Letter to PDC
The following is a letter from William C., a leading member of the iSt’s French section at the time, in response to the Partisan Defense Committee’s proposed “International Brigade.” Note that William correctly anticipated that the PDC’s offer would be rejected. This letter was originally published in the iSt’s International Discussion Bulletin No. 19, March 1989.
I would like to set forth here my objections and disagreements with the position taken by the PDC as expressed in its letter to the embassies of this 7 February.
To make my point more easily, I am for the moment going to create an inappropriate confusion between the PDC and iSt.
We are, at this stage of our development, a propaganda group which chooses the subjects, the places and times to concretize, even in a limited way, one or several crucial aspects of our program. It’s a question of “exemplary work,” aimed at applying our program, in motion, in action on a scale which is qualitatively proportionate to our capacities and our immediate or potential influence so that in return it can come back to feed our propagandist activity, literary or otherwise, and augment our impact on reality.
Obviously, practically any action which is somewhat substantial surpasses our immediate capacities. It is also true that occasionally, and this is what we systematically seek, these actions go beyond an “exemplary” character, such as the successes we have had in Atlanta or Washington, because, to simplify, we have intersected something real in the milieu. If this were not the case, we would be only a “propagandistic” organization as certain of our detractors say.
When we take an initiative, we de facto define a reasonable bracket between a minimum and a maximum which differentiates a reasonable success from a total failure. And in unfavorable circumstances, we fix our minimum at that which simply our forces could do without it being a devastating failure. And unfortunately, it can even happen that one is wrong!
Let’s be clear, it is not a question of simple arithmetic, a science which I am not good at, it is necessary to gauge the impact, the dynamic effect or as they say now, the news value. When I speak of the forces, I don’t mean simply the number of militants, nor the state of the treasury, nor even the simple influence we’ve had in qualitatively similar circumstances.
Now, in the famous letter of 7 February, we “pledge” ourselves to construct what amounts to the actual organization of one or several international brigades.
It is one thing to say in written or oral propaganda that which is necessary, it’s another thing to commit ourselves to do the necessary thing immediately.
And including at the historical level, we assign to the proletariat only those tasks which it can fulfill.
But even in propaganda, we don’t attempt to be other than what we are and we do not “pledge” ourselves immediately to such and such an objective just on the basis of “necessity.”
Now, I assert, without much risk, that this “pledge” would be impossible to honor except if we liquidate ourselves in a last act, heroic certainly, but futile since it is necessarily doomed to failure.
If, by chance, our offer were accepted (and I am not worried on that score) we would consume ourselves hopelessly. Even with the help of a hypothetical dynamic effect multiplied by the “popularity” of the cause, our impact would not be sufficient to even begin the beginning of the realization of such a project. Hence ensuring devastating effects.
Further, simply at the level of propaganda, I don’t even see how we could use such a “pledge” since even the workers politically closest to us could evaluate the relationship of forces and would realize the inanity of such a proposition even if it is not accepted!
And I don’t think I’m engaging in any kind of “possibilism” here.
At another level, and here I break the pretense that permitted me to push my argument, I am surprised at the procedure: the PDC pledges itself. Why the PDC? If, by extraordinary circumstance, the idea were accepted by the ambassadors, the PDC, without real means, would have to turn to the SL/U.S. and therefore the iSt, to honor the pledge to which it had subscribed in its place. Something is wrong here.
A more general objection, and less clear. I have some difficulty in remembering that the Trotskyists have ever called for the formation of international brigades. That cadres, militants, joined them or were sent in for reasons of political opportunity, I am convinced. But that the SWP or the European Bolshevik-Leninists had directly organized such brigades…
Cannon’s telegram to Stalin [reprinted in the Militant, 5 July 1941] was on another scale: hazardous, certainly, but physically possible immediately.
I have another bunch of objections which I will refine before putting them to paper.