Internationalism and the SWP
[From James P. Cannon, Speeches to the Party, Pathfinder 1973, pp. 67–91]
The following is a speech to a meeting of the majority caucus of the New York Local, May 18, 1953.
We have heard that the Cochranites are claiming in the party that they have the support of what they call “the international movement.” Some comrades have asked, “What about that?” Now we are internationalists from way back. We started our movement twenty-five years ago under the banner of internationalism. The thing that brought us to Trotsky, and got us thrown out of the Communist Party, was our belief in Trotsky’s program of international revolution against the Stalinist theory of “socialism in one country.”
Our very first impulse, when we found ourselves out on the street in 1928, was to begin searching for international allies with whom we could collaborate. We couldn’t find many of them, because the Opposition had been completely smashed in the Soviet Union. Trotsky himself was in exile in Alma Ata. And in America, as far as we knew for sure, we were about the only representatives on the international field of the banner of the exiled Trotsky.
But eventually we established contacts with some German and some French groups; and in the spring of 1929 Trotsky was deported from the Soviet Union to Constantinople. We wrote to him there as soon as we heard about it, received an answer from him, and in cooperation with Trotsky began to tie together the first threads of the new–and what eventually became the Fourth–International.
On the record, I believe the American Trotskyists can be described, above all others, as internationalists–to take a phrase from Comrade [Joe] Hansen–through and through.1
The question of the attitude of the international movement toward us is an important one–with this understanding: that we are a part of the international movement, despite the fact that we have no formal affiliation, and we are going to have something to say about what the international movement decides on the American question, and every other. We don’t consider ourselves an American branch office of an international business firm that receives orders from the boss. That’s not us. That’s what we got in the Comintern.2 That’s what we wouldn’t take. And that’s why we got thrown out. We conceive of internationalism as international collaboration, in the process of which we get the benefit of the opinions of international comrades, and they get the benefit of our opinions; and through comradely discussion and collaboration we work out, if possible, a common line.
Now it isn’t possible that the international movement supports the minority in this fight, any more than it is possible that it supports the majority, because the international movement–as we understand it, that is, the membership in all corners of the world–hasn’t yet heard about the fight, is only just beginning now to get the first bulletins, and cannot possibly have decided the question. The thing narrows down to the claim–if what we have heard is correct–that the International Secretariat, which consists of a few people in Paris, supports the minority.
If that’s so, we know nothing about it. We haven’t been told that. And we don’t like the very suggestion that the IS is taking a position on the American question behind the backs of the official leadership. The very suggestion that that is possible casts an insult upon the IS, upon its responsibility, and even upon its integrity. Because it is not possible to function as an international organization without proceeding through the official elected leadership in each and every party. As I said, we know nothing of any such decision there. They have never even intimated anything of the sort to us.
In the eight years since the international organization was reconstituted after the war, with headquarters in Paris, they have never once intimated any serious conflict or any lack of confidence in the American party and its leadership. On the contrary, they have always recognized the SWP as the firmest base of political support of the international leadership. And that has been the case ever since 1929, when the new international took its first “embryonic”–to use the Cochranites’ term–form.
Ever since 1929, when the international leadership was a man named Trotsky in Constantinople and half of his troops in the whole world were those we had organized in the United States, the International has been, in the essence of the matter, not just a mechanical combination of different parties and groups. There has been an axis in it, an axis of leadership. And in the eleven years from 1929 to 1940, that axis was the collaboration of Trotsky and the American Trotskyist leadership.
That’s the essence of the matter. Trotsky made no secret of it. We were his firmest base of support. We weren’t by any means “hand-raisers,” as Burnham said in “The War and Bureaucratic Conservatism.”3 We had more than one disagreement with Trotsky. But in the general work he carried out, in his efforts to bring about a selection of forces and to get rid of misfits and people who had wandered into our movement by mistake, and in his fight for a clear political line–he always had the support of the American party.
The First World Congress of the Fourth International (there had been several precongresses of the International Communist League, as it was called) was being organized in 1938. Trotsky leaned so heavily on the Americans, and was so anxious to strengthen their authority in the International, that when he drew up the Transitional Program for this founding Congress, he wrote it first for the SWP. He asked us to adopt it first, and then to sponsor it at the Congress. Thus the very first programmatic document of the Fourth International appeared as the resolution of the National Committee plenum of the Socialist Workers Party held in New York. We spoke at the world congress as reporters on the Transitional Program.
We had gone to Mexico City a couple of months before–a whole delegation, at Trotsky’s request–to talk over with him the contents of the program and work it out together. The points were laid down, discussed and agreed upon. Trotsky then wrote the draft and sent it to us. We called a plenum and discussed the draft, and then adopted it. That’s the story of the Transitional Program–the technical aspects of how it appeared as the resolution of the SWP.
Up to the time of Trotsky’s death, and particularly after he came to Mexico, the SWP–we should be proud to say it–became Trotsky’s own adopted party. He was so much concerned with us and our future, and so confident that we had a great future before us, that he gave thought to all kinds of little problems of the party. As national secretary, I had a continuous correspondence with Comrade Trotsky about practically everything that arose in the course of our work. One suggestion after another would pour out from him to us. If we disagreed, we would write back, or send delegates down to visit him. So that in the most intimate sense, the leadership of the international movement in that period was, as we called it, the Trotsky-American axis.
From 1940–after the death of Trotsky and the suppression of our movement in most parts of Europe by the war–the center of the international movement, its vocal party, was in the United States–the SWP. We no longer belonged to the Fourth International because the Voorhis law outlawed international connections. Our role, therefore, could only be advisory and consultative. But even in that capacity, we were regarded throughout the entire world as the informal representatives of Trotskyist internationalism.
Since 1945, with the close of the war and the reestablishment of the movement in Europe and the setting up of the International Executive Committee and International Secretariat there, the same relationship in essence as previously governed our collaboration with Trotsky has prevailed in the new Paris-American axis on all the big political questions. In the first period after the war, the Russian question aroused a great dispute in our ranks throughout the world. There was a big wave of Stalinophobia,4 which had understandable reasons. For with the end of the war, the terrible stories about the Stalinist slave-labor camps and the monstrous conduct of the Stalinist armies in Eastern Europe and Eastern Germany came out.
