Appendix B: The Bavarians Versus the PPT: Trying to Make Sense of the 1970-71 Faction Fight
< Appendix A: The Mystery Man with One Hand: Myron Neisloss and the Early Covert Funding of the Labor Committee | HIAB | Appendix C: ''Fascism in Newark'': Amiri Baraka and a Forgotten Strike In Newark >
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On 20 January 1971 New Solidarity reported on a faction fight at the NCLC's recently concluded national conference. The minority faction, dubbed the "Bavarians" and led by Philadelphia's Steve Fraser, was said to support a "pro-pop front" alliance with "ruling class liberals" and the Communist Party. The minority, in turn, claimed that the "majority view" (known as the "Positive Political Tendency" or PPT) held that the U.S. was headed into an era of increased repression and "police statism," an argument the minority dismissed as "Pantherism." The conference also witnessed a debate over the strategy of "united front" versus "popular front."
On 27 February 1971 Fraser and other minority leaders were expelled from the NCLC. The expulsion were ordered after the leadership received copies of secret minority documents from Philadelphia showing that Fraser had established his own separate "steering committee" in preparation for an impending split. A recent Bryn Mawr philosophy graduate named Anita Gretz, who supported the majority position, accidentally discovered the documents. Factnet's "socialist boomer" recalls what happened this way:
In the formal sense, it was definitely an expulsion. As I remember it (and it's possible some of the details are incorrect), Anita G . . . found a mimeo[graph] stencil (or a mimeo copy) of an internal "Bavarian" factional document planning an imminent split a head tax on each member of the faction to fund a new organization was part of it. The NEC then ordered the expulsion, by name, of members of that faction. . . . I do recall that the "Bavarian" document found by Anita G. mentioned that defense work in Boston was a "problem" (I think that was the word used) because PPTers were active in defense work. From my perspective, the "Bavarians" wanted to exclude PPTers from FBDC [Fraser Borghmann Defense Committee] activity not primarily due to differences over defense work, but because of a desire to have a theatre for factional activities, meetings, etc.
The 15-19 March 1971 New Solidarity announced that Fraser had run a parallel organization and used the Fraser-Borghmann Defense Committee to secretly contact other leftist groups, including the CP's Young Workers Liberation League (YWLL). The Fraser group intended politically "to move in effect toward the Communist Party and the 'New Politics' wing of the Democratic Party."1
The NCLC claimed that sometime in late August or early September 1969, Fraser began to look to the New Politics wing of the Democratic Party after he became a Philadelphia City Council candidate for the First District on the NCLC's Alliance Party. Because of Fraser's local celebrity thanks to the bomb plot charges, his candidacy threatened to draw some votes from other politicians. His candidacy, however, hit a roadblock when it was discovered that at twenty-three, he was too young to be eligible to run for the seat, which required candidates to be at least twenty-five. A small number of Alliance Party ballot petitions reportedly were "compromised," although a sufficient number remained untainted to still place an Alliance Party candidate on the November ballot.
The problematic petitions opened the Labor Committee to possible charges of forgery, yet "scarcely a single liberal or radical in Philadelphia would join the Labor Committee in protesting this frame up" because they supported a "New Politics" candidate named Tom Gilhool, who ran on the "Urban Action" party ticket. (The group was a left splinter group from the Democratic Party.)2 A Campaigner editorial ("The Return of the Pop Front") in the January-February 1970 issue provides some details:
A Pop-Front candidate for City Council in Philadelphia this past November, conspired with City officials and police agents to disqualify his SDS Labor Committee opponents from the ballot; in the process they set the Labor Committee up for charges of criminal fraud and forgery. His actions were supported by a CP apparatus deep[ly] involved in the campaign, [and] various militants of several super-revolutionary "anti-racist" left groups. Thus it took five days to even find a lawyer willing to file an appeal on the Labor Committee's behalf. Literally dozens of left-liberal attorneys (some with CP affiliations) refused to handle the case. Some were Pop Front fund raisers, others (from the ACLU) were campaign activists, still others "ideological" supporters of the Pop-Front effort. Two lawyers took the case only to drop it 24 hours later, one doing so "in the interest of the movement." "Leftists" who had information bearing on details of the frame-up kept mum. Simultaneous with an official announcement of the city's intention to prosecute us for fraud and forgery, there appeared an article in a quasi-radical weekly written by a "fellow socialist" Wharton Professor of Finance [Ed Herman -- HH]. Besides containing a sly, spineless defense of Pop-Frontism, this potpourri of slander managed to call us "agent provocateurs."
The vehemence of left groups defending their own Pop Front delusions was also felt by the NY SDS Labor Committee during the 1968 teachers' strike. . . . For contradicting the blithe hallucinations about "local control" and "blacks in motion" prevalent among nearly all other radical groups in the city, we came under the most intense attack. Both anarchists and PL repeatedly tried to expel us from SDS; threats of violence against our members were made by both groups, although only carried out by the anarchists. Rudd and his goon squad obstructed our meetings, threatened people who attended, and attacked several of our members.
