­ence who fires the first shot, as far as the rights and wrongs of the mat­ter are con­cerned. . .Nat­u­ral­ly, the impe­ri­al­ists were the orig­i­nal aggres­sors in every case.” Some two decades lat­er, the WWP would use vir­tu­al­ly iden­ti­cal argu­ments to jus­ti­fy sup­port­ing Sad­dam Husayn.

The WWP’s remark­able capac­i­ty for Orwellian “dou­ble think” was by no means lim­it­ed to the issue of the Sovi­et Union or Israel. Take gay lib­er­a­tion, for exam­ple. Start­ing in the ear­ly 1970s the WWP active­ly recruit­ed many gay and les­bian fol­low­ers, since para­dox­i­cal­ly enough the group had a fair­ly advanced posi­tion on this issue.

The sect’s recruit­ment suc­cess­es in this area came about in part because most of the oth­er ultra-left groups com­pet­ing with the WWP were ortho­dox Maoists who endorsed the Stalinist/Maoist line that homo­sex­u­al­i­ty was a sex­u­al per­ver­sion caused by deca­dent cap­i­tal­ism that would be swift­ly cured come the rev­o­lu­tion. Yet even though WWP cadres fre­quent­ly pro­mot­ed them­selves as gay or les­bian, the WWP refused to crit­i­cize the noto­ri­ous­ly repres­sive prac­tices direct­ed against homo­sex­u­als in Chi­na, North Korea, and Cuba, much less in Ser­bia or Iraq.

Per­haps the ulti­mate absur­di­ty of the WWP, how­ev­er, is that the stealth Trot­sky­ism of its lead­er­ship actu­al­ly saved the sect from col­lapse in the late 1970s. In the 1960s the WWP, pri­mar­i­ly through two key front groups, Youth Against War and Fas­cism (YAWF) and the Amer­i­can Servicemen’s Union (ASU), man­aged to recruit a fair amount of new mem­bers who were drawn to the group less by its the­o­ries than by the extreme mil­i­tan­cy of its street actions. Indeed, YAWF’s one notable con­tri­bu­tion to the Stu­dents for a Demo­c­ra­t­ic Soci­ety (SDS) was that it was the only group which sup­port­ed the Weath­er­man at the dis­as­trous SDS con­ven­tion in Chica­go in the sum­mer of 1969.

YAWF also par­tic­i­pat­ed in the Weath­er­man-orga­nized “Days of Rage” protest that same autumn. With the end of the Viet­nam War, how­ev­er, the entire Amer­i­can Left began to suf­fer an enor­mous down­turn, and the WWP was no excep­tion to the rule. The cadre-based Left was fur­ther weak­ened by the rise of new social move­ments like women’s lib­er­a­tion, gay lib­er­a­tion, and the anti-nuclear and ecol­o­gy move­ments, all of which oper­at­ed orga­ni­za­tion­al­ly and ide­o­log­i­cal­ly out­side the tra­di­tion­al frame­work of ortho­dox Marx­ism, much less that of author­i­tar­i­an Marx­ist-Lenin­ist sects.

Faced with the chal­lenge of wide­spread de-rad­i­cal­iza­tion, as well as the growth of new social move­ments, the WWP (like many oth­er Marx­ist sects) took an „indus­tri­al turn“ and ordered its fol­low­ers back into the labor move­ment. The WWP even cre­at­ed the Cen­ters for Unit­ed Labor Action (CULA) to help coor­di­nate these efforts.

Yet iron­i­cal­ly, what ulti­mate­ly gave the WWP a sec­ond lease on life was the death of Mao and the sub­se­quent ide­o­log­i­cal cri­sis inside post-Mao Chi­na that final­ly result­ed in the defeat of the „Gang of Four.“ The WWP’s com­peti­tors in ortho­dox Maoist grou­plets like the Octo­ber League rapid­ly ran out of ide­o­log­i­cal steam as the new post-Mao Chi­nese lead­er­ship moved even clos­er to the Unit­ed States. After Chi­na began aid­ing Amer­i­can and South African-backed move­ments like UNITA, and Chi­nese troops tried to invade Viet­nam, ortho­dox Mao­ism became even hard­er to ratio­nal­ize.

Thanks to the WWP’s stealth Trot­sky­ism, how­ev­er, the group man­aged to escape polit­i­cal obliv­ion by reori­ent­ing itself away from Chi­na and toward the Sovi­et Bloc with rel­a­tive ease.
The WWP’s great advan­tage in the post-1977 peri­od was that through­out its entire his­to­ry it only con­cealed „ but nev­er aban­doned „ its basic Trot­sky­ist ide­ol­o­gy. Ortho­dox Mao­ism, it should be recalled, main­tained that with the death of Stal­in the Sovi­et Union had ceased to be social­ist state. Maoists even went so far as to claim that, thanks to „Khrushchevite revi­sion­ism,“ the USSR had been trans­formed into „a social-impe­ri­al­ist state“ not unlike Tsarist Rus­sia.