Those tales of horror–which were not exaggerated but were the living truth–created such revulsion in the ranks of the advanced workers throughout the world, that there was a big echo in our ranks, and great hesitation in our own ranks in Europe. There was a split in France over the Russian question in the immediate postwar period. Comrades said, “We can’t call that a workers’ state any longer. That’s a slave-labor state” and so on.
At that time, the really strong, decisive force supporting two or three of the leading comrades in Europe, which really decided the Russian question once again in favor of defense of the Soviet Union, was the SWP. As far as I know, the first really outspoken, categoric, unambiguous declaration on the question came in a speech by me, made in agreement with our party leadership, on the anniversary of the Russian Revolution, in November 1945 in New York. This speech was printed in the paper and was supported as a program by our cothinkers in Europe. It was a factor in stopping all hesitation and in clarifying once again the fact that we were defenders of the Soviet Union.
I did not defend the Soviet Union’s slave-labor camps or any of those horrors. I said, paraphrasing Trotsky: “We do not defend what is degenerate and reactionary. But we see, in face of all of that, that the power of the nationalized economy was strong enough to prevail during the war and still stands. That’s what we see, that’s what we defend.” That is how we defined our position on the Russian question at that critical time.
In 1947 there was another wave of Stalinophobia, especially in the most advanced circles. We began to get reports not only of what had happened in Europe but what had happened inside the Soviet Union itself. What those monstrous, unbelievably treacherous scoundrels had done! We began to get such stories as those of Margaret Buberman, the wife of Heinz Neumann–both of them lifetime Communists. He was a former leader of the German CP–not a Trotskyist–and he had been shot by the Russians because of some political disagreement. His poor wife was thrown into a concentration camp in Russia and kept there three years. And then, when the Soviet-Nazi pact was signed and the war started, she and a carload of other veteran German communists were put into a freight car, shipped to the border, and handed over to Hitler as a goodwill gesture from Stalin and his gang. And she then spent five more years in Hitler’s concentration camps!
Stories like that came out, one after another–and then began this new wave of Stalinophobia. Morrow and Goldman5 fell victim to it. They said: “This is too much! We can no longer defend the Soviet Union as a workers’ state.” There were new hesitations also in Europe.
That is when I wrote the pamphlet American Stalinism and Anti-Stalinism–which these fools are now attacking in their document as some kind of evidence of Stalinophobia. But the whole thing was directed against the Stalinophobes, page after page, chapter after chapter. It was written in reply to Ruth Fischer,6 who had come out in Shachtman’s paper denouncing us because of our position on the Soviet Union and calling for a united front of everybody against the Stalinists. I wrote that pamphlet to show that we would unite only with genuine socialists against Stalinism–not with red-baiters and reactionaries.
When Stuart7 returned from Europe shortly thereafter, I asked him, “How did they receive my pamphlet in Europe?” He replied, “When it came out in the paper, they received it as support of the line, which again strengthened the position of our international movement for the defense of the Soviet Union, with no struggle against Stalinism except on a working class basis.”
Our relations with the leadership in Europe at that time were relations of closest collaboration and support. There was general agreement between us. These were unknown men in our party. Nobody had ever heard of them. We helped to publicize the individual leaders, we commended them to our party members, and helped to build up their prestige. We did this, first because we had general agreement, and second because we realized they needed our support. They had yet to gain authority, not only here but throughout the world. And the fact that the SWP supported them up and down the line greatly reinforced their position and helped them to do their great work.
We went so far as to soft-pedal a lot of our differences with them–and I will mention here tonight some of the many differences, known for the most part only in our leading circles, that we have had in the course of the last seven years.
One difference was a tendency on their part toward “Cominternism” in organization matters–a tendency to set up the International as a highly centralized body on the order of the early Comintern, which could make decisions, enforce orders, and so forth in the old Comintern fashion. We said to them all the time, “You can’t do that. The International is too weak, you are too weak. You can’t have that kind of an International under present conditions. If you try it, you will only end up in weakening your own authority and creating disruption.”
The old Comintern of Lenin’s time had the concept of a highly centralized international organization from the first days, but there was a reason for it then. The reason was that there had been a revolution in Russia, and the whole world movement of socialism was reacting to it. The leaders of the Russian Revolution had an absolutely decisive moral and political authority. There were Lenin and Trotsky and Zinoviev and Radek and Bukharin8–new great names that the revolutionary workers of the world were recognizing as the authentic leaders of the revolution. These were the men who set up, with the aid of a few others, the Comintern, the Third International.
They had state power in their hands. They had unlimited funds, which they poured out generously to subsidize and support the foreign parties. When there was a difference of opinion in any party, with two or three factions growing up, they could subsidize delegations to travel from any part of the world to Moscow. The differing groups could have full representation before the executive body to discuss the issues. The international leaders could get a real picture on the spot, hearing the representatives of the different tendencies themselves, before offering advice. And that’s what they mainly offered in the early days–advice, and very few orders.
Speaking of representation, I was a delegate to Moscow five times. And every time I was there, delegates from other factions in the American CP were also there. At the Sixth Congress in 1928, we had about twenty delegates from the U.S., representing all three factions, and the whole expense was paid by the Comintern.
After the degeneration of the Russian party and the emergence of Stalinism, the centralism of the Comintern which Trotsky and Lenin had handled like a two-edged sword, which they didn’t want to swing carelessly–became in the hands of Stalin an instrument for suppressing all independent thought throughout the movement.
Instructed by the past experience, we understood the dangers for the present international movement. We believed it would be absolutely wrong to try to imitate a highly centralized international organization when we were so weak, when the ability to send delegates from different parties for common consultation was so limited, and when we could communicate only by correspondence. Under these conditions, we believed it would be better for the center there to limit itself primarily to the role of ideological leader, and to leave aside organizational interference as much as possible, especially outside of Europe.