Supposedly as a result of this abandonment, Fraser began to question the NCLC's overall strategic approach. In January 1970, Fraser backed a proposal to create a national publication like the Guardian that would be open to different leftist points of view. Most importantly, Fraser "proposed that the Labor Committees subordinate their work and organization to 'new mass social organizations' being created by Walter Reuther and others around ecology and reconversion." The LC majority charged that Fraser essentially advocated "critical support" for the left wing of the Socialist Party-allied UAW. Fraser's January 1970 conference argument was supported by his close friend Tony Papert, who subsequently came under enormous pressure to break with Fraser and eventually did.
New Solidarity claimed that, while in early 1970 Fraser had dismissed the CPUSA as yet another fossilized sect, by the end of that year "his policies and his organizational orientation had shifted decisively toward the 'front' organizations of the Communist Party." Fraser even supported the CP-backed Jesuit Father Robert Drinan's "New Politics" congressional campaign in Boston. Fraser's followers in upstate New York (Cornell) proposed political alliances with "New Politics" groupings there.3 Fraser reportedly argued that the 1940s Left blew it by failing to ally with leaders like Walter Reuther and that "shrewd socialists" today should try to intervene within popular fronts. New Solidarity comments:
This point of view was, unfortunately, publicly aired in an abortive effort by a Fraserite to "intervene" within Reverend Drinan's campaign in Boston and by a miserable, bootleg Ithaca publication which the January 1971 Labor Committee conference publicly repudiated. After the January 1971 conference, when the LC majority moved to end any future debate over these issues, the Fraser clique went ape.
As a list in New Solidarity of the members of the group's then ruling National Committee (NC) elected at the January 1971 meeting makes clear, not one elected NC member represented Fraser's point of view.4 So even though the first formal expulsions took place in late February, the fate of the Fraser faction had been sealed at the January NC vote, if not even earlier in October 1970 when Fraser dramatically resigned from his NC position.5
BACKGROUND TO THE CRISIS
In LaRouche's writings, there is tremendous stress on Steve Fraser's supposed state of mind. His claim is that Fraser psychologically and politically lost his way after he came under intense personal pressure from the bomb plot case. As a result, he now served as the captive spokesman for a much more backward section of the organization based in places like Rochester and Ithaca. Having failed to fully break with their "counterculture" environment, they wanted to push the Labor Committee into some kind of "popular front" alliance with the liberal left and anti-war movement. LaRouche contended that Fraser caved in to the siren-like lure of the "Pop Front" because he was demoralized about the possibility of going to jail and at some level may even have wanted to leave politics.
LaRouche clearly tried to reduce political differences to personal psychology as a way of pathologizing Fraser's views. Yet I suspect that the larger issue was not so much that Fraser felt "isolated" but that the Labor Committee as a whole found itself disoriented as it searched for a viable new strategy following the collapse of SDS. Even if sections of SDS had looked on the Marcusites with contempt, pariah status still remained a kind of status.
After New York SDS refused to even consider a Labor Committee proposal on "open admissions" in March/April 1969, the Marcusites launched a series of frantic organizing campaigns around transit and open admissions in the hope of achieving some kind of critical breakthrough "in the streets." That longed-for success would then leverage the Labor Committee back into a leading position inside the New York left, even as the Action Faction and PL tore each other apart. While the Labor Committee managed to string together a series of paper coalitions and establish a working relationship with the New York branch of the International Socialists (IS), the independent mass organizing failed to produce any significant breakthroughs in the spring of 1969, just as the group's frenetic work in the garment center failed to trigger off a "mass strike" in the summer of 1968. Then in the summer of 1969 SDS suddenly collapsed.
New questions now arose over issues that the New Left had never seriously considered, including the vexing issue of a "Popular Front" alliance with liberal groups. This new set of challenges led to a new crisis of sorts. First, it seems clear that the Fraser tendency while obviously not intending to "liquidate" the organization wanted to reverse what it saw as the group's growing isolation inside a rapidly changing left. Both factions agreed that the radical movement was now at low ebb, caught between the end of the student movement and the anticipated rise of new labor militancy as the expected economic crisis deepened and drove the ruling class to try to impose austerity measures on workers. The real issue was how to orient politically to this challenge.
The majority stressed "cadre development," the idea that the group should focus most on educating its own cadre in Marxism, the dialectical method, the history of the labor movement and the like so that the NCLC would be in a far stronger position to intervene in the coming strike wave. The core debate, however, seems to have been how to respond to the anticipated upsurge. Clearly Fraser and company wanted some kind of opening to the "popular front," which would be based on the Labor Committee orienting itself in part to the left wing of organized labor and the UAW in particular. The ideological ticket into the labor movement would be the NCLC's work on "industrial reconversion" and the related issue of "socialist ecology." To the majority, however, the Fraser faction took on a distasteful aura of "technocracy" when it exaggerated the importance of program.