The WWP, how­ev­er, com­plete­ly reject­ed this view even while it was busi­ly glo­ri­fy­ing ultra-Maoist groups like China’s „Gang of Four“ for their rev­o­lu­tion­ary zeal. In a May 1976 WW arti­cle, for exam­ple, Mar­cy reassert­ed the Trot­sky­ist posi­tion (nat­u­ral­ly with­out iden­ti­fy­ing it as such) against the stan­dard Maoist argu­ment. More specif­i­cal­ly, he reject­ed
the idea „that there is a new exploit­ing class in the Sovi­et Union,“ and that there had been a „return to the bour­geoisie to pow­er there.“

The real­i­ty was that the USSR still remained „a work­ers“ state“ whose „under­ly­ing social sys­tem. . .is infi­nite­ly supe­ri­or to that of the most devel­oped, the most „glo­ri­ous“ and the most „demo­c­ra­t­ic“ of the impe­ri­al­ist states.“ At the same time (again fol­low­ing Trot­sky) he admit­ted that Rus­sia had under­gone „a severe strain, dete­ri­o­ra­tion, and ero­sion of rev­o­lu­tion­ary prin­ci­ples, and [was] more­over head­ed by a priv­i­leged and abso­lutist bureau­cra­cy.

Mar­cy’ lat­er rejec­tion of Gor­bachev as a “cap­i­tal­ist restora­tionist” in the late 1980s was not all that dis­sim­i­lar to Trotsky’s attack on Bukharin not Stal­in in books like The Rev­o­lu­tion Betrayed as the main threat to social­ism in the Sovi­et Union in the 1930s.

The WWP’s brand of covert Trot­sky­ism would prove cru­cial to its future growth. In the late 1970s, its ide­ol­o­gy allowed the sect to attach itself like a pilot fish to Sovi­et and Cuban-allied orga­ni­za­tions and avoid polit­i­cal anni­hi­la­tion either from the atro­phy of its mem­ber­ship or from a dev­as­tat­ing polit­i­cal schism.

The WWP’s switch from Mao’s Chi­na to Brezhnev’s Rus­sia was so remark­able that in 1984 the sect, which not long before was singing the prais­es of the Gang of Four, now pub­licly endorsed Jesse Jack­son for Pres­i­dent! Final­ly, when the CPUSA itself split into pieces in the late 1980s, the WWP was in a posi­tion to exploit the new sit­u­a­tion for max­i­mum polit­i­cal prof­it.
Con­clu­sion

Giv­en the WWP’s world­view, the notion that a group as close­ly linked to the WWP as the Inter­na­tion­al Action Cen­ter could ever be tak­en seri­ous­ly, either as a „human rights“ or „peace“ orga­ni­za­tion, seems com­i­cal as well as grotesque. The all too „resistible rise“ of the IAC/ WWP, how­ev­er, only makes sense when it is viewed in the con­text of the broad­er col­lapse of Sovi­et-style Marx­ism and all of its ide­o­log­i­cal vari­ants. Left to its own devices, the WWP would have remained on the polit­i­cal mar­gin as a quirky Left sect whose weird­ly mes­sian­ic ide­ol­o­gy com­bined the worst aspects of Trot­sky­ism, Mao­ism, and Stal­in­ism into a unique and utter­ly foul brew.

That a bizarre out­fit like the WWP could become a seri­ous play­er in Amer­i­can left-wing rad­i­cal­ism in the year 2001 is above all a tes­ta­ment to the exist­ing ide­o­log­i­cal, intel­lec­tu­al, and moral bank­rupt­cy of the broad­er Left, which still insists on liv­ing in a decrepit fan­ta­sy world where crim­i­nals are good, the police are evil, blacks are noble, whites are all racist, het­ero­sex­u­al men are sex­ist, all women are vic­tims, Israel is always 100% wrong, the Pales­tini­ans are always 100% right, Amer­i­ca is „objec­tive­ly“ reac­tionary, and America’s ene­mies are “objec­tive­ly” pro­gres­sive and there­fore worth defend­ing. If this were not the case, the IAC nev­er could or would have emerged as a seri­ous force.

There is no rea­son, at least in the­o­ry, why a new move­ment from the Left could not both sup­port a U.S.-led war against Islamist fanat­ics and fight to pre­serve civ­il lib­er­ties and social jus­tice, both at home and abroad. The entrenched knee-jerk anti-Amer­i­can mind­set of so many on the Left, how­ev­er, makes such a devel­op­ment high­ly unlike­ly. At the very least, how­ev­er, the ratio­nal ele­ments with­in the Left should be will­ing to crit­i­cal­ly exam­ine the pro­pa­gan­dis­tic claims ema­nat­ing from a vari­ety of self-styled „human rights“ and „anti-war“ groups that are as polit­i­cal­ly com­pro­mised and moral­ly dubi­ous as the IAC, ANSWER, and the WWP. While the future role of the Left after 9/11 may not be clear, sure­ly that much ought to be obvi­ous.