In Europe, where the parties are close at hand, it might be organized a little more tightly. But even there, we had misgivings. Comrades who were there several times had misgivings about the tendency toward organizational centralization and discipline, even as applied to the different national parties close at hand in Europe.
That’s one difference we had–a sort of running, smoldering difference. We did not press our criticisms to the very end, although we had many. Such interventions as they made in this country were unfortunate. It was a double mistake that they made in the case of Morrow and in the case of Shachtman. We here have had 100 times more experience–I don’t say it in boastfulness, but that’s the fact–100 times more experience in dealing with faction fights and splits than they have had. Besides, we knew the people we were dealing with.
You who were in the party at the time know the story. Morrow, who had done a lot of good work in the party before, began in 1945-46 to develop Stalinophobia. I don’t know how others deal with that. But when I find a case of Stalinophobia I’m the kind of political doctor who says that I’ve never seen anybody with a cure for it, and it’s time to isolate and quarantine it. That disease leads straight to social patriotism and reconciliation with imperialism. That’s what Stalinophobia is.
Stalinophobia led Morrow to begin to betray the SWP. He suddenly discovered that the party he used to love and admire so much was no good whatsoever. He was as much against the party record as “The Roots of the Party Crisis” is. The party was not only wrong then, but always had been. Next, he began sidling up to the Shachtmanites, acting disloyally and carrying information to the Shachtmanites when we were in struggle with them. He even went so far as to report to them about our Political Committee meetings in which we discussed our struggle with the Shachtmanites, telling them what we said and what we were planning.
One of our young comrades went over one evening to the Shachtmanite headquarters to buy a pamphlet or a copy of Labor Action, and there was Morrow, sitting with half a dozen grinning Shachtmanites and regaling them with a report of our own Political Committee meeting that he had just come from. We had a number of illustrations of that kind of disloyalty. Finally we yanked up little Felix–what is he called, the Joan of Arc, the hero-martyr of the Cochranites?–we just yanked him up and said to him in a plenum resolution: “You’ve been doing so and so, which isn’t right, not loyal. We censure you for that, and we warn you to cease and desist.”
That’s all–just a little slap on the wrist. A few months went by, and he didn’t cease and desist, and we got more evidence of treachery on his part. Finally, we reported it to the party. There was no rough stuff, just a general education of the party on the facts. Then we came to the convention in 1946, the convention where we adopted the “Theses on the American Revolution,” against which he spoke. (I don’t know whether there is any coincidence in this or not, but he spoke against it.) And when his case of discipline came up, the convention declared that in view of the fact that loyalty to the party had been violated by Morrow, that he had been warned and had not heeded the warning, he was hereby chucked out, expelled, by the unanimous vote of our convention.
That’s the way we do things in the Socialist Workers Party. You know, it’s deceptive. This is such an easygoing party that some people who haven’t been in any other party don’t know what a paradise they’ve got. So easygoing, so democratic, so tolerant. Never bothers anybody for anything, never imposes any discipline. Why, our National Control Commission has gone by three conventions without having anything to report. The only time the good-natured somnolence of the SWP begins to stir into action on the disciplinary front is when somebody gets disloyal. Not if he makes a mistake, not if he fiddles around, but if he begins to get disloyal and to betray the confidence of the party–then comes the surprise! All of a sudden this somnolent, tolerant party gets out the axe and comes down with it–and off goes the offender’s head!
That’s what happens when you betray the confidence and the loyalty of our party. And it causes a little shock especially on the head that rolls! But it’s a literal fact that the only time we ever expelled anybody for anything was for violating discipline after repeated warnings not to do it. That’s the only time.
Over in Paris, the International Secretariat–which was under the pressure of the right wing in the French PCI,9 who were in alliance with Morrow–the IS had no sooner seen what we had done than, without waiting for our report, they adopted a resolution which without saying so directly amounted to disagreement with the unanimous decision of our convention. It gave the Morrowites a new lease on life in the party. We thought: “That’s not right, boys. You ought to consult us first. You ought to take into account the fact that the 1,500 people represented at our convention have some rights to be considered. If you want to be democratic, then you ought to pay some attention to what the majority thinks.”
It was a very rash, precipitate action by a small group in Paris. We just told them: “Please don’t do that any more.” And we didn’t pay any attention to their intervention on Morrow’s behalf. The only result of their action was to stir into new life a group of former Morrowites in San Diego. They had just about reconciled themselves to the convention decision. But on the assumption that the International was supporting their faction, they stirred into new life, and we lost the San Diego group of the SWP on that account.
Our next difference was in the case of Shachtman. We entered into negotiations for unity with Shachtman in 1947. We laid down strict conditions, which the Shachtmanites signed on the line. First, during the period of the unity negotiations neither side would attack the other. Second, neither side would admit into its ranks any member of the other side–in other words, we weren’t going to raid each other during the unity negotiations. Third, neither side would admit into its ranks anyone who had been expelled by the other side.
A little time went by, and the Shachtmanites promptly printed Ruth Fischer’s letter denouncing the SWP for its attitude on Stalinism. Then they printed a letter from Weber, a deserter from our party, in which he said the SWP by its policy on Stalinism was even abetting the GPU. What did we do? We looked first at the signed agreement: “What does it say there, point one, two, three?” We checked and found that the agreement had been violated. Decision: Negotiations off–finished. And we just put a little notice in the paper: “In view of the fact that the Shachtmanites have violated the agreement in this and that respect, negotiations are hereby discontinued–goodbye.”
That’s all. It was settled by the unanimous vote of our committee. We knew exactly what we were doing. The Shachtmanites were not loyal in their unity negotiations, and we didn’t propose to let them monkey with our party. We have learned how to handle these questions. It isn’t a gift from any divine power. It isn’t any great genius on our part. It’s just that we have had so much experience with faction fights and splits, that we know what to do with them. It becomes a trade–just like laying bricks with Pete–our thirty-year man with a trowel.