The Fraser faction also clearly wanted to keep the Labor Committee more "decentralized" and prevent it from becoming one more "party formation" with a brittle "correct line." Hence when the expected labor upsurge came, the organization could operate more like an ideological current inside a larger mass movement on the side of labor and offer "critical support" to sections of the labor bureaucracy, much as it did in New York during the UFT strike and was starting to do as well in the Newark Teachers Union strike. After all, hadn't the NCLC's founding political document, March 1969's The Third American Revolution, stated in section 59:
In broad terms, a revolutionary party is simply an independent political caucus, organized around its own definite revolutionary program, within a mass movement of working people and their allies. It qualifies as such a party by its position of organic left wing leadership within a majority of the main sections of the class and its allies. That is, it has a "base," so to speak, in major trade unions, major sections of the organized and semi-organized struggles of oppressed minorities and the ranks of radical students. It qualifies itself as a leadership not only on the basis of its thus represented composition, but by winning significant layers of the mass movement to general, broad agreement with its program. . . It is a vanguard of the class-for-itself, constituted around a program which actually expresses the historic tasks of socialist power in that period.
The majority disagreed. Precisely because a new labor upsurge was inevitable, the Labor Committee couldn't be tied down either by the shackles of the "popular front" or as technocratic advisers to UAW-style bureaucrats. The expected labor radicalization would make such a policy even more absurd as workers moved beyond their narrow "trade unionist" way of thinking. Once the mass strike hit the working class, the Labor Committee had to function even more independently and as a more centralized formation.
To the anti-Fraser majority, the programmatic stress on socialist reindustrialization and ecology were magic bullets, an imaginary passe-partout meant to open doors to a mythical LC-UAW alliance. Besides, didn't the looming economic crisis mean that all factions of the capitalist class had to impose austerity? Under such conditions, a popular front could only function as a political trick to con working people into accepting austerity. A pop front orientation was not just bad politics; it bordered on class treason at a time when the ruling class as a whole had no other option than to impose brutal austerity and anti-democratic measures.
This was the argument that the minority dismissed as "Pantherism."
Seen in this context, one can further appreciate the growing importance of the Greek Epanastasi cadre in the new Labor Committee and why LaRouche viewed them with special favor. Epanastasi distinguished itself by its "extra-parliamentary" resistance to the popular front politics of the Greek Communist Party Interior (KKE-I). They may well have viewed the Fraser network as trying to introduce a similar kind of popular front logic that they had already rejected. "The Greeks" came out of a long European Communist Party tradition, a tradition that in Greece included underground resistance to the Nazi occupation and the subsequent bloody Civil War. They almost reflexively believed in the necessity for a strongly centralized organization and saw anything less as an expression of the habitual childishness of the American New Left. Given that Epanastasi cadre had spent years fighting a shadow war against a brutal NATO-backed military dictatorship, their belief in centralization and a strong leadership structure had deep practical (as well as ideological) roots. Such views clearly resonated with LaRouche on many levels.
Nor was the Labor Committee debate taking place in a political vacuum. At the very time the crisis with the Fraser faction was coming to a boil, the Labor Committee had thrown itself into strike support work for the Newark Teachers' Union. Yet the NTU was itself under brutal attack by a "New Politics" political coalition supported by the Communist Party. It was "New Politics" Newark major Ken Gibson, after all, who employed Amiri Baraka as his black nationalist stick to break the union, just as New York's "New Politics" John Lindsay relied on the majority wing of New York SDS and other leftists groups in his fight against the UFT.
One also cannot help but wonder about the influence of another ghost from 1968, the Labor Committee's murky alliance with the UFT. Fraser's perspective, after all, had been developed with his close friend Tony Papert. If the Labor Committee could develop some kind of relationship, no matter how nebulous, with the right wing of the Socialist Party/trade union movement; why couldn't it do something similar with the left wing of the Socialist Party/trade union movement?
This then is my admittedly tentative guess as to the nature of the faction fight. A great deal of it remains murky and it obviously involved strong personality clashes. But I believe the conflict arose primarily because the organization could no longer operate from a "student radical" perspective. Although the Labor Committee found itself politically disoriented and isolated in 1970, thanks to the near total collapse of Weatherman and PL, whole new political vistas now opened up as well. It was, I believe, the debate over how the NCLC should adapt to this new series of challenges and not simply Steve Fraser's personal psychology that lay behind the increasingly bitter factional fight inside the Labor Committee from late 1969 to late February 1971.
LaRouche uses his analysis of the Bavarians to justify his top-down takeover of the Labor Committee in 1973-74 by playing on the fears of NCLC members that any kind of organized resistance to LaRouche's coup would return the organization to a period of bitter dissension and political chaos. From LaRouche's 1974 Conceptual History of the Labor Committees:
A handful of demoralized activist members developed an alliance with a different social stratum represented by our least active members, erupting as a loose factional formation during the late fall of 1969 and becoming an overt factional formation approximately a year later. The essential issue this faction raised was their lack of confidence in future emergence of a labor upsurge accompanied by demands for the Labor Committees dissolution into John D. Rockefeller III's "ecology movement."
The faction was nominally headed by Steve Fraser but was actually based upon and controlled by an approximate score of individuals based on the Ithaca and Rochester, New York, campuses who had never fully broken from the pothead counterculture of the student-radicals around them.
Fraser's original proposal, submitted at the January 1970 Labor Committee conference, was a muddle. It included the already established proposal of the Labor Committee leadership to intervene in the reactionary Malthusian revivals and to propose an alternative orientation centering on the development of fusion technology. It was the second part of Fraser's proposal that was outrightly reactionary, his insistence that this tactic be accompanied by a perspective for dissolution of the Labor Committees into the "ecology movement." . . . An anti-working class tendency such as Fraser's simply could not make any headway in our organization. The January 1971 conference eliminated the problem. The defeated faction was already tentatively committed to splitting to form a tiny organization, and was assisted out in February, on the basis of their efforts to seize various assets for use by their new grouping.
Fraser's new grouping maintained a fragile existence for a few months and began to collapse over the summer of 1971. A short time later, the potheaded majority of the tiny organization drove out Fraser and his immediate associates, and the group dissolved shortly after that . . . . The major internal problems we had to overcome during the 1968-71 period was the tendency of student radicals to demand that their national organizations exert virtually no centralized authority over local member groups. We had to combat such extreme expressions of this as the demand that each Campaigner editorial and even articles be reviewed and amended by every local organization before publication. The possibility of continuing Ithaca and Rochester organizations with strong pro-counter-cultural tendencies was a result of the reluctance of members generally to support proposals for a centralized, homogeneous national organization. This petit-bourgeois relic we had to get out of the members' system. The factional ferment around the Fraser group was an invaluable lesson in demonstrating to all members the direct connection between anti-labor and petit-bourgeois political tendencies and pluralist "participatory democracy."
From The Power of Reason (1988 edition), 121-22.
The first development which might be termed a "factional" affray within the Labor Committees occurred during early 1970. Some associates centered in Philadelphia and Cornell University came forward with the suggestion that we were all wrong in our current orientation. They said that the "movement" was moving off into a new direction and that we were in danger of missing the boat . . . . This "new direction" was "the ecology movement." The proponents of this orientation said that they had been given inside tips by unnamed banking circles suggesting that we move in on the ground floor of this emerging venture.
I replied that if the Labor Committees were going to move off in such a direction, they could let me off at the next stop. Most agreed with my view and a few weeks later a couple dozen walked out in a rush to overtake the new "movement." We have had many knock-down, drag-out debates over policies of evaluation and tactics since but it was the only internal factional affray we ever experienced. We had walk-outs by organized groups later but these were each operations organized by Soviet or U.S. intelligence agencies.
That one brief factional affray was important in two respects.
In general, those who walked out were not hostile to what we represented as a whole. During 1967-1968, the principal figures of the group had been leading figures of a number of brief but rather large-scale events. They had learned to enjoy the rough-and-tumble of that sort of political warfare. They wanted new action of that sort. Intellectually, most of them were superior personalities, able to think more rigorously than most around them. They liked thinking, but they liked the taste of mass organizing a bit more. . . . Both sides of the debate agreed on one point: We should address ourselves tactically to this development. The sponsors of the proposal wished us to dissolve into the leadership of the new movement and take it over from within. The prevailing view, which I shared, was that we must confront this evil stuff by the same methods employed to confront and destroy SDS.
In a manner of speaking, we had destroyed SDS. We had prevented its being used as the kind of operation its behind-the-scenes sponsors intended it to become, and, we did have the pleasure of putting the nail into its coffin on the occasion it split into several various shrieking and mewling factions. However, the behind-the-scenes sponsors soon had their fall-back options in place. The "ecology movement" was but one of the leading such fall-back options.
Dan Jacobs joined the NCLC in March 1973 and quit the organization a year later in July 1974. On 8 September 1974, Jacobs and another former member named Marian Kester wrote an open letter entitled "Goons on the Left" that attacked the group's "Security Staff" in particular as a kind of "GPU."
In 1975 Jacobs wrote "A True History of Lyn Marcus and the Labor Committees" for the Fred Newman-led International Workers Party (IWP) journal Critical Practice. Although Jacobs wrote about 1970-71 split from the viewpoint of someone who had not experienced it personally, his article remains a valuable perspective on the Labor Committee's early history.6 From Jacob's section on the "split":
'The "Bavarian" Episode'''
With the ebb in the student movement highlighted by the crack-up of SDS in the summer of 1969, the Labor Committee went through an identity crisis from which it was never successfully to emerge. A factional crevice began developing (especially in New York) over the basic question of what kinds of activity were appropriate for the young organization in the new period.
One group, composed of younger, college recruits from the Columbia and City College (of N.Y.) campuses many of them former PLP members (Papert, Sober, Hecht, Milkman et al.) placed heavy emphasis on active, programmatic intervention into the more burning political issues facing New York's population (e.g., open admissions and the State Office Building pork barrel), and were constantly sniffing out upcoming "mass strikes" that would both revive the student movement and facilitate a massive, united front socialist intervention.
The other group, led by the "seasoned" members out of West Village CIPA (Marcus, Johnson, Ed and Nancy Spannaus, et al.) emphasized cadre development and theoretical consolidation (concentrating on "Marxist philosophy"), urging mainly propaganda interventions to build up Labor Committee membership, as well as organizational centralization to get beyond the loosely federated situation that prevailed with the various locals. The "super-activists" found themselves sadly disoriented when the rest of the Left (especially the student Left) snubbed their united front campaign proposals; they generally tried to go ahead with their "mass actions" anyhow, and ended up burning themselves out. The "lazy theoreticians" (especially Marcus), meanwhile, contented themselves with criticizing the floundering of the others and publishing various theoretical finesses.