Do you know what the comrades over in Europe did then? Germain,10 with the agreement of Pablo–and again without consulting our people and even without a majority of the people there knowing it–decided that they would be more clever than we were. Without consulting us, Germain addressed a letter to Shachtman saying that he was sorry negotiations were broken off but hoped they would be resumed, and that he personally would stand for unity and support the unity movement in the International. It was an open invitation to Shachtman to grab hold of this rope and make more trouble for us in the party and in the international movement.
As I said, that was done without consultation with us. Comrade [Morris] Stein11 heard about it only after the letter had been sent–and we didn’t even get a copy of the letter. I don’t attribute this to any malevolence on their part, just to their inexperience. They don’t know how to deal in the formalities of organization as well as they should.
Now, if Shachtman had known what the score was, he could have used this letter to advantage. But there he became a victim of his own cleverness. He thought he knew too much to be caught in another “Cannon trick.” He was convinced that Cannon had put Germain up to this letter in order to inveigle Shachtman again–but he was out of our clutches and he was going to stay out. He disregarded the letter with a sneer. So nothing happened. No harm came. But we noted it–all of this within the framework of our general agreement and collaboration, we noted it as an error on their part, and we let them know that that is not the right way to proceed.
Another difference arose in connection with the developments in the French party. A few months after the world congress, where the French party had supposedly accepted the congress decision, we suddenly heard that there was a split–or a partial split–in the PCI. The International Secretariat had intervened, upset the majority of the Central Committee, and placed a representative of the IS as impartial chairman over a parity committee. This meant, in effect, that they had removed the elected leadership of the French party. Did you know that that really happened?
Well, when we heard that we hit the ceiling. We didn’t sympathize at all politically with the French majority, which I believe was fooling around with the world congress decisions. But we thought: “How are you going to build an International if you think you can upset an elected leadership of a national party?”
It hit me especially, because I am one of those people who, when he gets burned, like the child, always fears the fire. I had been burned by that very thing in 1925, when the Comintern by cable upset a convention majority of the Communist Party of the United States and ordered us to set up a parity National Committee. Or rather, they didn’t order it, but that’s what the representative of the Comintern here, a man named Gusev, said the cable meant–that we must set up a parity National Committee (even though we had a two-to-one majority) and that he would be impartial chairman. We innocently accepted this decision of the all-high Comintern. The two-to-one majority went into a parity commission with Gusev as chairman in the name of the Comintern. His first action was to constitute a new Political Committee by throwing his vote to the others, thus giving the Lovestoneites12 a majority in the Political Committee.
So we had had experience with this kind of manipulation, and I didn’t like it in the French case. I was fuming, as all of our people were. But the question was: What are we going to do? We were confronted with an accomplished fact, and any attempt to intervene to straighten out an absolutely dangerous precedent in the organizational procedure might help a right wing in the French party that we didn’t agree with politically.
As the situation developed further, Renard, one of the French majority, appealed to me in a letter. I didn’t answer him for months. I didn’t see how I could write on the French question without referring to this organizational monstrosity that had been committed by the International Secretariat. I finally wrote my answer to him out of purely political considerations, and didn’t mention the organizational violation at all. He had raised it in his letter, and I think that’s the first time I ever answered a political letter and just pretended I hadn’t read certain sections–those sections where he complained about the organizational violations.
We disagreed with that procedure. Then there was another difference. When Pablo wrote his article about “centuries of degenerated workers’ states,” we again had the most violent disagreement. We said, “What in the world is he talking about–“centuries of degenerated workers’ states”? In a world where capitalism is collapsing, revolution is on the order of the day, and revolution is going to be victorious–is it going to take centuries to liquidate the bureaucratic excrescences?”
I told Comrade Stein that I was going to have to write against that, that I didn’t believe in that at all. But he said, “If you write against that you will strike at Pablo’s prestige and you will make his position impossible. If it appears in the International that Cannon is attacking Pablo, the whole alliance will appear to be broken. The thing is so fragile that you just can’t do that.”
There were repercussions in the party ranks also. When Arne Swabeck13 came to the plenum a few days later he said: “What is this–centuries of degenerated workers’ states?” And he told us that a girl comrade got up in the Chicago branch and asked: “What is this? If there are going to be centuries of Stalinism, what’s the sense of my going out and selling ten papers on the street corner?” A very good question. And I heard of the same sort of thing in San Francisco.
But we kept quiet about all this in the party. I did speak about it in the Political Committee at some length, when we were discussing the draft resolution of the Third World Congress. My remarks were incorporated in the minutes to be sent over there, so they would know what we thought about this and know that we would not support any implication in the congress resolution of centuries of Stalinism after the revolution. That’s as far as we went.
There was another complication, as you know, with the Johnsonites,14 who were hollering about “Cannonism vs. Pabloism,” and trying to exploit the alleged differences. That’s the kind of situation you often get into in politics. If you are going to be like Breitman and weigh everything on the finest scale, allow two points here and two points there, you’ll never be a political leader. You have to decide which is the main issue and which side you are on, and subordinate the others.
I didn’t want to give the Johnsonites any handle, any chance to exploit my name in their fight against the main line of the coming world congress. So at the 1950 convention, instead of speaking against the “centuries of degenerated workers’ states” which I would have liked to do, I went out of my way to say that this talk of “Cannonism vs. Pabloism” is not right, because we are in fundamental agreement on the main line. Murry Weiss, in agreement with me, did the same thing in the Los Angeles discussions. And we took the wind out of the Johnsonites’ sails.
I have spoken of all this to show that we have had differences, and fairly serious ones, but that we have considered them to be within the framework of an overall agreement. We appreciate the great work the leaders in Paris have done, especially their important contributions to the analysis of the postwar world. We appreciate the fact that they are working with a narrow organizational base, and that they are entitled to loyal support and collaboration.
These have been the general considerations. I cite them to show that if there is a Pablo cult in the party, we don’t belong to it. No one has the right to assume that we, with all our respect for the work of Pablo, consider ourselves puppets who can be pulled on a string. That’s not our conception of proper international relations. When Comrade Novack15 was traveling in Europe, while this fight was brewing in our party, he had definite instructions as to what we wanted. They asked him, “What shall we do?” His answer was: “It’s up to you what you do, but my advice is, let it alone. The American party is a living organism, there are very experienced people there, just let it alone and see how it develops. Wait till everything becomes clear and then, if you want, express your opinion. But don’t jump in, and above all don’t make any decisions, because you might make the wrong ones.”
That was our general attitude. The whole implication of their questions was: “What can we do to help you deal with this new faction?” Our answer was: “Nothing, we don’t need any help. And if we needed help, it would be very bad; because if we can be elected and placed in leadership only with the help of outside forces, we are not the real leaders of the party. And we won’t accept leadership on that basis.”
These were the reasons for our not wanting intervention on their part. First, we didn’t need their support. Second, we don’t want leadership that is not the natural and normal and voluntary selection of the rank and file. And third, if they should intervene with any kind of decision to support the Cochranites, we would have to tell them that we would pay no attention whatsoever.
Now don’t take that to indicate some kind of anti-internationalist sentiment; that’s just putting the cards on the table. Why wouldn’t we pay any attention? Because we don’t believe parties that will permit proconsuls to be imposed upon them as leaders are worth a damn. We don’t think a revolutionary party anywhere amounts to much until it is able to throw up a cadre of indigenous leaders who have grown up out of its struggles, who are known to its members and trusted by them. You can’t monkey with the question of leadership.
We came out of the Comintern, as I said, and we remembered the crimes of the Comintern. “Socialism in one country” was not the only crime. One of the greatest crimes was the destruction of the self-acting life of the individual Communist parties. The Stalinist Comintern overthrew the indigenous leaders everywhere. Where they couldn’t overthrow them directly, they would conspire against them, set factions on foot with secret backing to undermine and finally get rid of all the independent characters in the leadership.
That is what they did in this country. They first got rid of the so-called Cannon group of leaders (the Trotskyists); then they got rid of the Lovestoneite leaders; and then they tamed the Fosterite leaders16 and reduced them to the ignoble status of functionaries. When they had reduced the whole party to a docile herd, they said who should be the leader–Browder. It was only under those conditions that Browder could become the leader. He was a man of such weakness of decision, such lack of independent character, that he couldn’t fight his way to leadership. He became an appointed leader and ruled the party all these years as nothing more than a proconsul of Moscow. That he had no power of his own was proved when they got ready to ditch him: they just snapped their fingers–and out went Browder.
That’s the kind of business we don’t like. We didn’t have anything like that with Trotsky. Not at all. Trotsky wrote about this question once–I am not quoting literally because I don’t have the document before me, but I remember it almost word for word–about the Comintern practice of getting rid of leaders. He didn’t mean only Trotskyist leaders; he referred also to Germany, for example, where the right wing, the Brandlerites,17 were thrown out by organizational machinations and a new set of puppets put in. Trotsky said: “Leadership is the natural outgrowth of a living party organism. It cannot be arbitrarily removed by outside forces without leaving a gaping wound that does not heal.”
That’s what Stalinism did to all the Communist parties throughout the world–it inflicted wounds that never healed. After Stalinism came to power, there was never anywhere a really authoritative, native leadership that had grown up out of the struggles of the party and stood on its own feet. That’s why the CP leaderships so easily became puppets of Moscow.
Now, we got thrown out of the Comintern in 1928 for our independent opinions. We wouldn’t support the line of the Comintern, which we thought was wrong. We asked the privilege of expressing our opinion in discussion. We didn’t create any disruption. We just said that we thought Trotsky was right in the dispute and we would like, after the election campaign was over, the privilege of a limited organized discussion where we could present our point of view–and they threw us out of the party.
We remembered that, and we didn’t want any of that in the new International. We wondered, especially I personally, how it was going to be in the new International with Trotsky. Was he going to push us around like manikins, or would he give us a little leeway and show us a little respect? I wondered.
Our first experience was very good. Friendly letters, advice, full and careful explanations, from 1929 until 1932. Then we had a little case, the case of B.J. Field, whom I wrote about in my History of American Trotskyism as the leader later on of the hotel strike. But two years before that, he belonged to our party. He organized a private study class outside of the branch activities, selected his own students, and refused to submit his curriculum to the branch executive committee. The branch executive committee–which looked in the constitution and saw that it says the branch controls all activities within its jurisdiction–called on Field to submit his curriculum and let the committee know how things were going there.
Well, the branch was a little touchy–personally I didn’t have anything to do with it–but anyhow Field refused. Here was a big shot intellectual, who had worked on Wall Street journals, who had condescended to join a little Trotskyist movement–and now all of a sudden a bunch of young, unimportant people wanted to put him under discipline. So he said, “No.” They said “Yes. It says so in the constitution, and everything goes by law here.” He insisted, No. So they put him on trial in the New York branch (I remember the meeting well, and so does Sylvia [Bleecker])–put him on trial, heard the report of the committee–and chucked him out. That’s all. Expelled him.
It wasn’t a very good case, and it would have been better if it could have been adjusted. But the branch said, “Against the constitution”–and out he went. So Field, this man with his great knowledge and ability–he decided he was going to show these New York yokels a few things. And he was a very learned man, a statistician of distinction, a good writer, a really first-class intellectual who knew economic data thoroughly because he had dealt with it all his life.
Anyhow, he decided–and he had the funds–to take a personal trip to Constantinople, he and his wife, to visit Trotsky. Trotsky, who was so isolated, of course welcomed all visitors then. Field had all kinds of data that the Old Man was thirsting to get hold of, so as to give them some political interpretation. Being a man of action, he immediately sat Field down, got him to write out his data and collaborated with him on it. And the first thing we know, a number of long, serious, important articles on the economic situation in America and its perspectives appeared in the French Trotskyist paper under the name of B.J. Field–who had just been expelled from our organization!
We said to ourselves: “Oh, now it has come!” And that’s when I got what you might call my Irish up. I said, “If Trotsky thinks he’s going to treat our organization that way, he’s got another guess coming.” We sat down and wrote him a letter and told him: “This B.J. Field who was working in your secretariat and whose articles you are having published in Europe: (1) has been expelled from the New York branch of the Communist League; (2) the constitution of our party says so and so, and he violated the constitution and was expelled; (3) it is inadmissible for any other party in the International to give access to its ranks or to its press to an expelled member of our party, because that is an act of hostility against our discipline. We therefore demand that you discontinue your collaboration with B.J. Field, and that the French organization does the same.”