A weird factional situation began crystallizing at the January 1970 national conference when Papert and Steve Fraser, a leading Philadelphia member and a former PLP comrade of Papert's, delivered their National Report proposing a tactic on the LC's orientation toward the emerging popular-front ecology movement in the U.S. Papert read the report, which had not been previously distributed, to the confused membership at a rapid-fire clip. The report7 was sharply criticized by Marcus and Co. for opportunistically pandering to scientists, engineers, etc. who would be participating in the ecology movement, and for essentially proposing that the LC dissolve itself into the ecology movement.
The "faction fight" was on, to peak towards the end of 1970. Even for a patient historian of the movement, it is all but impossible to slosh through the arguments, counter-arguments, cross-fire allegations, lies, distortions, and evasions hurled up on both sides of this debacle and make some sense of it all. In such a situation bitter faction fight unprincipled on both sides actual political issues become obscured, and personality and ego-sparring step to the forefront. Thus, during this momentous year of economic crisis and upswing of the labor movement with major strikes of postal workers, Teamsters, and auto workers, and the collapse of the Penn Central railroad New Solidarity, the NCLC paper, appeared only sporadically, often going several weeks on end without appearing! Evidently the working class had to wait while NCLC fought out its internal squabbles.
The Fraser group, pejoratively dubbed "the Bavarians"8 by Marcus, was based mainly in the campus towns of Ithaca and Rochester, N.Y., and had factional presences in Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston. Marcus' group, whose polemic was led by Ed Spannaus during most of the year, criticized the "Fraserites" for taking an excessively technocratic approach to strike-support organizing developing intricate programs for socialist reconstruction of each particular industry that was struck, which entirely missed, if not clashed with, the reality of the developing class struggle. For instance, in response to the Teamster strike the Fraserites put forth a utopian scheme for reconstructing the transportation industry which, coming in the absence of a mass strike led by a mass-based vanguard party, could only suggest to Teamsters the rationalization of their industry with resultant loss of jobs. The Fraserites answered this criticism by demanding that the Emergency Reconstruction Program, an elaborate "transitional" economic (i.e., technocratic) program drafted by Marcus during the summer, be made the minimal basis for united-front strike support work (which NCLC was developing in Baltimore, with fair success); thus trying to "outflank" Marcus to "out-Marcus" him.
In his written critique of the "Bavarians," Marcus focused on the Fraserites' organizational softness, their "ultra-democratic." anti-centralization bias, which saw them resisting the transition of the Labor Committees from a loose federation of autonomous local chapters to a national cadre organization. Marcus pointed to the unauthorized printing of "Bavarian" public documents and other breaches of discipline. He portrayed Fraser as a talented leader, who, having fallen into demoralization, had been "held captive" by the more backward, student-type members of the organization, for whom he had become a chief spokesman and apologist.
If this characterization of Fraser was correct, then Marcus' subsequent actions were bungling and destructive. Instead of pulling Fraser out of the clutches of his "captors" by drawing him into collaboration around a clear What-is-to-be-done perspective, Marcus called for the crystallization of a "Positive Political Tendency" (PPT) in opposition to the Fraserites, on quite shaky political grounds. (The Fraserites had yet to designate themselves as a faction.) He also resorted to a heavy-handed suspension of Fraser from the National Committee. Fraser, by this time, had lost some of his key co-thinkers (i.e. co-cliquists) to the PPT; notably Papert, who had dropped out of political work for four months for the sake of a thorough study of Kant (!), returned to Marcus' arms, babbling that "having new conceptions," he had seen the light.
Fraser's pre-conference internal document zeroed in on a Campaigner (the NCLC theoretical journal) editorial written by Marcus in the fall, which had posed a very impressionistic conception of the U.S. ruling class strategy following the 1969-70 recession, as that of "ruthless austerity" and "developing police-statism" glibly hypostatizing economic necessity into an instantaneous political mandate for the advanced-wing of the bourgeoisie. Fraser correctly pointed to the weakness of the Nixon government and the not-so-total subordination of Nixon, who had been making concessions to the knuckle-headed, small-time capitalists, to the Rockefeller (i.e., advanced, multinational) wing of the capitalists.9 He suggested a more protracted process of assault against the working class; with the likely development of a popular front movement linked to the Democratic Party, serving as a transition to overt and widespread political repression. He also observed that the class struggle dynamic which typically begs the imposition of a Bonapartist regime massive but indecisive class war was presently lacking on the U.S. political scene:
Wouldn't we want to "complicate" our analysis just a bit by postulating [!] a precondition for the police-statism, a "statism" that includes the decimation of all previously existing democratic political and social institutional arrangements, the existence of a "mass proletarian party," whose stated aims are at least nominally revolutionary, and more importantly whose practical activity immobilizes parliamentary society, i.e., and at least semi-class instinctual activity tending to create an immediately pre-revolutionary crisis, that ephemeral state known as dual impotence?10
This important issue, among others, was not to be discussed at the January "split" conference, which was approached with hysteria on both sides. When the Fraserites tried to raise the issue of the strategy of the ruling class in the upcoming period, calling for a parallel discussion of the emerging popular-front movement, Marcus and the PPT responded with a barrage of ad hominem demagogy shrieking that the Bavarians were "revealing their unconscious desire to liquidate the organization into a pop-front coalition."