I will admit that this was the greatest emotional crisis of my life. I fully expected that Trotsky was going to write back an arrogant letter and tell us what a bunch of shoemakers we were; that the importance of Field’s articles so far outweighed the constitution of the N.Y. branch that we should wake up and recognize what time of day it was. I thought I could never accept that, because that would reduce the American party to nothing but a puppet; and you could never build a party that hasn’t any rights of its own, any rights to enforce its own discipline.
We waited with resignation for the answer. And then the letter came from the Old Man, a most conciliatory letter: “I’m so sorry, it was a big mistake on my part. I was so eager to get this material that I didn’t realize I was violating anything. By no means do I want to infringe upon the disciplinary regulations of the N.Y. branch. I will discontinue collaboration with Field unless I have your specific approval to continue. Your criticism is correct”–and so on.
“But at the same time,” he said, “Mr. Field has a lot of economic knowledge, and the very fact that he came to see me shows he has a will to do something in our movement. I would propose, if it is agreeable to you, that when he returns to New York you do not take him back into the organization, but allow him to work as a sympathizer for six months. Test him, and if he behaves himself properly for six months, then consider admitting him back into the party.”18
That’s the way our fight with Trotsky over authority and autonomy was settled. And I tell you it was a happy day when we got that letter. That convinced me that we could get along with Trotsky, that we could live with him, that we could have a party of our own which would have its own leaders, and that even the great Trotsky would have respect for our rights. That was the first incident.
Now, the minority did us a great favor when they printed the stenogram of our 1940 discussion with Trotsky. I am going to speak about that in the debate, so I won’t go into it in detail here.19 But one thing that discussion shows is that, instead of our being mere puppets and hand-raisers of Trotsky, as they say, who visited him in Mexico just to ask, “What are the orders?”–and then clicking our heels and saying “Righto”–instead of that, we had a big argument and discussion, a real difference of opinion.
Not only that, but a discussion which ended with Trotsky’s saying in effect: “If you don’t agree on this, I will not raise the question for discussion in the party. I will leave it to your judgment as to what you do about the candidacy of Browder.” And so on.
Trotsky spoke with me later, in personal conversation, and said: “I won’t do anything about it at all. You settle it. I don’t want to create any discussion.” He didn’t want to let the party get the slightest intimation that he was against the leadership. The discussion concerned a question of tactics, and an important one–but in it he showed his attitude of absolute loyalty to us.
We never had to fear that someone might go around saying, “Trotsky is against the party leadership.” We never had to fear that we might suddenly get a blow in the dark. Not from Trotsky. When Trotsky had anything to say to party leaders, he would write. He would write to me, as national secretary, about it. When he had any correspondence with people with beefs in the party–and he had a lot–he would always send me a copy of his letter. So we always knew what was going on, and I never had any ground to fear that there was some kind of an underhanded, double game being played. That wasn’t our experience with Trotsky.
Now that’s the kind of relationship we want. We don’t want any orders. We didn’t want orders from Trotsky, and certainly do not want them from people lesser than Trotsky. No orders for the Socialist Workers Party. Advice, counsel, collaboration–fine. But Cominternist instructions will never be accepted by this leadership. The kind of relationship we had with Trotsky is the kind we want: collaboration–and that’s all we’ll accept.
Many have tried to give us orders. I think there is a Jewish proverb that says, “If you live long enough you will see everything.” And one of the things one learns as he gets experience in life, is that there are a number of people in this world who have the habit of mistaking good nature and patience for stupidity. We have always been good-natured and patient in international relationships, and more than once it has been taken for stupidity; and people who were not quite qualified to give us instructions undertook to do so. If we have any difficulty now, it won’t be the first time.
I think some of you remember Logan.20 He was secretary of the International Secretariat, he had been secretary to Trotsky, and he was a learned man. But he undertook to instruct the American leadership as to what to do. We said, “No, no. We won’t take that.” Then there was the German group called the IKD, the “Three Theses” retrogressionists,21 who wrote theses a mile long. I couldn’t even read them, to say nothing of understanding them. They were awfully long theses–and those people demanded we carry them out right away. I said, “No, no. First, I haven’t read them; second, I don’t understand them; third, I don’t agree with them. And fourth, if you are so smart that you can write stuff I can’t understand, you are just too damn smart for our party.”
And then there was Munis–you remember the great God Munis,22 in Mexico, who sent us all those wonderful orders and commands and criticisms, and all the rest. We patiently printed them, I’m sorry to say, we patiently printed a lot of the stuff that preposterous, bombastic jackass wrote on the assumption that he was the successor to Trotsky. But we didn’t accept it.
And finally there was Natalia.23 Natalia actually, I believe, fell victim to the propaganda of the Shachtmanites and the Goldmanites–that all you have to do to get Cannon lined up is to put forth some international authority that he respects–remember how he always just followed Trotsky? So they needled Natalia into sending me instructions on what to do. You know the sad, tragic result of that: we couldn’t accept instructions even from Natalia.
As a matter of fact, we are not going to accept it from anywhere, from anyone, under any circumstances. We regard the International Secretariat–a group of comrades we esteem–we regard them as collaborators, but not as masters and not as popes. We are going to speak out against the revelation of the minority that all you have to do is quote a sentence from Pablo and that settles everything. Pablo is not our pope. He is just a collaborator. He is welcome to give us advice.
But what if Pablo and the IS should come out in support of the minority? If such a thing should occur–and I’m not saying it will; I’m just assuming that the absolutely incredible arrogance of the Cochranites is based on some rumor that they are going to have the support of the IS–if that should occur, it wouldn’t oblige us to change our minds about anything. We wouldn’t do so.