Marcus' one "positive" maneuver at the conference was the drafting of a set of "founding principles" for the organization an exercise in theoretical posturing and the subordination of serious practical principles to petty factional ploys. For instance, in principle #18, Marcus tries to intimidate the Fraserites out of their "pop-front orientation":
Alien ideological currents propose to subordinate the process of creating the political class for itself to the service of some bourgeois social form, such as placing "militant trade unionism" above "united front" or "cross-union caucus" formations or proposing intervention in a political formation including capitalist political factions as an alternative to formations totally independent of capitalist "political" factions (e.g., "Popular Front" sell-outs). Otherwise, alien political outlooks are represented in socialist organizations either by a general anti-intellectualism ("proletkult" simplicism) or by a tendency to ridicule the dialectical method by contrast with "sturdy common sense" or empiricism, or formal logic.
The rule of thumb thus implied is that any person who advocates membership within "Popular Fronts,"11 insists that trade-union membership is the condition for vote in working class formations, etc., or who opposes the dialectical method,12 is not qualified to represent the organization publicly on political questions, and that no political faction characterized by such bourgeois-ideological aberration can be permitted to exert a controlling influence on any institutions of the national or local organization of the NCLC.
Instead of formulating a serious alternative set of organizational principles and tactical theses for the coming period, the Fraserites carelessly voted in Marcus' "founding principles," thus sealing the fiasco. A few months later the Fraserites who had never officially declared themselves a faction were summarily expelled from NCLC for holding clandestine factional meetings, and under suspicion of negotiating secretly with other Left groups. Fraser then formed the "Socialist Labor Committee" (a group of around 50 members, which was not much smaller than NCLC, at the time), which dabbled in NCLC-style organizing, drifted into existentialism and Reichianism, and formally dissolved early in 1972.
The official NCLC line on the "Bavarians" is that they reflected the world outlook of "petit-bourgeois students who didn't want to organize." This assessment is undoubtedly correct, so far as it goes. However, it overlooks the fact that the PPT cadres, for the most part, reflected the world outlook of big bourgeois students (in this sense having "gone beyond" their petit-bourgeois social origins) who didn't especially want to organize. This outlook which can perhaps be termed "Left capitalist" is overtly presented as early as 1968 by Ed Spannaus and Paul Gallagher, who were to become two leading lights of the PPT:
We recognize that the reconstruction of the nation's cities, employment, and the industrialization of the underdeveloped world are the proper [?] central concerns of both the Left and the most astute members of the capitalist class. If we fail to concern ourselves with the questions of who pays for such programs of reconstruction, and who controls such programs, we will fail to make any significant differentiation between ourselves and the most advanced policy-makers.13
In other words, the only difference between "socialists" and liberals resides in the determination of "who pays" for economic progress as if there's no real qualitative difference in the "reconstruction" either way, but only a question of taste! Forget about political organizing, forget about the class struggle for power, forget about smashing the bourgeois state it's only a question of keeping one's head and seizing the right purse!
A former member of the Labor Committee (known as "larouchetruth" on Factnet) links the bomb plot and Fraser's desire to reach a broader audience to the 1971 split. (I have lightly edited the text for readability.) From Larouchetruth:
You [HH] omitted any mention of the bomb plot trial, which I believe played a strong, possibly a decisive, role in that [faction] fight. Remember that Fraser (and Borghmann) were on trial . . . where they didn't know but what they might be about to go to jail for many years, falsely convicted in a blatant frame-up. One of the major issues between them and Lyn was over what kind of defense to mount in their behalf. I believe . . . that Fraser wanted as broad a coalition, reaching out to the broadest possible parts of the Left as possible for obvious reasons. I believe that Lyn attacked that as "Pop Front" and wanted, well, we know Lyn, God knows what, some sort of much more "political," i.e. narrow, Lyn-centered defense that would have probably ensured their incarceration.
This would dovetail with the incipient Fraser faction's articles on Walter Reuther and the Pop Front (looking toward that layer of labor "from above" rather than "from below"). I have no specific recollection to this effect, but it wouldn't surprise me if Lyn even at that early moment was looking forward to testifying "on their behalf," seeing the trial as a major public forum to push himself, with little or no concern for what impact it would actually have on winning the trial. . . .
I clearly recall the existence of, but hardly at all recall the content of, the key article in Campaigner by Fraser et al., on this subject of the pop front, Reuther, etc., which article was highly contentious at the time. I believe this article would be a key piece of evidence to flesh out the real meaning of the faction fight, if overlaid on the defense committee battle. Which battle, by the way, came to a head at one point in a very heated meeting at John Covici's house in Philadelphia where the differences were very heatedly aired and where factional lines perhaps began to be drawn in ways that would congeal into the actual factions.