I was disturbed when I heard some comrades saying that if there should be a decision of the IS in favor of the minority, it might swing some of our people over to the minority. I remember what Trotsky wrote when he was fighting in the Russian party and the Comintern to mobilize the comrades to dare to have a thought and stand up for it. In his appeal to the Sixth Congress of the Comintern, Trotsky said: “That party member who changes his opinion at command is a scoundrel.” He meant by that that such a member is disloyal to the party; because the least the party can expect from the most inexperienced, the newest rank-and-file member is that he be honest with the party, tell the party honestly what he thinks, and not change his opinion when he gets the command from this or that leader, or this or that committee.
That is not to say that the party member doesn’t have to obey discipline. But one’s opinions should be sacred to himself. I hope it will be this way in our party, no matter where the instructions come from–from the Political Committee, from the plenum or from the convention. No one should change his mind because authority tells him to. That is not the mark of a revolutionist. You are obliged to submit to discipline, you are obliged to carry out the decisions of the majority. But if you think you are right, then, as Trotsky said, you bide your time until new events occur and a new discussion opens up.
Trotsky said that a Bolshevik is not only a disciplined man but also an independent thinking man, who will raise his point of view again and again, until either he convinces the party he is right, or the party convinces him that he is wrong.
We understand what the fight in our party here means. This party, comrades, is the most important party in the whole world. Not because we say so, not because we are braggarts, as Cochran says whenever anyone puts in a good word for the party. It is because we are operating in that section of the capitalist world which is not collapsing. We are operating in that section of the world which is a concentration of all the power of capitalism–the United States. The revolutions taking place in other parts of the world–in China, Korea, and other areas of the colonial world–those revolutions cannot be definitive. They can only be provisional–so long as capitalism rules the United States.
That is what Trotsky meant when he said, in his first letter to us in 1929, that in the final analysis all the problems of this epoch–all the problems of capitalism and socialism–will be settled on American soil. If that is true–and it certainly is–then those who set out to build the revolutionary party within the citadel of imperialist power, where the issues will be finally decided–those who set out to build the revolutionary party here, with confidence in the revolutionary future, are by that fact building the most important party in the world.
They are the people of destiny–not in the sneering phrase of the contemptible Cochranite document, which makes a joke of the assertions of our 1946 convention–but in the real essence of the matter. If that is the case; if this party is in a crisis, and we know what the crisis is about; if it is a crisis not only of program and perspectives, the perspectives of the country and the labor movement and the party; if that is involved, and not some little difference over this or that; and if involved also is the problem of leadership, which is the decisive question of every party and every workers’ movement, and every revolution, in the last analysis–if all that is involved, then this fight has to be carried through to its conclusion by the people who know what the fight is about, who know the people, who know the answers, and who are determined to carry out the answers.
That is what we are committed to. We hope to have the sympathy and support of the whole international movement. But if we don’t have the sympathy and support of one individual here or there, or one group or another, that doesn’t mean we give up our opinions and quit our fight. Not for one moment. That only means that the fight in the SWP becomes transferred to the international field. Then we take the field and look for allies to fight on our side against anyone who may be foolish enough to fight on the side of Cochran. Then it would be a fight in the international movement.
I am absolutely sure that we will be victorious here, and I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t be victorious on the international field if it should come to a fight. We hope to avoid such a fight. We are not looking for it. We have no tangible evidence to prove that there is any conspiracy against us, or any actions against us, on the international field. But if a fight should come, we will be prepared for it. That is the way we size this thing up.
⇑ 1. In one of his articles in the SWP Internal Bulletin, Joe Hansen, a leader of the party, characterized Stalinism as being “counterrevolutionary through and through.” The Cochranites often cited this phrase as evidence that Hansen didn’t understand the contradictory nature of Stalinism.
⇑ 2. Contraction of Communist International; also known as the Third International.
⇑ 3. “The War and Bureaucratic Conservatism” was one of the main documents of the petty-bourgeois opposition in the 1939–40 faction fight in the Socialist Workers Party. It is printed as an appendix in Cannon’s Struggle for a Proletarian Party.
⇑ 4. Cannon discusses Stalinophobia in his April 6, 1953, letter to Farrell Dobbs. See pp. 298–300 [of Speeches to the Party].
⇑ 5. Felix Morrow and Albert Goldman were leaders of the Socialist Workers Party who toward the end of the Second World War organized a faction that conducted an unsuccessful fight against the program and leadership of the party. Both had been among the eighteen defendants convicted in the 1941 Minneapolis Smith Act trial, and Goldman, a lawyer, had also been defense counsel. They left the SWP in 1946.
⇑ 6. Ruth Fischer (1895–1961) was a founding member of the Austrian Communist Party in 1918, went to Germany in 1919, and became a leader of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). She was a delegate to the Fourth World Congress of the Comintern, and a member of the Executive Committee of the Communist International from 1924 through 1926. She was a Reichstag deputy from 1924 to 1928, but was expelled from the KPD along with Maslow and Urbahns in 1927. They formed the Leninbund, which was briefly associated with the Fourth International. She emigrated to the United States, where she was a journalist and wrote a book called Stalin and German Communism (Cambridge, Mass., 1948).
⇑ 7. Stuart was a pseudonym for Sam Gordon, a leader of the SWP who had served for a time as administrative secretary of the International Executive Committee of the Fourth International.
⇑ 8. Gregory Zinoviev (1883–1936) was a top Bolshevik leader, the first president of the Comintern, and a member of the Stalin–Kamenev–Zinoviev triumvirate that ruled following Lenin’s death. He and Kamenev joined with Trotsky’s Left Opposition to form a united opposition in 1926; he was expelled together with the Left Opposition in 1927. He recanted and was readmitted to the party in 1928. He was again expelled in 1932 and again capitulated. In 1934, he was expelled for the last time and imprisoned. He was executed in 1936 as one of the first victims of the Moscow purge trials.
Karl Radek (1885–1939) was a left-wing member of the Polish and German sections of the Second International before World War I and a leading propagandist of the Comintern during Lenin’s lifetime. Radek was a member of the Russian Left Opposition until Trotsky was deported to Turkey in 1929. He then capitulated to Stalin and served as an abject apologist for the Kremlin, especially in the field of foreign policy. A defendant in the Moscow Trial of 1937, Radek was convicted of conspiring to overthrow the Soviet Union and restore capitalism and received a sentence of ten years at forced labor. He died or was executed during his imprisonment.