All of that said, I also believe that precisely as Fraser held out for his own independent position against Lyn, that Lyn began to react as one would expect him to, to not tolerate anyone putting himself on the same pedestal as Lyn. Therefore, I'm sure a key ingredient in the mix was Lyn's moving to sharpen any differences he saw between him and Fraser, rather than seek to find common ground and heal the split. He treated Fraser the way Roosevelt treated Hitler, demanding unconditional surrender, rather than trying to find a way for Fraser to at least save face.
It's also interesting how the bomb plot case was dropped as soon as the faction fight became official hmm. That is, just when the ability to fight it was greatly weakened, the authorities dropped it, almost as if they regarded the split as just what they wanted to happen.
Text of a 25 February 1971 Letter to the Editor of the The New York Review of Books on the Fraser-Borghmann Philadelphia "Bomb Plot" Case. The letter was published just one day after the first formal expulsions of the Fraser group began.
To the Editors:
The Left, especially the young Left, has gone through severe trials in the last few years. Much but not all of it has collapsed into quiet despair, or worse, into acts of nihilism. Among the groups that have continued to engage in militant and often highly imaginative resistance to the system has been the National Caucus of Labor Committees. The Philadelphia police have brought charges against two of the NC-LC leaders, Steve Fraser and Richard Borgmann, for conspiracy and possession of explosives that is, they are accused of doing the very things they have fought so valiantly to keep the Left from doing.
Having examined evidence concerning these accusations we are convinced they are false. The political police know their enemies at least sometimes. They understand quite well the importance of smashing precisely those sane, responsibly militant groups which reach out to the working class and which cannot be expected to discredit themselves by the kind of terrorism of which they now stand accused by police agents.
We are not members of NC-LC, nor do we have any interest in evaluating its particular line at this time. That is not the point. We have seen these exemplary young socialists under heavy fire and know them to be among the coolest and most principled men and women active in the Movement today.
We have heard Comrade Fraser speak at the University of Rochester and we have checked his story so far as possible. We have no reason to doubt the truth of his version and every reason to fear that he will be railroaded to prison. We urge financial support to the defense committee and a major effort to expose the frame-up to withering publicity. In particular, we think that these young men are their own best testimonial and that they ought to be invited to present their case on as many campuses and in as many communities as possible. They must not be permitted to go to prison for a crime they have struggled so hard to prevent others from committing and of which they are demonstrably innocent. And without regard to factional criticisms or preferences, their organization must be permitted to continue its fight for a movement based on reason and principle.
Eugene D. Genovese
On the basis of evidence presented to me by the Fraser-Borgmann Defense Committee, I support and publicly call for the early formation of an independent National Commission of Inquiry to hear and judge evidence of police frame-up in the pending Philadelphia conspiracy trial of Steve Fraser and Richard Borgmann.
William A. Williams
Present signers of the Call for a National Commission of Inquiry.
(See http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1971/feb/25/fraser-borgmann-defense/?pagination=false for the text as well.)
Noam Chomsky, whose close friends included a family where one of the children joined the Labor Committee, personally donated $5,000 to the Defense Committee.
Research Note: The Socialist Labor Committee (SLC)
On 14 April 1971 the first issue of the SLC's journal Crisis was published.14 The first issue of Crisis reports that on 27 February 1971, the LC PPT ("positive political tendency") expelled the minority. It argued that the "strength, self-assurance and audacity of the organized trade union movement" made any attempt to impost austerity on it impossible. Any ruling class attempts to impose austerity would be "instantly stymied" by the working class.
In contrast, Crisis said that the NCLC thought that strikes during this period would be merely "class defense" and holding actions. The NCLC view of "police statism" was similar to the view adopted during the "Third Period" of the Comintern. Hence the NCLC was falling back on simple strike support work justified by "class-for-itself" rhetoric. This was a "soup pail" defense approach and the NCLC strike support committees are "figments of their imagination."
As for the Fraser-Borghmann defense work, Crisis claimed that the NCLC avoided any "united front" approach and backed a National Commission of Inquiry that was itself little better than a "pop front." They didn't want Steve Fraser to use his position to recruit new members who might agree with him. Now the NCLC even refused to help the SLC with the trial. The NCLC even attacked its own "socialist reconstruction program" and substituted for it "workerism."
Crisis was printed on extremely cheap paper. It seems to have lasted for about one year. The last issue I saw was from 21 February 1972 (vol. 1, no. 19). It carried an article entitled "Greek Government-Created Fascism" by one K. Pholias, who may have been an Epanastasi supporter who went over to Fraser.
The gaudiest article in Crisis comes from Vol. 1, No. 18, dated 15 January 1972. It is called "Life and Death on the Left" and was written by Larry Kramer (originally a member of the Cornell Labor Committee) and another SLC member named Alan Snitow. It appeared after Fraser left the SLC and it reflects a period when the remaining members of the group embraced the writings of Wilhelm Reich. Although the piece is ostensibly about the Left in general, its main interest is the LC as a "case study." It appeared in the wake of the NCLC's Strategy for Socialism III conference.