Nikolai Bukharin (1883–1938) was an Old Bolshevik and the second president of the Comintern (after Zinoviev), 1926–29. He joined with Stalin against the Left Opposition, but they split in 1928 and Bukharin formed the Right Opposition before he was expelled in 1929. He capitulated to Stalin, but was convicted and executed in the 1938 Moscow Trial.
⇑ 9. PCI stands for Parti Communiste Internationaliste (Internationalist Communist Party), at that time the name of the French section of the Fourth International.
⇑ 10. Germain was a pseudonym of Ernest Mandel (1923– ), a central political and theoretical leader of the Fourth International, and author of many books on Marxist economic theory.
⇑ 11. Morris Stein was a leader of the Socialist Workers Party for many years. He retired from active participation in party life in the 1960s.
⇑ 12. The Lovestoneites were a rightist faction in the U.S. Communist Party led by Jay Lovestone. In 1928, Lovestone was aligned internationally with Bukharin, who was then in a bloc with Stalin. Accordingly, he carried out the expulsion of James P. Cannon and the other American supporters of Trotsky. When Stalin turned on his rightist allies in 1929, Lovestone was summarily demoted from leadership and expelled. The Lovestone group maintained an independent organizational existence until the outbreak of World War II, when it disbanded. Lovestone later entered the service of the U.S. labor bureaucracy as an anticommunist expert, becoming chief adviser on foreign policy to AFL-CIO President George Meany.
⇑ 13. Arne Swabeck (1890– ) was a founder of the American Communist Party, the Communist League of America, and the Socialist Workers Party. He was a leader of the SWP until the 1960s when he became a Maoist. He left the SWP in 1967.
⇑ 14. The Johnsonites were followers of C.L.R. James, whose pseudonym was J.R. Johnson. James is a West Indian who was active in the Trotskyist movement in Britain and the United States. He is the author of Black Jacobins, World Revolution, and a number of other books. He split from the Socialist Workers Party with the Shachtmanites in 1940, returned in 1947, and split again in 1951 during the Korean War.
⇑ 15. George Novack is a leader of the Socialist Workers Party and a well-known Marxist scholar. He succeeded George Clarke as SWP representative in Europe and was there from late 1951 to early 1953.
⇑ 16. The Fosterite leaders were associates of William Z. Foster (1881–1961), a leader of the U.S. Communist Party. He was the party’s candidate for president in 1924, 1928, and 1932. When Earl Browder was deposed from the party’s highest post at the end of World War II, Foster was elevated in his place. Foster remained a top leader of the CP until his death.
⇑ 17. The Brandlerites were followers of Heinrich Brandler (1881–1967), a founder of the German Communist Party (KPD) and its principal leader when it failed to take advantage of the revolutionary crisis of 1923. Made a scapegoat by the Kremlin, he was removed from the party leadership in 1924. He formed a faction, the Communist Party Opposition (KPO), which aligned itself with Bukharin’s Right Opposition in the USSR, and was expelled from the KPD and the Comintern in 1929. In 1930, the Brandlerites organized an international group, the International Communist Opposition (IVKO). They continued as an independent organization until World War II.
⇑ 18. Trotsky’s letter regarding Field can be found in Writings of Leon Trotsky, 1932 (Pathfinder Press, 1973). It was originally printed in the Internal Bulletin of the Communist League of America, Number 4, 1932. The letter from the CLA to Trotsky was printed in the same bulletin. In this speech, Cannon is relating the episode from memory and so the quotes are not exact.
⇑ 19. This refers to Cannon’s debate with Mike Bartell, Sunday, May 24, 1953, in New York City. The complete stenogram of the 1940 discussion with Trotsky is printed in Writings of Leon Trotsky, 1939–40 (Pathfinder Press, 1973), under the title “Discussions With Trotsky, June 12–15, 1940.” The Cochranite minority had printed a portion of this stenogram, relating to SWP electoral policy in the 1940 election campaign, in the Internal Bulletin.
⇑ 20. Logan was a pseudonym of Jean van Heijenoort, who served as one of Trotsky’s secretaries in each of the four countries of his last exile. Van Heijenoort broke with Marxism after World War II and became a professor of philosophy.
⇑ 21. IKD are the initials, in German, of the Internationalist Communists of Germany, a group of German Trotskyist exiles. The “Three Theses” was a document submitted by this group in 1942 in which it asserted that in view of the crushing of labor and revolutionary forces by fascism the struggle for restoration of democracy would take precedence over any program or struggle for socialist objectives for an entire epoch.
⇑ 22. Grandizo Munis was a leader of the Spanish Trotskyists. He was imprisoned by the Stalinists in Barcelona in 1939, but released just before the fascists entered the city. He later went into exile in Mexico where he developed ultraleft and sectarian positions and left the Fourth International. Munis’s criticism of the Socialist Workers Party’s defense policy in the 1941 Minneapolis Smith Act case, together with Cannon’s reply, is included as an appendix in the 1973 edition of Cannon’s Socialism on Trial (Pathfinder Press).
⇑ 23. Natalia Sedova (1882–1962), Trotsky’s widow, was his companion and political collaborator from 1903 until his death in 1940. While a student, Sedova became active in the Russian Marxist movement before the turn of the century. She was working in Paris with the Iskra group, led by Lenin, at the time she met Trotsky, who had just escaped from Siberia.
In the months preceding the October 1917 revolution, Sedova was a propagandist and educational officer in the trade unions of Petrograd. After the revolution, she worked in the Commissariat of Public Education, where she was in charge of preserving museums, art treasures, and historical monuments from the ravages of revolution and civil war.
After Trotsky died, political differences developed between her and the movement he had founded. In 1951, during the Korean War, she publicly broke with the Fourth International, declaring that capitalism had been restored in the USSR, “even if in new and unexpected forms,” and that consequently the FI’s position of unconditional defense of the Soviet Union against imperialism was outmoded.