The LC views the world as a congregation of body-less heads, masses of gray matter encrusted with bourgeois ideology. So it expresses its actual and immaculate sterile vision of Socialist Man. In the spotless, antiseptic halls of future society, the class-for-itself assembles, neatly filing in to take its seat for the semi-annual discussion of how to best allocate the world's resources. Then it withdraws to pursue the arts, to cultivate the higher virtues of man. For the LC, the kingdom of socialism is heaven and the mundane world of capitalism, inhabited by the lusty, filthy, class-in-itself creatures of bodily excess, hell. Revolution for the LC is paradise regained.
To the character structure of the petit-bourgeois revolutionary who never really understood the reasons why we split from them, our presentation of the forbidden writers, of psychological and literary attacks on their rationalist conceptions, could only be met with the charge of "below the belt socialists." Their sly questions about our "sexual revolution" are direct evidence of their own profound emotional and psychological disorientation. Everything about their super-rationalist, ultra-mechanical pedagogical outlook shows their compulsive desire to deny their existence as human beings, to ignore their historical origins, to renounce every part of themselves from the neck down.
The turn to psychological politics appears to have come just as the SLC itself was falling apart. But since the authors say that LC members made satirical remarks against them, I can only assume that the SLC leafleted the conference with some kind of psycho-sexual analysis of the LC.
In the winter 1972-73 issue of the NCLC Campaigner, NEC member Nancy Spannaus wrote an article attacking Wilhelm Reich and his influence on the Left entitled "Wilhelm Reich's Sexual Revolution" in which she explicitly mentions the Socialist Labor Committee's turn to Reich. Whether or not LaRouche's decision to develop his own brand of pseudo-Marxist psycho-politics in his "Beyond Psychoanalysis" writings was at all influenced by the SLC's attempt to do something similar remains an open question.
1 Fraser's attempt to use his "bomb plot" charge to try to build broader coalitions began shortly after he was arrested when he tried to interest the Black Panthers in joint defense work. Some of the NCLC factional documents for this period later appeared in an anthology edited by Kenneth Dolbeare entitled Institutions, Policies, and Goals: A Reader in American Politics (Boston: D.C. Heath, 1973). Dolbeare, a professor of political science, was for a time a Labor Committee sympathizer and was married at the time to a woman who became a hard-core Labor Committee activist. Dolbeare may have helped LaRouche acquire a contract with D.C. Heath for the book Dialectical Economics.
2 For more background, see my chapter on the early Philadelphia Labor Committee at http://laroucheplanet.info/pmwiki/pmwiki.php?n=Library.HIABChapter4Philly.
For a key Labor Committee analysis of the Alliance Party and the attacks on it, see Muffin Friedman and Kathy Murphey,"The Vietnam Moratorium: New Hope or Dangerous Alliance," in 34th Street: The magazine of the daily pennsylvanian, Vol. 2, 16 October 1969, and available at http://www.library.upenn.edu/docs/kislak/dp/1969/1969_10_16.pdf. The article (which includes a rare photo of Steve Fraser at the Penn sit in), argues that liberals like Gilhool were trying to co-opt protests against both the war and domestic austerity at home much like John Lindsay tried to do in New York. Friedman, a Penn student, was initially arrested with Fraser in the notorious "bomb plot" a few months earlier while Murphey was an SDS Labor Committee leader at Bryn Mawr.
3 Father Drinan won a seat in the House of Representatives as an anti-war candidate and served in the House from 1971 to 1981.
4 At that time, the ruling National Committee was democratically elected at each year's National Convention.
5 On Fraser's October resignation, see the Conclusion to HIAB at http://laroucheplanet.info/pmwiki/pmwiki.php?n=Library.HIABChapter6Conclusion.
6 The full text is available at A True History of Lyn Marcus [Lyndon LaRoche] and the Labor Committees.
7 Unfortunately, I do not have access to this rare and famous document. [Jacobs footnote.]
8 This nickname was a mocking reference to the right wing of the 19th and early 20th century Bavarian wing of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) that wanted to participate in and vote in the local Bavarian Diet. Until that time, SPD members elected to local Diets abstained from voting. The best known "Bavarian" at the time was Georg von Vollmer.
9 Here Fraser echoes LaRouche's arguments in Third Stage of Imperialism.
10 "As usual, Fraser's writing exudes an insolent, petit-bourgeois stench. It is no 'political' accident that his activities today consist of a weekly New York study group with a half dozen fellow dilettantes." [Jacobs footnote]
11 "Note how the idea of intervention has been slyly manipulated to come to mean 'liquidation'!" [Jacobs footnote]
12 "Read: who opposes Marcus' ideological output." [Jacobs footnote]
13 "[From Gallagher, Paul, and Spannaus, Ed, "Kennedy, Rockefeller and the Kerner Report: Sharing the Poverty," May, 1969.] (pps. 8-9)." [Jacobs footnote]
14 The Philadelphia LC had produced a journal called Philadelphia Crisis. In the summer of 1970 Philadelphia Crisis and the New York-based Solidarity were merged to form a national paper, New Solidarity. It reported that on 27-28 March 1971 almost one-half of the former members of the NCLC formed the SLC. The SLC also produced a journal called Perspectives. Volume 1, Number 1 of Perspectives appeared in May-June 1971, although I have not seen a copy.